Thursday, September 9, 2010

Volunteering for the Red Cross

Back in July 2010, I volunteered to be a member of the King and Kitsap American Red Cross Communications Team. As of this writing, I am completing the various steps to be an active volunteer.

Why did I volunteer? I am originally from the East Coast, specifically New Jersey and even more to the point a small town called Rio Grande. Rio Grande is about 3 miles inland from the Atlantic Ocean and at about the same elevation as the local beaches. In 1960 we were hit with hurricane Donna and the Red Cross's actions left me with a mission of one day giving back to the organization. It has been a long time between hurricane Donna and this moment, but the need still exists, so now is the time to give back.

Recently, I heard the Seattle Chapter was creating something called the Reserve Corps - Communications Team Auxiliary. The concept of the auxiliary is to provide supplemental communication capability during disasters to that of the normal Red Cross Communications Team.

When a disaster such as flooding, wind storms, power outages or earthquakes occurs, the Communications Team Auxiliary would be mobilized and work alongside Red Cross employees and fully trained volunteers. The Auxiliary program allows for recruiting, training and processing of amateur radio operators to meet the extraordinary emergency communications needs. One point that was emphasized was if you already have a role in another organization's emergency communications, the auxiliary understands your primary responsibility would be to that organization. However, as an auxiliary member you will have cleared all the processing and credentialing for the Red Cross, so if you are available, you will be able to immediately assist with the Red Cross efforts.

How do I get started?

If you live in the King or Kitsap County area, once you sign up, there is one-day training and orientation class, provided free of charge, which details the basic skills required to assist the American Red Cross in a major local disaster.

What would I do?

You would be asked to provide emergency communications for the Red Cross King-Kitsap chapter.

You could be assigned to work in the chapter radio room or provide communications duties at command posts, shelters and in vehicles.

You might be assisting mass care workers in the assembly of radio kits and providing on-site training in the use of the radios as needed.

How will I know what to do?

The Seattle Red Cross Chapter office will provide the following:

- one hour orientation and paperwork session
- three hour "Fulfilling Our Mission" (AKA FOM) course
- two hour radio room orientation and Red Cross radio operations training session

Prior to the above training sessions, you will need to submit an online application which asks for your contact information and three references who the Red Cross Office of Volunteers will contact. There is also an online background check which gets completed.

Finally there are several administrative processing requirements which happen during the one hour orientation listed above. These include:

- Signing a job description, photo release and intellectual property agreement
- Signing a local policy statement and code of conduct
- Getting your photo taken for your Red Cross identification badge

As you can see the processing takes some time. Therefore, having the Communications Team Auxiliary pre-processed and ready to go removes most of the bureaucracy and gets you helping others as rapidly as possible.

In addition to the personal satisfaction of helping others, the Communications Team Auxiliary members are eligible to take Red Cross Training, free of charge.

If any of this has sparked your interest, but you're not quite ready to sign up, send an email to Lynn Burlingame at requesting more information about the local Red Cross Communications Team or Auxiliary.

Thanks for listening. Stay safe.

Online links:
application is located at
Lynn's email address is

Update after more than a year from first volunteering -

Back in July 2010 I first volunteered for the American Red Cross through the Seattle Chapter. Things some how got delayed for several months until September 2010 because my original application disappeared from the normal processing. As I mentioned above Lynn Burlingame magically retrieved it and I was once again moving through the maze of classes and volunteer opportunities. From September 2010 through April 2011, I completed a variety of classes and qualified as a ERV driver.

In the spring and summer of 2011, I attempted to volunteer for the various deployments, but never got any responses to my efforts. I assumed that the Red Cross was getting enough volunteers and I was just signing up a little too late. Later, I was to find out that this wasn't the case.

The surprise came in September 2011 when I received an email asking if I was still interested in become a Red Cross volunteer, since it had been a year and I had taken any action towards become a active member. To say I was surprised and extremely disappointed is an understatement. I started imagining that all my efforts in training had been lost or something like that. Then I decided that this may have been why I wasn't able to be deployed. Clearly the Red Cross records indicated that I hadn't done anything to become a volunteer. Well, it ended up that somehow my records were split between to different email addresses. My original application was under one email address and all my classes, etc. were under another. I notified the DSHR folks that I was interested and had completed many classes.

I have never heard back that anything was corrected. So, at this point, even though this has been a long time dream of mine to be part of the American Red Cross, I am taking this as a sign from the "Force" that perhaps my energy should be better spent elsewhere. The "Force" gave me an indication early in the process and now after hours of classes, volunteering, and study on my own it provided a rather obvious "sign" that perhaps a different path should be taken. Normally, I am an extremely tenacious participant. Of course all of these obstacles are most likely clerical mishaps that can be corrected. But as you look back across the 2011 Red Cross efforts you will see a major need for volunteers and hours upon hours needed to make those efforts succeed. For me, due to some clerical error I could not participate and could not find out why until long after the events.

This is a sad moment for me, but I will be backing off from my involvement with the American Red Cross. I will maintain my semi-active role in the Red Cross Communications team.

So what have I learned from this experience? Well, several things. First, never assume that an organization as huge as the American Red Cross can't make simple clerical errors. Second, be persistent and a bit more demanding when trying to get answers about applications and transcripts of your many hours of effort. Finally, when fulfilling a dream, listen to your heart, observe how others treat your efforts and evaluate whether or not your efforts are making a difference. Some times reaching for a dream can blind us to the reality of the moment. In some cases, that focus is a good thing helping us past obstacles other see as roadblocks. While at other times, there are signs along the route that need to be taken as warnings and indicators of needed new directions. One always should have situational awareness. My awareness: new direction.