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Deployments Demystified. What it's like to deploy on a national disaster operation.

As of today, more than 350 trained Red Crossers are on the ground supporting relief efforts in Kentucky - with dozens more in other locations - providing shelter, meals, emotional support and replacing much-needed personal items like prescription medications, eyeglasses or critical medical devices like CPAP machines or wheelchairs often left behind in a rush to evacuate safely.

Preliminary damage assessments show 700+ homes were either destroyed or suffered major damage. This deadly flooding — along with the heavy rainfall in Missouri, explosive wildfires in California and recent heatwaves — are clear examples of how more intense climate-related disasters are happening more often. The Red Cross is seeing firsthand how families and communities are suffering and our volunteers are continuously there to offer comfort to people forced from their homes.


Red Crossers from Alabama and Mississippi are among the 350 with more standing ready. Thank you to the five that have already answered the call:

Abigail Richardson outside of the Gulfport airport before boarding a flight to Kentucky to help those affected by historic flooding.

  • Diane Weber of Gardendale and part-time resident of Gulf Shores, AL, Damage Assessment

  • Abigail Richardson of Gulfport, MS, Damage Assessment

  • Elizabeth Gibson of Meridian, MS, Staff Services

  • Ruby Fantroy of MS, Logistics

  • William Harry of MS, Disability Integration



So what happens before a deployment?

The initial request to deploy comes via email. If you accept the position, you are en route to your destination within 48 hours. Grab your go-kit and be ready for anything! There is one thing that remains true to all deployments, be FLEXIBLE. One deployment is never the same as another. Conditions are different, leadership may operate differently, you may have a hotel room or you may sleep in a staff shelter. There is absolutely no way to predict what environment you will work in so it's important to pack wisely. From personal experience, I can tell you that there is no need to pack your Dyson flat iron or numerous makeup palettes because you won't have time to use them.


During a deployment? You meet so many people with differing situations. Some are appreciative of the work you are doing and some are upset because their lives have just been turned upside down - it's important to bring your patience and a hefty supply of it. Disaster relief is one of the most rewarding opportunities you can participate in. First deployments can be intimidating, though. So let's break it down into manageable chunks. Disaster relief operations evolve every day, sometimes every hour -there are a million unique pieces. Things change, weather changes, needs change, and plans change, every second. It's important not to get discouraged when you discover incorrect information. "Prepare for what they tell you, but be ready to adapt to the conditions you find yourself in," says Red Crosser, Mike Brown. Mike has deployed over 65 times to various parts of the country.

Unfortunately, disasters can result in some of the most gut-wrenching stories and images. The depth of destruction and despair is difficult for many to comprehend - especially when you're witnessing it firsthand. Depending on the disaster, you’re likely to see homes destroyed by floodwaters, streets full of debris, homes burned, or the memory of where someone's first home once stood. However, you can always find a story of hope that inspires and reminds you that you're playing an important part in someone's life.


It's likely that your role will involve over eight to ten hours of work a day. A typical day will run between seven and twelve hours but varies by job role. Shelter workers take shifts around the clock. Feeding teams work just as long in order to get lunch or dinner in the mouths of affected communities.


Coming home

Understand that you are not alone; rely on your teammates. Be emotionally aware and recognize burnout before it happens. Take time for yourself.


Are you interested in deploying? If so, what should you do?

  • First, if you’re not already, become a Red Cross volunteer. Visit redcross.org/volunteertoday to get started.

  • Next, understand that training is critical to your success and the team. Be sure your training is up-to-date. Nearly every role - sheltering, feeding, driving, and all disaster responder roles require up-to-date Red Cross training before you can deploy.

  • Lastly, update your availability in your Volunteer Connection profile (you’ll learn what that is when you become a volunteer) and respond quickly when you get that availability message on your phone or email.


So who's ready to deploy and help others recover? What tips can you share to help others prepare?

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