What I learned from Hurricane Harvey

    My name is Nancy K. Van Etten and I’m a semi-retired RN, MN, CCM.
    I’ve been a member of ANA since 1978, and became a Red Cross volunteer a
    year ago. My husband and I “retired” and moved to a lake in rural South
    East Kansas. Training opportunities for the Red Cross in that region are
    limited. I had completed the basics for disaster care and sheltering of
    displaced people; but nothing specific to what an RN is able to do in the
    Red Cross with our licensure.
     I received several emails from the Red Cross asking for volunteers
    to help with hurricane Harvey, and decided with my husband’s agreement to
    volunteer for a two week deployment. I was assigned Mass Care and
    Sheltering.
    What I have learned with this first deployment;
        1. The Red Cross is very quick to deploy you once you agree to be
    deployed. I was on an airplane to Austin, Texas within 12 hours.
        2. Expenses are paid, including travel and lodging and food (there is
    a limit). This is very helpful because I wouldn’t have been able to
    afford it.
        3.  There are plenty of mentors to learn from. Many volunteers have
    been deployed numerous times to various disasters and are quick to teach
    you the pros and the cons and what to expect. I am a good listener and a
    quick learner.
        4. You have to be very flexible and be willing to wait up to 1 to 2
    days before you know exactly what you’ll be doing and where you will be
    going once you reach a deployment center. This is because the situations
    at the disaster on the ground are very fluid and changing; the Red Cross
    is very aware of safety issues and works directly with a emergency
    services. I had planned to be a shelter assistant; however, they needed
    more registered nurses so I quickly got my paperwork completed and
    received “just in time” training to be assigned “staff wellness ” job. I
    was paired up with an LPN, and we drove a rental car to San Antonio Texas
    from Austin.
        5. Different states have different structures for how they manage
    disasters. Texas government had decided that their government agencies
    will be in charge of sheltering evacuees with American Red Cross
    reporting up to them. This was a different structure for the experienced
    Red Cross volunteers and paid Red Cross staff. I was new so I didn’t know
    any differently. My cohort LPN and I did well with collaboration and
    communication with the various entities that were in the shelters. This
    benefited the evacuees (called clients) and the staffs of entities.
        6. It’s hard to close a shelter. Once we moved from a mass shelter
    (we had up to 800 clients, however planned for 30K but buses couldn’t get
    thru to San Antonio due to highway flooding-must be flexible at all times
    with changes happening quickly and frequently) to a much smaller shelter
    with clients numbering 80. It seemed that more people were coming into
    the shelter rather than leaving the shelter. Some of the sheltered
    individuals were then identified by local social services as homeless
    persons from San Antonio.
        7. The shelter is a community of young and old, well and includes
    chronic and acute illness, mental health concerns, socioeconomic issues,
    just like home but with added stressors of losses of loved ones, personal
    health, home, job, possessions, animals, cell phones.
    One young man had lost to death his caregiver and two roommates. He
    was alone and arrived from Houston on day 14 post hurricane. My goal was
    to be sure he was connected with a new caregiver before the shelter was
    closed. This meant a lot of coordination with adult protective services,
    social services, in the San Antonio area. Before I left he was connected
    with 3 Red Cross volunteers; two were disaster Mental Health staff
    members and the other was a shelter manager. Red Cross is very dedicated
    and committed to “no shelter will be closed until everyone has a place to
    go that is safe and secure.” Of course this didn’t make the city of San
    Antonio government very happy when they really wanted to close the
    shelter.  Resources for the city of San Antonio were the fire department,
    police department, environmental health and public healthservices and the
    university health services. They were paid staff.

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