April 22, 2014
I really wish you had been with me in the mayor’s office.
I was in Darrington, Washington, the small logging town hit hard by the March 22 mudslide that destroyed much of the nearby community of Oso. The slide buried about a mile of the highway connecting many of the 450 families in Darrington with their jobs, their grocery shopping and even the shipments to and from their lumber mill.
Though I wasn’t there on vacation, I did enjoy the breathtaking scenery.
On disaster assignment for the American Red Cross, I went to city hall with our district operations manager to talk about our work in the community. When we entered his office, the mayor rose from his desk stacked high with papers and gave us a hearty handshake. He wore a ball cap and flannel shirt – just what a Midwesterner like me would expect to find in a lumber town quietly tucked away high in the Northern Cascades. A faint smile on his unshaven face, however, failed to mask the strain of his mayoral duties.
“Initially we had concerns about giving up space,” he said, referring to the many outside groups that came wanting to help. That’s a typical response from those living in rugged, close-knit and self-reliant communities. “The Red Cross is neutral and I appreciate that,” he said. “Your work here has been stellar.”
While pleased to receive the compliment, I pushed to uncover unmet needs where we could help. “What advice would you give to us at the Red Cross?” I asked. (Here’s where I especially wish you’d been with me.) Without hesitation, he looked me straight in the eye and said, “Keep taking good care of my people.”
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September 17, 2013
The best organizational chart I ever created was made on a white wall using a black Sharpie pen and yellow sticky notes.
The setting was an office in Midtown Manhattan shortly after the devastating landfall of Superstorm Sandy.
Working for the American Red Cross, I had been assigned to serve as the Public Affairs Chief on the disaster relief operation. When I arrived in New York, more than a dozen members of my team were already there, and during the two weeks I served in that role, more than 50 individuals were assigned to the public affairs group, though not all were there at the same time.
In the midst of the disaster’s chaos, my first task was to organize the sprawling staff, most of whom I had never met. Although our disaster headquarters was in New York City, our job was more difficult because we had crews spread out in each of the five NYC boroughs and on Long Island. Their varied assignments included handling media inquiries, writing stories, taking pictures, creating social media content and performing other communications tasks.
At a quick staff meeting in the hallway, we introduced ourselves and each person briefly described his or her experience and areas of expertise. I reviewed the paperwork on each team member and then huddled up with one of my key managers to draw a table of organization. Read the rest of this entry »
June 23, 2011
I first saw Alana as she began working as a volunteer in the Red Cross shelter. We talked briefly and I learned she was a high school English teacher.
On her first day she demonstrated that she was there to work hard. I watched as she completed her assigned tasks and then found other work to do. She swept the floor, moved boxes and served food. She later took it upon herself to organize the shelter’s library of donated books and to teach a girl how to shoot a basketball. Read the rest of this entry »
June 22, 2011
I first met Nancy in the dining room of the Red Cross shelter. I was about to be interviewed by a TV reporter, and just as the interview was set to begin, this woman approached. She didn’t say anything. She stood there smiling at me. By looking at her color-coded wristband, I knew she was a resident of the shelter, someone who lost her home in the tornado.
Not having the option of ignoring this woman, I asked how I could help. She said, “I want to talk to the reporter.” Being a public affairs officer, I knew from experience that those most eager to talk with the media are people who typically want to air a complaint. With the reporter listening, I inquired what was on her mind. Still smiling, she replied, “I want to tell her how great the Red Cross is and how much we appreciate what you are doing here for us.” Read the rest of this entry »
June 20, 2011
I spent two weeks in Joplin, Missouri immediately following the EF-5 tornado that destroyed much of that small town. I was there as a member of the disaster relief team of the American Red Cross.
In Joplin I talked with many survivors of the storm. I toured the indescribable destruction inside the tornado’s footprint. I even became acquainted with several of the people who lost their homes and were staying in the Red Cross shelter.
The more I got to know the people of Joplin, the more I was inspired by them. Although they seemingly had lost so much, they were grateful for what they still had. Although they greatly appreciated the support coming from every part of the nation, they felt no sense of entitlement. Although they faced an uncertain future, they were hopeful and believed that better days would come. Read the rest of this entry »