Sunday, September 11, 2005

so i'm not deployed yet

Which is interesting in and of itself, if you've seen this article about the Red Cross mounting a massive recruiting drive. Because in the "Overview of Mass Care" class yesterday morning, we were told that there was a hold on deployments because there are so many volunteers now, and not enough work to send us all to do.

Although the picture that emerges is that there will be plenty of work--it's just going to be spread out over the next few months. The people who are out in the field now will be rotated out, and even though there will be fewer shelters as people find new housing, the shelters won't all go away any time soon.

As my notes say--from when I was still taking notes, nice orderly legible notes that would make my Virgo friends very pleased with me, before I devolved into drawing monsters as I tend to do, before I started whispering with the two other women at my table, both of whom were as bored as I was, before I started falling asleep sitting up because I'd been up very late Friday night working and then out at the beach, getting my work shoes wet and sandy--the Red Cross is always full of surprises. Yes, the worst of this disaster has passed, but there are still shelters to staff. And things may change again very suddenly when/if Ophelia makes landfall in the Carolinas, which now looks like Monday; as of this morning, Ophelia had been upgraded to Cat 1 from a tropical storm. Which is much smaller than Katrina, of course, but the area's going to be a lot less resilient.

What the day really brought home is that this disaster is overwhelming even the Red Cross's usual capacity to deal calmly and logically with things. And that's meaningful, because once you've sat through all the videos with names like "Facing the Fire", it starts to become clear that the Red Cross/Red Crescent is a heavy-duty organization, or rather federation of organizations. Most of us have probably heard by now that FEMA kept the RC out of New Orleans; what I hadn't known is that the RC had the Houston command center in place five days before Katrina hit. Did FEMA have something ready five days before? asked another volunteer, and the group laughed. I think the rest of the class just answered that, said our trainer, who reminded my table mate of Bob Ross, the happy little clouds painting guy.

The whole command center thing is amazing. They put a container packed with everything the RC will need to support their staff for a month: food, computers, even tables and chairs on a truck and roll it out. And the disaster pre-planning, wow. I didn't know that the RC makes arrangements with sites (schools, churches, community centers) long before anything happens so when there's a disaster, they can just choose the site that best meets their sheltering needs and activate it. It seems obvious now, but I'd never thought about it before. ARCBA--the American Red Cross of the Bay Area, the chapter of which I am now a member--is the fourth largest chapter in the country. It's also apparently a model chapter, in part because the kinds of disaster we prepare for are the kind for which there is little or no advance warning. Namely earthquakes and forest fires. Unlike the chapters that have to worry about tornados (which have a season), say, or hurricanes. So we're fast on the draw.

But even though the RC was ready for Katrina, I get the distinct impression they weren't ready for the volume of volunteers who would materialize. The class I just did usually has about twenty people in it; today's group numbered 185. They've waived a thing or two they would ordinarily require of applicants (although possession of a valid driver's license and the ability to lift fifty pounds are set in stone), they've consolidated two classes into one so they can get more people trained, they've got sixth-graders helping them collate the packets of xeroxes (with all the little surprises you would expect from such a set-up.)

The class was fascinating, more for watching other people than for what we learned, which could have been conveyed in half the time. I know I'm being petty and ultra-snarky. But there are some things that are obvious to me that I guess are not to other people. And maybe some of these folks hadn't been through the pre-deployment orientation, where a lot of the same questions were dealt with. Or maybe people just aren't paying attention. Like the guy who, after we'd been handed a list of things we'll need to PACK, to PURCHASE HERE AND BRING WITH US, asked if in the interest of packing light, we could buy any of the things on the list when we got to our destination. I mean, we'd gone over and over this in the PDO, where we were told that we won't even know where we're going until we get to Houston, and then we'd done that thing where the trainer reads a handout out loud to reinforce the message, and right there in the handout it explains very clearly that we could be going into a place where there is nothing, what with a Cat 4 hurricane coming through and all.

It was like watching people react to the news that they might have to wash out their clothing in the sink--what, there's no laundry service at the swanky hotel we're staying in? Hello? We're being told to prepare to sleep on the floor because there might not be enough cots for clients and volunteers, and people are not hearing the words "extreme hardship" that the trainer keeps using about this assigment?

I wanted to beat my head against the table. Instead, I drew monsters, and carefully laid out my assortment of colored pens where the woman on my right, who was making an elaborate cartouche of her name, could get at them.

I remember now why I can't stand meetings. I'm too kinetic, and everything takes too long. And I do understand that these were big-hearted people around me, every last one, even the guy who was both a dead ringer for Sideshow Bob and extremely frustrated that he wasn't going to be deployed right away:

What if we've moved heaven and earth to get our work schedule rearranged?

We told you not to do that.

What if we were badly disobedient? Do we get priority?

The ways of the computer that chooses who goes are mysterious. So, no.

So I wait.