My Hurricane Ian Deployment Story
By George McCrory, Red Cross Disaster Responder and Communications Volunteer
From September 30 to October 13, I deployed to the Red Cross response to Hurricane Ian, doing DES or distribution of emergency supplies. It’s something I’ve done before, and I like the contact of helping people in the affected areas. Three days after the hurricane, I flew into Tampa and soon got my assignment to a DES team in Orlando. I started working in a parking lot at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex near Disney World, where we loaded ready-to-eat heater meals and canned water for the first routes to people in Grove City in southwest Florida. We drove our rented box trucks for a few hours south of Orlando and people were very appreciative as they were just beginning to remove debris and clean up after the hurricane.
A few days later, DES moved to an outdoor site at Chico’s headquarters in Fort Myers and then later a farmer’s market parking lot. After giving out food and water for the first few days, we distributed cleanup supplies. Supplies included rakes, shovels, tarps, gloves, N95 masks for mold, trash bags and a large plastic tub. We also gave out clean-up kits containing cleaning solution, gloves, trash bags, a sponge, a mop, a broom and a brush. We worked in Fort Myers, Cape Coral, and nearby areas. People came to get supplies at either fixed sites or on our mobile routes, where we drove the box truck through neighborhoods to reach out to residents cleaning up their homes.
Hurricane Ian’s swath covered a wide area, depositing heavy rainfall in the Daytona Beach/ Edgewater area, flooding homes near canals and rivers. I was happy to do two routes in those areas for people cleaning out their homes after the flood water devastation.
Even though the supplies we passed out may seem basic, they were much-appreciated by those affected by the hurricane. Some days we counted the hugs we received in addition to how many households we served. One resident of Cape Coral even shed a few tears when we brought him a simple plastic tub. It was just what he needed at the time to gather photos and other family treasures salvaged from the 15 inches of water in his home.
Our housing ranged from hotels in the Disney complex in Orlando to cots in a tent city run by a company called Deployed Resources at the Lee County Fairgrounds in Ft. Myers. The tent city was pretty nice. It was a bit like going to summer camp! The food was good, the tents were air conditioned and there were shower trailers and free laundry facilities. This staff shelter allowed evacuees to get hotel rooms instead of first responders.
One reason I deploy is the adventure aspect of going into a disaster and not knowing quite what to expect. Not only do you not know exactly where you're going each day, but you're also dealing with trying to make sense of a, sometimes chaotic, situation. You use problem-solving skills to serve the clients and help them the best you can. Flexibility is key. You must adapt, be patient and not have preconceptions about what needs to be done. I remember that the difficulties I encounter are nothing compared to those faced by the people who survived the storm.
Another reason I deploy is the camaraderie among other Red Crossers. Now that I've been on a few deployments, I've connected with old friends from other disaster responses and also made new friends. It was a pleasure to work with so many great volunteers, including three family members from the Dubuque area, including warehouse manager Marty Schiessl, his wife Pam and his sister Della Goetz, who was my partner for many routes. It was Pam and Della’s first deployment, and I was glad to show them what DES is all about. I hope they had a good first experience.
I enjoy working on a team with the goal of helping others. You grow as a person and develop new skills along the way. When you work as a team on a disaster you're sharing both the highs and lows of this situation and have many memories to share when you return home.
Visit redcross.org/volunteer to learn more about volunteering with disaster services.