Central & South Texas Region

The Power of Partnerships: Training New Volunteers in the Wake of Disaster

Red Cross volunteer Bob Stephens teaches how to do damage assessment to more than 300 event based volunteers who attended in class at Point Community Church in Austin where there has been major flood damage in the area. Bob said the additional volunteers will enable the Red Cross to put more damage assessment teams in the field . (Photo by Carl Manning/American Red Cross)


When the Red Cross needed additional help to assess the vast flood damage to homes in Central Texas, it quickly became obvious there weren’t enough volunteers to cover the wide areas where the high water struck.

That’s when the Red Cross reached out to the public for help. Partner agencies like Austin Disaster Relief Network were some of the first to respond to the call. Soon, a class of about 300 people was under way at Point Community Church to learn how the Red Cross does damage assessment.

Red Cross volunteer Bob Stephens of Austin shares a laugh with one of the more than 300 people who showed up for training to do damage assessment in flood-affected areas. Bob is in charge of the Red Cross damage assessment teams in the Austin area and taught the class. He said the additional volunteers will allow the Red Cross to field more assessment teams. (Photo by Carl Manning/American Red Cross)

“It’s wonderful,” said Red Cross volunteer Bob Stephens, who is leading the damage assessment teams in Austin.

Aside from taking care of immediate needs, Bob said that looking ahead there is a long-term benefit.

“This is how we get new blood in the chapter, not only for this disaster but for future disasters,” he said.

As the people listened intently with many taking notes, Bob explained how Red Cross volunteers use various forms to document the extent of damage to each home.

In turn, that information helps the Red Cross and other agencies determine the best type of assistance to provide.

Bob explained the need to be as accurate and complete as possible when filling out the paperwork, using a Power Point presentation and personal recollections.

“Don’t say there is water over the roof. Say how many feet it is. Don’t worry, it won’t take that long to learn how to estimate this,” he said.

The newly trained volunteers will be paired with a Red Cross worker will increase the number of damage assessment teams in the field, allowing the task to be completed sooner.

More than 300 Central Texas residents turned out to become new Red Cross volunteers on Memorial Day.

During a break in the session, several volunteers came up to Bob to talk about the training and their desire to help out.

“I saw the stories about the desperate need for volunteers and I had the day off and I really like to help,” said Austin resident Seth Parks. “I want to give back and help the community.”

Hutch Utt of the Austin Diaster Relief Network said his organization has long had close ties with the Red Cross. Because he’s a member of the church, he contacted the pastor and got the auditorium for the training session.

“It’s rewarding and humbling to see what people go through and then being able to help them a little bit when they’re in need,” he said.

As he looked out over the audience many of whom wore the yellow T-shirts with the ADRN logo, Hutch added, “Being a faith based organization, this is what we feel we’re being called to do.”