Prepping for Disaster Deployment

By: Jonathan Sandstrom, Red Cross, Photos By: Hugo Adams, American Red Cross

Have you ever wondered what happens on a Red Cross disaster relief deployment?

Many things need to happen before even embarking on an assignment. Hugo Adams has been on several deployment assignments. He lays out the basic plan for everything happening before arriving on the scene of a disaster.

Hugo said most of the planning happens BEFORE deployment, “My emphasis is on pre-preparation.” During down times, he works on honing his skills so he’s as ready as possible when disaster strikes and the need to help is front and center.

When a potential disaster is on the horizon, “I start to watch what’s going happening on the news,” he explained. “Then I talk to my family, checking to see if it would be a problem to deploy. It’s good to have a solid support system. I also check the calendar see if anything is going on for the next two weeks.”

July 16, 2019. Morgan City, Louisiana Red Cross disaster workers Hugo Adams and Jodi Wallace offer supplies to Reinerio Guillen and his children. Mr. Guillen’s home was damaged by Hurricane Barry and he and his family have been without electricity since Saturday. Photo by Daniel Cima/American Red Cross

Then Hugo heads online to adjust his availability in Volunteer Connection, the Red Cross’ volunteer profile management system. Hugo attends trainings throughout the year in order to be qualified to register as a disaster responder.

After he updates his profile, Hugo often gets a call from one of his supervisors. When the call comes in, the clock starts ticking. He only has 24 hours after orders are received to deploy. “Once I get the call, I double-check my ‘go’ or ‘deployment’ bag to make sure it’s stocked with clothes, extra toiletries, vaccination card and medicine,” he explained. “I make sure I have everything. Then, when I come back, I wash everything and repack.”

Having an accessible “go” bag cuts down a lot on the prep necessary before embarking on an assignment.

The next step is picking up a mission card, similar to a Red Cross credit card. “Sometimes I also bring some cash with me,” he said. “In cases involving power outages or the possibility of them, ATMs won’t work.”

Then Hugo books his flight, usually departing the following day. When both of these things are taken care of, “then I start praying,” he said.

Before embarking on the journey, Hugo begins reviewing the accessible information. These days, he takes a Covid test, just to be sure he is in the clear and refreshes his memory on the particular duties involved with the assignment he’s been given.

“After I get my assignment, I stop watching television. Instead I watch the daily Incident

Action Plan, which tells me exactly what is happening [on the ground].”

July 16, 2019. Morgan City, Louisiana. Red Cross disaster worker Hugo Adams chats with Sakoiya who is helping her mom, Jaimie Broussard, clean up with her new Red Cross gloves. The Broussards’ home was damaged by Hurricane Barry. Photo by Daniel Cima/American Red Cross

Then it’s off to the airport.

Once he’s arrived in the affected area, Hugo heads to the Red Cross headquarters at the location. “Oftentimes I get to go straight to the shelter.”

There, “we’re given our assignments.”

Hugo said his focus is mainly on sheltering when deployed. Tasks include helping open shelters, when needed, greeting residents, assigning them a bunk, arranging for meals and having snacks and water available.

Positions he’s held include sheltering, shelter supervisor, casework and shelter resident transition. Whatever the position, “We’re trying to help them get back as close to normal as quickly as possible.”

Along the way, the more information he can gather about the residents’ needs, the better. Supplies, like diapers and formula for those with young children, are needed. Do residents have special dietary needs? Questions like these are involved in the assessment of a given disaster.

Feeding the staff is important too.

Hugo’s last physical deployment was in Texas. Another trip to Lake Charles was his most challenging. “[Deployments are] very rewarding, exciting and stressful,” he said. “The feeling you have when you help someone is priceless.”

We are grateful for volunteers like Hugo who selflessly give their time to help others. Become a volunteer and help those affected by disasters big and small. Visit redcross.org/volunteer.

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