Though I have been working for Red Cross since October through AmeriCorps, the Tennessee Flood Disaster has been my first disaster deployment. I really had no idea of what to expect, no concept of the scope of a disaster relief effort. To be honest, I had never thought that I would be involved in something like this when I came to Red Cross. It is one of those things that we read about in the paper or see on the evening news but never expect to be a part of.
It really has been quite an adventure, though…like most disasters, it couldn’t have come at a worse time for me personally! I had been planning a move out of my apartment in Columbus and into a new one when I was asked, on May 4th, to deploy to Nashville as a trainer on the 5th, the next day. Since I have been working on preparedness at the chapter, getting an opportunity to actually experience a disaster relief operation was something I couldn’t turn down. I was excited to have the opportunity to join Red Cross volunteers from across America in this relief effort. I made travel arrangements immediately, and started getting ready to go. Since I had to be out of my apartment by May 15th and I was being deployed for three-weeks, all of my things had to be moved before leaving. I spent much of that night making arrangements and moving from Grandview to Dublin, with a lot of help from my roommates. On Wednesday afternoon, I stopped packing long enough to make a quick trip to the Red Cross to get my deployment information, sign various forms and collect my staff card that would cover my expenses for the next three weeks. Thinking back, it was a very crazy two days but I hadn’t realized how much I could actually get done if pressed!
My flight was at 6:30 on Wednesday evening but I arrived at the airport early because Communications and Marketing had arranged an interview with TV 4…an unexpected aside that made me a little nervous and excited at the same time. It was my first time being interviewed for TV and I wasn’t sure what I was going to say but, as soon as we started, I got into it and talked about my expectations and told them a little about what I did at the Columbus Red Cross. I’m excited to see how it turned-out as I wasn’t able to view it before leaving.
The flight to Nashville was short, only an hour, and, because of the time change to the Central Zone, I landed at almost the same time as I left Columbus. What struck me, though, was looking out of the window of the plane as we made the approach to Nashville and seeing all of the devastation. Entire neighborhoods were under water, many of them showed only the roofs of houses above the floodwaters. Seeing this on CNN and seeing it out of a plane window are two very different experiences. This was real and I was going to be helping the people who used to live in those houses recover. I didn’t yet know what my role in that recovery was going to be but I was anxious to get started.
I phoned the Red Cross information line again when I arrived and got the latest update on where the headquarters was located and which hotel I was going to be staying in. Mu supervisor in Columbus, Vira recommended that I check for updates when I got to Nashville to see if anything had changed. After threading my way through the airport and collecting my bag in the baggage claim area, I went to the rental car area to see if any other Red Crosser had arrived. There, I was picked out of the crowd by Kathy, the woman who became my roommate. She was assigned to Disaster Mental Health and would be working in the field for the next two weeks. I found it interesting that people were sent out for various lengths of time. Some of us were in Nashville on two-week deployments while others, like me, had been deployed for three-weeks.
Kathy and I collected our rental car from the Avis counter and started off on our drive to headquarters. The floodwaters had not yet receded and some of the roads were still closed. The drive from the airport to Madison where the headquarters was located normally takes 30-minutes but it took us nearly three-hours! By the time we arrived, many of the staff had already left for the day. There were still some volunteers who gave us directions to the hotel we were staying in and told us to report back at 8am. I knew that many of the people who had been flooded out of their homes were now in hotels and that we were simply taking the rooms that were left.
Kathy and I were up early the next morning so that we could be at headquarters for the morning briefing at 8:00. Seeing the location of the headquarters in the daylight was a shock, I suppose that I was expecting to find the headquarters in a disaster zone with floodwaters all around but, what I found was a beautiful campus for a medical school. We couldn’t see it well the night before because it was after dark when we arrived. The place was literally buzzing with people!!! Hundreds of Red Crosser with their vests milled around the lobby of the hospital where we were set up. The parking lot was filled with rental cars driven in by volunteers who had picked them up at the airport over the previous few days.
Thanks to AmeriCorps member Lindsey Simons for this post. Stay tuned to her final post from Nashville to find out how Lindsey wrapped-up her three-week deployment.