Even though I checked the forecast before I went, I think there was a disconnect in my mind about just how cold it would actually be. A high of 51 degrees and a 50 percent chance of rain sounded uncomfortable, but not painful. Well, that’s a HIGH of 51 degrees. At 7:15am, it was more like 38. I was working a disaster volunteer reception center in a mock disaster drill.
I will tell you right now that I put on every article of clothing I had packed, and it wasn’t enough. I’m glad I had thick socks and heavy workboots. My feet never got cold. I also had a wool beret in my suitcase leftover from a previous trip. I put that on, and pulled it down over my ears. My head was as warm as my feet. The rest of me didn’t fare as well. I had on a pair of jeans, a dress shirt, a sweater over that, and a sweatshirt on top of THAT. And then the vest that identified me as a worker at the center. The wind cut right through all of that. I wish I had thought to bring long underwear and a coat. But I didn’t.
I set out processing an estimated 80 volunteers as they went through the center. It’s hard to separate pieces of paper when you can’t feel your fingers. It was even more difficult for the volunteers to hold pens and write. Each volunteer’s skills were identified, and then placed in an assignment. The choices were search and rescue, mass care, communications, or logistics and operations. When all of the volunteers were processed, those of us who worked the center got to choose an area of assignment. Up until that day, I had been thinking I wanted to do search and rescue. The weather convinced me otherwise. I thought about communications, because that is my background. But then, I ALWAYS do communications. I wanted to see what people with different skills might do. So I chose mass care.
If you don’t know what mass care means, it is the care and feeding of volunteers and others. This area was being run by the Red Cross. I walked down to the building where they were meeting, thinking at least I would get to be warm for a few minutes. But as I reached the building, they were heading back out into the cold to prepare the food. I went with them, wishing I had chosen communications after all. I made a quick trip to the restroom, which felt remarkably warm. It’s amazing how much of a difference there was when the wind was blocked. I wondered briefly if anyone would miss me if I just stayed in there. But ultimately, I returned to my duty.
After putting some hot dogs in a crock pot, helping another volunteer open some containers of chili, and other random tasks, I ended up guarding a table full of food from some birds that were nesting in the pavillion and clearly had designs on what they saw on the table.
Eventually, the mock disaster ended, and all of the volunteers came to eat. We then went to a nice warm building to discuss the outcome of the event. Now that I can feel my fingers again, I realize I learned a lot.
1. The volunteer and emergency management worlds can play well together.
2. I’m a wimp.
3. I have great appreciation for the volunteers who believe this is fun.