“Being involved in the community is second nature to me,” says Red Cross volunteer Ron Conlin. And it’s no wonder. Ron has been serving communities for
more than forty years, starting as a police officer patrolling the projects in New Orleans—“some of the toughest in the world at the time.”
Ron joined the police department after getting off active duty in the Armed Forces and worked his way up to homicide detective. He first got involved with the Red Cross in 1985 as chairman of the emergency services group for New Orleans. Years later, after retiring from law enforcement and starting his own national consulting firm in Washington state, Ron reconnected with the Red Cross to help his Whidbey Island community.
Ron now serves as the Washington state coordinator of Life, Safety, and Asset Protection (LSAP), responsible for ensuring the safety and security of Red Cross staff, volunteers, and clients and protecting Red Cross assets. He is also the Northwest Washington Deputy Disaster Cycle Services Manager and Government Liaison for the area and serves on the South Whidbey unit of the DAT team, which responds to everything from fires to floods to windstorms across the Islands area.
“DAT teams are usually the first ones to respond to any disaster before the rest of the volunteer force is called into action,” he says. On any given day he might be assisting disaster clients, providing canteen services for fire or law enforcement agencies at a site, preparing shelters, or ensuring that his unit has strategic locations for supplies and equipment. “Our whole chapter works together as a team to get things done as needed. The community depends on it.”
So what’s it like performing his role on Whidbey Island? “There are different cultural nuances about working on all the islands,” Ron says. There are also logistical challenges that can make disaster relief difficult. “The mainland has more resources. If the islands are cut off by a major disaster compromising a bridge or the ferry system, then those areas need to be more prepared until support from the rest of the state can come in. The lack of transportation avenues is an area of concern.”
One of Ron’s most memorable deployments was the two months he spent in New York after Superstorm Sandy. “That was memorable as far as the scope and complexity of such a large-scale disaster. It was so vast because of the concentration of the population and extensive damage throughout a geographic area.” As part of LSAP, Ron helped ensure the safety of mobile feeding sites, staging areas, staff facilities, and hundreds of shelters set up throughout the area. “It was a different way than the Red Cross normally operates,” he explains. “It’s normally available for temporary and immediate assistance after a disaster, but this has been a long-haul effort.” In fact, the recovery effort is still going on after all this time.
When he’s not volunteering with the Red Cross, Ron teaches for the FBI Academy Alumni Association (founding president), serves as president of the Crime Stoppers Association of Washington, is heavily involved with the American Legion, and is recognized nationally as a crime prevention instructor. In his free time he enjoys fishing, firearms practice, and maintaining his Whidbey Island property overlooking Possession Sound, home to deer, eagles, owls, and raccoons—“like a mini-zoo.”
“Whidbey still has that quaint island feeling,” he says. “It’s a getaway from madness of the mainland.”