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From Fertilizer Plant Explosion to Tornado Response: No Rest for this Red Cross Manager

June 21, 2013

DebraRedCrossBy Debra E. Williams, MSN, RN, American Red Cross full-time volunteer nurse leader in national and state positions. Her past professional experience includes work as an ARNP and CNS in several community settings in Missouri, Illinois, and Texas. This is the third in a series we are running on this blog by nurses who are or were Red Cross volunteers engaged in the disaster response following last month’s tornadoes in Oklahoma.

On Saturday, May 18, I was driving back home to Oklahoma after leading a Texas Red Cross nursing leadership conference in Houston. Before that, I had been in West, Texas, the site of the fertilizer plant explosion that killed 13 first responders and three community members and injured many more. There I’d been leading the Red Cross Health Services piece of the disaster response as manager for two weeks.

When I’m not participating in such disaster response activities in my coverage area, my usual full-time volunteer nursing leadership role with Red Cross is to recruit, train, retain, mentor, and support leadership nurses and to build partnerships internally and externally across all of Red Cross business lines—disaster, service to armed forces, blood services, international, and preparedness, health and safety. Inside Oklahoma, I support the Oklahoma State nurse liaison, Daniel Cadaret, in his efforts to recruit, train, retain, mentor, and support nurses and health professional and student nurses for volunteer work across the business lines.

Downtime at last? So Saturday, when the conference was over I thought I’d take a long, slow route home to Edmond, Oklahoma, and on my way stay a couple of nights in a hotel. I was luxuriating in the thought of not getting up at 6 am, eating a slow breakfast around 10 in the morning, buying pecans in this small Texas town, answering emails that had been put off—doing all those things that were left for later. The next thing I knew I had stopped at a hotel and was fast asleep.

At about 6:30 the next morning, I woke up and realized my body’s timetable wasn’t going to have it, so I ate breakfast and started driving, only to receive a call from my Red Cross Oklahoma regional disaster director, who asked if I could come in to the office and told me, “We’re preparing for a big one.”

“Sure,” I said, “but I’m still about eight hours away in Houston, so can you get Daniel [the Oklahoma state liaison mentioned above] to start it up?” When I got into the emergency operations center that afternoon, I found that Daniel had begun calling in all the Red Cross nurses and placing them in our three shelters that were open. Daniel had a field promotion to health services manager, my own role in the Red Cross system. Our job is to make sure that we

-  train volunteers in all the needed processes, forms, and policies so that peoples’ needs are met.

-  notify our health agency partnerships that we will most likely be utilizing the plans we developed together.

-  secure all materials and goods so that they are available and accessible to the volunteers and utilize the logistics process to get them to the sites.

-  ensure all clients’ health services needs are met.

-  report outcomes to the disaster leadership.

-  evaluate the operation and make adjustments when necessary.

I supported Daniel in all these functions and more after I’d gotten in. It was wonderful to begin seeing all the nurses and other health professionals who I know from the region, though there wasn’t much time to stop and talk.

Waiting to hear from family members. By the end of the first day of set-up we had all our nurses in shelters. At 2:30 am I decided I’d better get some sleep, though I still hadn’t heard from my family in Edmond, where my home is and where the first tornado hit. I just knew they’d be fine since we have a tornado shelter, though I wished someone would text me back. I headed to a hotel 10 minutes away rather than going on to my home, which was further away, since I had to be back in just four hours.

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One comment

  1. I had the honor of working under the directives of this Wonderful Nurse Leader during the Red Cross efforts after Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. The Red Cross, and the American Public are very, very fortunate to have such a shining star devoted to their welfare.

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