Helping Your Hometown After a Disaster
Updated: Mar 6
By Ashley Peterson-DeLuca
For over ten years Pam Deichmann traveled all over her home state of Iowa and across the country to respond to disasters in Florida, Texas and other states as a Red Cross volunteer. But last year, tragedy hit a little closer to home – less than a mile away in fact.
On the evening of March 5, 2022, Deichmann and her husband sheltered in the basement of their Winterset home as the tornado alarms sounded. After receiving the all clear, as they explored any damage to their property, they noticed something strange. There was a lot of traffic on her road, one of the town’s main arteries, with ambulances and fire trucks whizzing by.
“It was the first hint that it was more than a normal thunderstorm,” says Deichmann.
After talking to first responders, Deichmann started to learn about the extent of the damage. An EF-4 tornado tore through neighborhoods in Winterset and nearby farms, causing the deaths of six residents, including two children under 5 years old. The tornado came up the ravine, skirted the middle school, and destroyed everything, homes and trees alike, along one road on the southside of town.
Based on a decade of responding to disasters, she sprang into action, helping the city sort out the logistics of setting up a response. Which organization was going to manage the sheltering? Where will the call center set up? Who is going to provide food to those affected? And – how does the Red Cross support each of these?
“I helped clear up the lines so that everyone in the community knew where and how to get help,” says Deichmann. “In the midst of everything going on after a disaster, nobody knows how to manage everything until they’ve done it multiple times.”
As a retired nurse, Deichmann has lots of experience keeping a cool head despite the chaos. But the Red Cross volunteering added a special edge.
“That’s one of the unique things about Red Cross volunteers. They help provide some structure after a disaster,” she shares. “But, it is different in your own community. You know everyone. You know where everything is.”
A year later, much of the damage has been repaired in Winterset. But there are still reminders, with downed trees marring wooded areas and still missing houses waiting to be rebuilt.
And, Deichmann continues volunteering where needed, whether working in a shelter, a first aid clinic or providing staff health support.
“I’ve always believed in the mission," she says. "I want to pay it forward. Now that I’m retired, I have more time.”
To learn how you can help others after a disaster, whether in Iowa or nationally, let us know you’re interested in becoming a Red Cross volunteer.