Red Cross Recovery Casework

I guess it's time for an update now that I have some time to come up for air. A lot has happened since the last time I posted about volunteering with the Red Cross. I was recently interviewed on the Whom It May podcast about volunteering, as well as amateur radio and weather balloons. Things have been so crazy that I actually got the timetable wrong on that podcast when talking about my deployments. 

As I sit here typing, I am virtually deployed on a Red Cross disaster relief operation. I am doing recovery casework, doing phone interviews and discussions with clients who have experienced damage from Hurricane/Tropical Storm Zeta in Georgia. As a recovery caseworker, I help them identify roadblocks to recovery and point them to resources and funds to overcome those roadblocks and move into a stable housing situation. Before this, I had spent two weeks in New Orleans doing recovery casework as well. I was contacted by someone here at the Red Cross in Georgia who asked if I would like to deploy doing something completely new. I didn't even have the training for it at the time and didn't know what to expect, but I ended up liking it so much that I took the courses required to get the GAP (Group/Activity/Position) for it right there at the hotel in New Orleans one evening. Now I've moved it near the top of my list of GAPs to make sure it's one for which I get deployed again. I think I may also be doing this during steady state or "blue sky", when there are no large scale emergencies. The Red Cross has Disaster Action Teams that respond locally to things like single family fires and apartment fires. After the initial responders on scene talk to the families and collect information, things are turned over to recovery caseworkers to begin that process. It is often mentally and emotionally draining, but it is one of the most rewarding things I have ever done, and I enjoy the challenge of learning something new and trying to be good at it. 

 

 

Red Cross Disaster Services Technology

In pursuit of my state ARES badge, I managed to stumble upon a volunteer opportunity that I think will be perfect for me. One of the requirements for the state ARES badge is either a background check or a Red Cross volunteer ID.

I'd made some halfhearted attempts to see what it would take to get a background check, including sending an email to the address on the county sheriff's website, which I think is only there for decorative purposes. Then somewhere (I don't even remember where anymore), I saw that the Red Cross was looking for Blood Donor Screeners to take temperatures at their blood drives to screen for Covid-19. I signed up. Shortly thereafter, I got an email encouraging us screeners to become more permanent volunteers. I responded and said I was interested, and added that I was also an amateur radio operator and would like to be noted as such in their system. She thanked me and told me she would put me in touch with someone in Disaster Cycle Services. I was intrigued, so I Googled it.

Disaster Cycle Services is a whole framework of operations, modeled on the Incident Command System, that helps individuals and families "prepare for, respond to, and recover from disasters". One of the pieces of that framework, in the Logistics Section, is Disaster Services Technology. DST includes four activities: Networking, Communications, Computer Operations, and Customer Service. When the Red Cross begins a Disaster Relief Operation, and through the whole process, they're going to need a whole infrastructure of networked computers with broadband connectivity, smart phones, tablets, IP phones, and radios, and they're going to need people to provide support for the whole operation. That's Disaster Services Technology in a nutshell. 

So I've started taking online courses to prepare me for this. At the time of this writing, I'm sitting at 19.5 volunteered hours taking courses and being a Blood Donor Screener. I've been assigned a GAP (Group/Activity/Position, basically a job title) in all four of the previously mentioned activities within DST. In the age of Covid, most of the DST work is done virtually, but that may change soon. At some point, my phone will ring, or I'll get an email, and I will need to have a bag packed very shortly. My instructors have said that you are often on a flight out (or a drive, depending on the distance) the next day. Not knowing exactly what to expect, but knowing that I will be supporting an operation that will provide relief to people who desperately need it can only be described as terrifyingly awesome.

Need Something to Do? Here's Some Recommended ARES Training

While many of us may have some extra time on our hands (and thank you to those in the medical profession and public safety who may not), here is a good list of courses that will qualify you in most ARES situations and give you a general idea of the operating structure of our partner agencies. These come from the Georgia ARES Task Book

 

From FEMA

From ARRL

I'm linking to the descriptions for all of these courses on the same page. From there, you can click an individual course and go through the process of registering. Visit this page to look at all of the courses.

EC-001 - Introduction to Emergency Communication - This course provides the basic knowledge and tools for emergency communications volunteers. It has gone through some evolution and transition. The course used to be heavily tied to an individual mentor for each student and required the student to complete assignments that the mentor would approve and then add extra information and personal experience. It has now moved to a format where there are mentors in a forum, but the assignments are not required. There is also a completely un-mentored version. I very strongly recommend taking advantage of having the mentors and their knowledge and experience, as well as completing the assignments for your own learning and self-evaluation. 

  • EC-016 - Public Service and Emergency Communications Management for Radio Amateurs - This one has been an un-mentored course, at least for as long as I can remember. It reviews a lot of the information in EC-001 and then adds some other topics that will help prepare you for leadership positions within ARES with topics about recruiting and managing volunteers and coordinating community events.
  • PR-101 - This is a basic training course for anyone aspiring to be an ARES PIO (Public Information Officer), but I would recommend it for anyone who may be deployed in a public environment.

Other

  • SKYWARN Spotter Training - I personally think this one is always better when you can take it in person, but it is the same material in the online course. This will give you the knowledge to effectively report severe weather to the National Weather Service, know what to report, and what not to report. 

The Student Has Become the Teacher (Sort Of)

I wrote an article a few years ago about how I passed the ARRL's EC-001 course. EC-001 is the American Radio Relay League's Intro to Emergency Communication course. It's an amazing course, covering everything from having the right attitude, to various agencies' communications systems, to net operations, and more. If I had paid the fee and just got the text of the course material, it probably would have been worth it. As it turns out, this course comes with a mentor who interacts with you directly on each of the assignments that you submit at the end of each topic. That made the course absolutely worth it. My mentor replied to each of my assignments with clarification, more suggestions, and personal anecdotes, and he also answered any questions that I had. 

Fast forward to the past week. I noticed that the ARRL posted an article saying that they urgently need mentors for this course. Since I meet the requirements, see the immeasurable value of the mentor aspect in this course, and have made it a goal to get people interested in growing in amateur radio, I applied. I also had to get the approval of the Section Manager. He wholeheartedly did so. (Thank you for that!) I am now slated to be the mentor for three six-week courses in 2019. I am very seriously and excitedly looking forward to this. I have saved all of the emails from my mentor and my submitted assignments, so I will have those to draw upon. I want to make this something that each of the students will walk away from thinking that they would have paid more for it and, more importantly, something that prepares them and gets them excited for what their involvement in ARES might bring. 

If you are even slightly considering getting more involved in ARES than just checking into the net, I very strongly encourage you to visit the ARRL Online Course Catalog, find Introduction to Emergency Communication (EC-001), and sign up (if you meet the prerequisites). You won't regret it. If you sign up next year, you might even have me as a mentor. I'm already assigned through the end of the year.