Volunteers are the heart and soul of the American Red Cross.
All across the nation, and indeed the world, the Red Cross enables good people to step forward to help neighbors and strangers alike, providing relief to victims in their darkest hours of need following a disaster, teaching lifesaving classes, and supporting our military service members and their families.
With the threat of a pandemic flu, terrorist attack and major disasters, the American Red Cross is more relevant and necessary than ever before. And with global warming and changing weather patterns, it is not “if,” but “when” a major disaster in Hawai‘i will occur.
Kaua‘i is especially vulnerable to catastrophic disasters like hurricanes, and must be able to stand on its own should a catastrophic statewide disaster occur and we are not able to bring in outside reinforcements right away.
Thankfully, the Kaua‘i community has a small, but strong, cadre of good hearted volunteers who care deeply about the Red Cross and want to further the humanitarian mission of the Red Cross on Kaua‘i. But we need many more to step forward to help.
For several years, the number of Red Cross volunteers on Kaua‘i remained static, at about 40. We actually need closer to 140 volunteers, including a minimum of 60 volunteers (Three Disaster Action Teams with 20 people each) to cover the North, West, and Central districts of Kaua‘i. These Disaster Action Team volunteers would be on-call 24/7 to respond in their community to “smaller” disasters affecting fewer than 20 people. They would be trained in shelter operations and how to provide individual client casework services including financial assistance, crisis counseling, and immediate first aid services. In addition, we need a separate pool of 80 volunteers to be able to run 14 hurricane evacuation shelters in the event or threat of a major disaster.
Both everyday disasters like house fires and major disasters like hurricanes should be led by trained and experienced volunteers, preferably from their own island. When a disaster happens, a Red Cross volunteer will serve as a dispatcher and receive the call directly from emergency management about the nature of the disaster. The volunteer dispatcher then calls the volunteer Disaster Action Team captain, who contacts volunteer members of their Disaster Action Team to respond. This is the tried-and-true procedure, practiced by Red Crosses throughout the nation, that allows us to be able to respond to disasters within two hours of their occurrence, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. A system that relies solely on paid staff will fail in a major disaster. It is in the community’s best interest to have trained volunteers integrated directly into the response.
Due to recent events, Kauai Red Cross needs a county director. The hotline on Kaua‘i is being temporarily handled through Honolulu, but a local volunteer from Kaua‘i will be assuming this duty shortly. Dedicated Kaua‘i volunteers have been assigned as DAT captains for North, West, and Central Kaua‘i, and they will need the help of other local volunteers. For now, the Kauai Red Cross office is open only on Thursdays, and course registration is being handled online at www.hawaiiredcross.org and through our Honolulu office. Daily office hours will resume once a new county director is hired.
In the months and years ahead, training will be stepped up to prepare the necessary number of volunteers to be able to respond.
When Hurricanes Gustav and Ike struck the Gulf Coast, we were able to deploy 40 Red Cross volunteers from Hawai‘i, but not one from Kaua‘i. Local Red Cross volunteers from Kaua‘i need more training and experience on their island to be able to join our national Disaster Services Human Resources team. Deploying to a national disaster like Hurricane Katrina not only gives local volunteers an opportunity to reach out and help disaster victims elsewhere, but provides invaluable experience that will serve them well when disaster strikes at home.
If there are restaurants, hotels, churches, or other establishments that can provide meals to victims, volunteers and first responders during a disaster, we want to hear from you. We need to know who has the capacity to provide these meals, and explore the possibility of contracting for such services during a disaster.
If you are interested, please call 245-4919.
The people of Kaua‘i need and deserve a strong Red Cross. We are fortunate to have a local Red Cross Advisory Council comprised of well respected business, community and government leaders who are determined to move forward to help build a stronger disaster-response system on Kaua‘i.
If you are interested in volunteering, please call the Kauai Red Cross office at 245-4919. And especially in these tough economic times, your donations are much needed and appreciated. Any money you give will stay on Kaua‘i to help local people. The Red Cross is not a government agency and relies on the generosity of Hawai‘i’s people to provide critical services to your community.
For more information, please visit www.hawaiiredcross.org
• Coralie Chun Matayoshi is the chief executive officer of the American Red Cross, Hawai‘i State Chapter.