Disaster Recovery: The Story We Often Don’t See

By Cassylee Mead

When I thought of disasters, I always thought of hurricanes, floods, wildfires and tsunamis. However, my first disaster action team (DAT) call opened my eyes to all the ways the American Red Cross helps people. Of the 66,000 disaster responses the Red Cross carries out every year, the majority of them are home fires that don’t even make the news.

West Virginia Floods 2016

As I arrived at my first DAT response, there was no fire, no flood and I was in a comfortable home with a lot decorative bears. To myself I thought, “Oh, this is the follow-up work, not the real disaster work.” I don’t think I have ever been so wrong.

My whole life I have always heard “at least no one was hurt.” After this, it is hard to believe that anyone affected by a disaster isn’t hurting in some way.

I surveyed the room and focused on the older woman sitting on the couch. I looked her in the eyes and recognized the sadness she must have felt in that moment. Then it hit me: this was the disaster. This woman was without her home, sitting on her friend’s couch. Her house would be unlivable for a month while undergoing fire repairs.

She talked about how much she needed things, her chair to get her to the doctor, her medicine for pain and how unsure she was of where to get help. She stayed at her friend’s home with only a few of her belongings. I realized disaster is very personal.

The casework volunteer took in the information and listened to the woman’s concerns of transitioning into unfamiliar housing. She soaked up the information, made to-do lists and outlined next steps. The caseworker promised a follow-up call from a nurse who could provide further help.

This was my first DAT call and I thought to myself: How do you tell this story, the story of someone displaced. The story of a Red Cross volunteer who drops everything so they can serve someone else. The story of the thank you as we walked out the door. The story of the day after the fire.

What I discovered was this story, the story of recovery, is the part of the story we often don’t see.

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