Texas Gulf Coast American Red Cross

Deploying to a disaster: Impressions of a first-time volunteer

By Susan Wessman

Susan Wessman – Wilmington headquarters

I am a survivor of Hurricane Ike. I was alone when that hurricane happened and after that experience I didn’t want anyone to go through a disaster alone.  I became a volunteer with the American Red Cross in September 2016.  Not long after joining, Hurricane Matthew was fast approaching.  I realized this was my chance. I had no idea what I was getting into.  I was nervous, scared, and anxious but I wanted to deploy.

My flight to Wilmington, North Carolina was smooth, except for delays.  I arrived with a group of eight volunteers at Wilmington, North Carolina headquarters.  I signed in, got on the lodging list and checked in with Health Services; this would be the routine for the week.

Highway 581 – Many of the roads were still flooded.

For the first week I was assigned different teammates.  Our assignment was to visit shelters and check clients and Red Cross staff for any health related problems and report back to headquarters.  Finding the shelters was difficult and time consuming.  There were roadblocks, debris from downed trees and a lot of flooding.  Most of the time it took us two to three hours to find one shelter.  Twice we arrived at a shelter only to find it was in the process of being closed.  My teammate and I stayed to assist closing one of them.  It took two days and was very hard work.

Victoria Pauling and Susan Wessman

The next week, I was sent to a shelter in Kinston, N.C.  It was the largest shelter open and had many medical needs.  I teamed up with Victoria Pauling, R.N., for the rest of my deployment.

Curtis Barrett

One of our shelter residents, Curtis Barrett, came to visit us one day just before he was leaving to check on us.  He was a deacon in his church and was very spiritual and knew his Bible well. He had both Victoria and I with tears in our eyes. He was full of encouragement and had such a great spirit.  His visit that day was very helpful to both of us.  The shelter was due to close in a couple days and he left that night.

To prepare for this deployment, I did all the online training. There were a lot of courses – health services (nursing), food safety and shelter fundamentals (setting up and running a shelter) but it was all worth it. I am glad I had that knowledge and training.

When I returned home I was exhausted both mentally and physically, more than I have ever been before but this deployment was a great experience.  It was a tremendous blessing and I am so glad I answered that call. I will do it again when the call goes out.  It was worth it.  Join me!