By Cassylee Mead
Edited by Nancy Waddell
When an ordinary day turns into disaster, who does the Red Cross call on? Volunteers. Volunteers like Bob Dolhanyk. Bob started as a volunteer 10 days before the Washington Landslide Event, then answered the call to respond to one of Washington’s largest natural disasters. Because of his prior work experience, Bob stepped up to the role of Assistant Director of Planning for the Red Cross response. Later, he took on the position of Long-term Recovery Manager for the landslide.
Before you were involved with the Red Cross what were you doing?
I had finished work with the city of Marysville as the Emergency Management Coordinator and the city’s Administration Division Manager for the Police Department, and was looking for the next place to apply my skills.
What sparked your interest to get involved with the Red Cross?
I wanted to keep up my skills in emergency response, so jumped into the Red Cross with both feet. I started volunteering 10 days before the landslide. I got called on March 22, 2014 by Jamie Gravelle (Disaster Program Manager at the Red Cross Serving Snohomish County) saying there’s been a landslide with mass casualties. 45 minutes later I was here and Jamie asked me to be her Planning Section Chief for the disaster response.
Can you tell me about the day of the slide?
It was pretty chaotic. There were a lot of people already here. So it was just a matter of trying to identify and get written down what we knew. The big emphasis was on getting shelters open on both sides of the slide. We had three other shelters on standby because we didn’t know the magnitude of the event – whether the earth dam would hold or whether that would blow out and create additional flooding.
By day three we had close to three hundred people in the Red Cross building, it was just people wall to wall.
What was your function in the landside response?
As Assistant Director of Planning, I was in charge of all response planning and facilitated all the meetings. Usually, there were four meetings a day and that lasted about four weeks. Then the Red Cross asked me to be a part of the Disaster Response Management Team (DRMT) for the Pacific Division, so I went to Sacramento for a week of training and practice. Then I came back and started volunteering for the Red Cross one day a week. Jamie asked me to go to the long-term recovery meetings that they were starting, one in Darrington and one in Arlington. I did that for two weeks, then Jamie asked me to apply for the Long-term Recovery Manager position, so I did. Chuck Morrison (Executive Director of the Red Cross Serving Snohomish County Chapter) called and said: “We want to hire you.” I started five days later.
What connections did you develop with the landslide communities?
One hundred different agencies were represented at long term recovery meetings and they all had been given money by people to support recovery for victims and communities. Those groups would get together – one in Darrington, one in Arlington. There were a lot of people I connected with then. I would consider the mayor of Darrington a good friend at this point, and the mayor of Arlington a friend as well. But I got to be up in the valley two to three times a week. I met a lot of community folks.
How did this experience affect you?
It was the most rewarding job I have ever had. You knew right away how you impacted people. Hugs. If we did well we got a hug, some “thank you” or “bless you”. Every time I see the two mayors I get a hug. Never ask for one, but I get one. It’s just a good feeling to be able to help people. In that regard, it was the most rewarding because it was the most instantaneous feedback and also the hardest emotionally because the needs were so great.
Can you share a memory you have about this experience?
I remember going to another funding meeting. Red Cross, FEMA, Salvation Army, Congressional Representatives, Cascade Valley Hospital Foundation and United Way, those were the big players there. I remember Tracy Franke, Darrington’s elementary school principal, came and talked about the need for a school counselor. We needed to find a way to make this happen. We found North County Family Services, whose business manager was president of the school board. Between the Red Cross and other funders, three years of counseling were funded, and I think that is some of the best money we have spent.
Why do you continue to volunteer?
The mission of the Red Cross is admirable – To help people in times of need without worrying about gender, race, or religious affiliation. It’s just helping a human being. House fire, flood, national casualty – It doesn’t matter. The Red Cross comes and helps to the best that they can. It doesn’t get much better than that.
Bob Dolhanyk now works with Pierce County Emergency Management, but still volunteers with the Red Cross. Although he is no longer Long–term Recovery Manager, he left a legacy within the community. He still receives generous hugs and warm friendship from those in the communities affected by the landslide.