My First Disaster Call

By Jenny Berry, American Red Cross Intern 

Jenny Berry - fire winneconne

Jenny Berry observing the two disaster team leads as they talk with the clients to determine their emergency needs.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014, was my first day interning at American Red Cross in Oshkosh, WI and I would not have wanted my first day any other way!  I immediately felt welcome and at home with the American Red Cross especially after my boss, Nick Cluppert, Disaster Program Manager for Territory 2, sent out a welcome email to staff and volunteers and the warm, kind and insightful welcome emails started to pour in. I even received my own desk and computer to work with during my time at the American Red Cross.

I spent most of my first day researching and updating information for community referrals as well as partnerships and hotels for the County Annexes.  I think that this is a great resource readily available for communities and individuals when a natural disaster occurs. I also helped Nick with filling out client information for a fake/mock case so Red Cross workers can gain more experience with how a case works, follow-up, and entering information into the new CAS 2.0 disaster intake system.

The environment in the office was so welcoming and engaging that I cannot wait to see what the rest of my time in the office brings! I have been given an amazing opportunity to learn and to grow with this organization and can’t wait to take it all in.

Towards the end of the day, I was asked to respond with the Disaster Action Team (DAT) to a fire that had happened the previous day in Winneconne in Winnebago County.  I thought that this was a perfect opportunity to get out in the field and gain some first-hand experience. I then received my American Red Cross vest and headed out for the call.

Disaster Volunteer, Dick Henderson, writing out our forms to assist clients in need.

Disaster Volunteer, Dick Henderson, writing out our forms to assist clients in need.

While riding with DAT Captain, Becky Tiles, I started to become very nervous and anxious because I did not know what to expect or exactly how to approach individuals when something so terrible like this happens to individuals. So basically, my mind was running in a million different directions before arrive at the scene. Thankfully, Becky calmed my nerves by preparing me for what to expect and giving me excellent advice for this type of experience. We then met another DAT responder, Dick Henderson, at a parking lot in Winneconne and road to the scene together.

When we got to the scene, I mainly observed how Becky and Dick were responding to the clients and the scene which is precisely how I wanted my first time out to be like. An event and scene like this is a lot to take in for a first-time responder so performing the paperwork and additional support would have been difficult to pursue. Personally and fortunately, I have never experienced any type of disaster so my heart sank for the clients. I was surprised at how well and how strong the clients were handling their situation, but I still wanted to snap my fingers and make everything better for them.  Knowing that snapping my fingers was an impossible task, we instead were able to provided assistance for food and clothing.

Even though, it may not seem like a lot, providing the littlest of assistance and alleviating the smallest of pain to those who suffer from a natural disaster or an emergency like this is something that is truly remarkable that the American Red Cross and the partners of American Red Cross are able to do.

I feel that we all hope that we will not have to go back out to another scene, but sadly, natural disasters cannot always be controlled. I am grateful and appreciative for being able to attend the scene with two individuals who offered their experience and knowledge so when the next time (praying there won’t have to be) comes I am one step closer to being able to respond full-force at the scene.

I am so thankful to be interning alongside a great organization that is filled with incredible individuals that are making first-hand differences in people’s lives. I am eager to continue to explore, participate, and learn more of what the American Red Cross and the individuals are doing to lend a helping hand to those in need.  I could not have imagined a better way to start my journey with the American Red Cross and excited to see where the journey heads next!

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