By Julia Lugon
American Red Cross
It was a dark, stormy night when Deborah Abner arrived in Chapman, Kansas. She was there with the Salvation Army to assist the survivors of an EF-3 tornado that left a path of destruction across the town, destroyed over 60 homes and left hundreds of families homeless. The violent storm took the lives of two people and damaged churches, business and schools.
She was there to help – but she was also scared. What can you do in a situation like this? How can you help families rebuild? As she walked around thinking about her next steps, a sigh of relief: the friendly face of an American Red Cross volunteer.
The Salvation Army and the Red Cross have worked together for years to help people in disasters. In the 2008 Chapman tornado, the organizations worked side by side to feed survivors, volunteers and response teams.
“We were so glad to see each other because then we knew everything was going to be OK,” said Deborah, the Salvation Army’s assistant divisional director for disaster services.
Deborah and her Red Cross friend decided they would work together serving lunch and dinner at a tennis court nearby. Parking their emergency response vehicles in the shape of an L, they created an environment of hospitality, where people could hang out and have a nice meal. Many restaurants donated food, and there was a lot of barbecuing.
“This just became like a community center, a place for people to come and see normal for just a few hours every day. It was a happy, wonderful place and it started with two friends: one from the Salvation Army and one from the Red Cross,” Deborah said.
After a disaster, there’s a lot to do: sheltering, feeding, assistance with insurance, case work, mental health, cleaning debris, cutting trees, figuring out how to get back to a normal life. And in each one of these steps, there’s a different organization that can help.
“There’s so much to do that no organization can do it all on their own, and no one should have to,” said Joann Woody, Red Cross mass care program manager for Missouri.
By working together and coordinating efforts, disaster organizations can assist communities effectively, fulfill their mission and avoid duplicating services.
“We all know each other: it’s like working with family. If someone raises the red flag, we are all going to be there together and help out,” Joann said.
Among the many Red Cross partners is United Way 211 of Greater Kansas City, which connects survivors, donors, volunteers and emergency managers with their call center system. By feeding information in a huge database, United Way volunteers are able to identify the needs and resources available, connecting people to the most appropriate source.
“There’s a constant flow or information coming in after a disaster and things can change quickly,” said Gary Thurman, United Way 211 director in Kansas City. “There’s a lot of people out there doing a whole lot of good. If you just had your life turned upside down by a disaster and you need some help, we can connect you to those different organizations, help you navigate through all these different resources with the least amount of frustration.”
Immediately after a disaster, it’s common for organizations to gather in multi-agency resources centers to help survivors.
It is a one stop shop where families can talk with nonprofits, insurance companies, state agencies and mental health groups and figure out their next steps to recovery. These centers wouldn’t be possible without the help of another Red Cross partner: Catholic Charities of Kansas City – St. Joseph.
“We all have the same goal of working with the survivors so they can become self-sufficient. And the more support they have, the better off they will be. We understand that other nonprofits are great in what they do, so we utilize their talents in their areas of expertise so we can shine in our area of expertise,” said Kisha Thomas, Welcome Center director for Catholic Charities of Kansas City – St. Joseph.
In order to coordinate efforts and ensure organizations are in sync in a disaster response, there needs to be constant communication.
One of the ways to do this is through the Volunteer Organizations Active in Disasters (VOAD), a national movement founded in the 1970s. With over 100 member organizations, including the Red Cross, and representation at the state and local level, this movement is guided by the principles of cooperation, communication, coordination and collaboration.
The Missouri VOAD is well-known for its excellent work and collaboration. The secret to success? According to Jody Dickhaut, Missouri VOAD chairman, it’s all about “rock star”organizations working together.
Aside from chairing the state VOAD, Jody also is a member of the Adventist Community Services, a longtime partner with Red Cross in disaster response.
Most recently, members of the Adventist group worked with the Red Cross to help Missouri flood survivors maneuver through the various agencies at the multi-agency resource centers set up in various towns where there had been flooding.
Jody said he realized years ago that it’s about organizations working together with the common goal of helping others while watching a TV interview with Joe Walsh, one of the members of the Eagles rock group.
When asked about the group’s success, Joe said that while most rock bands have a single lead singer, whose ego can grow and hinder the collaborative nature of the band, the Eagles didn’t have one lead singer, they had four.
As much as they were all rock stars, they could never create on their own as individual artists what they could create together as a team. It was a matter of the whole being greater than the sum of the parts.
“When you transfer that to the disaster world – The Red Cross, Adventist Community Services, Catholic Charities… every one of them is a rock star organization, they have so much capacity,” Jody said. “But when we work together we can create something even better. We’re not just adding our own capacity we’re exponentially growing.”
To view a video about Red Cross partners go to: