By Dale Steinke
Technology, including a new phone app, helped Walla Walla retiree William “Bill” Herrington and his fellow American Red Cross volunteers complete numerous home damage assessments and find their way around the Texas Gulf Coast to support Hurricane Harvey relief.
Herrington, an upper Texas Gulf Coast native, became a volunteer last December with the American Red Cross serving Central and Southeastern Washington. He joined in part because of a long-ago experience with the Red Cross during another colossal hurricane in his home state: Hurricane Carla.
This summer, when the call came for deployable volunteers, he quickly stepped up and was almost immediately on his way, serving for two weeks in the Corpus Christi area. From Sept. 9-23, Bill Herrington supported the response and relief effort by doing damage assessments and driving Emergency Response Vehicles (ERVs, for short) to deliver food to local residents.
Already marveling at the speed and efficiency of his deployment, he was in for another surprise when he discovered that crews had replaced the hard-copy, printed damage assessment forms he’d learned to use just months ago, with the new Survey 1-2-3 app.
“I’m not the most agile person in the digital world,” so he was a little concerned, he said in his thick Southern drawl. But Herrington says he learned a “truckload” from his Red Cross volunteer partners and in a couple of hours, was up to speed.
“The app was just so fast. Much faster than the paper process.” He figures it took just 20 seconds to log a curbside assessment of a property.
The damage they saw was extensive. While the Houston area bore the brunt of the flooding, the area Herrington assessed had been hit hard by hurricane-force winds.
He shared a photo of a tree that fell like an ax through a house. In another, the crumpled remains of a gas station’s canopy lay over destroyed gas pumps, illustrating one of the challenges facing anyone trying to find fuel in the hurricane’s wake. In a third photo, an RV lay wedged under the remains of a pole barn, while a fishing boat on a trailer gently perched on top of a collapsed roof.
While Survey 1-2-3 helped assessments go smoothly, getting to their destinations to do those assessments and other work posed its own challenges. “The hurricane took out all of the signs,” he said. “If it wasn’t for GPS, I would have been totally lost.”
Despite challenges getting around, he estimates Survey 1-2-3 helped him and his partners log about 2,000 assessments, finishing their work well ahead of schedule. That increased efficiency gave him time to help out by driving ERVs to deliver food to area residents.
“The ERV driving is great too. You have personal contact with clients who desperately need your assistance,” he explained.
Sometimes in unexpected ways.
A shipment of Mickey Mouse dolls arrived one day, so he threw some in the back of an ERV before heading out to deliver food.
“This one little girl came up with her mother and you could tell she was in a daze. I held it up and she just attacked me for it.” He realized that the child had probably lost all of her toys in the hurricane and Mickey helped fill that void. After that, he said, “everybody was passing those dolls out like candy.”
That little girl’s experience may turn into a lasting memory for her of the Red Cross, much like the memory Herrington has of when he was a child.
When Category 5 Hurricane Carla struck Texas in 1961, he and his family huddled in a Red Cross shelter overnight along the upper Texas Gulf Coast. He was only five or six, but he knew his parents were stressed and the Red Cross provided safety and peace of mind for them all.
Now as a volunteer he’s repaying that kindness.
“There is a lot of need, as you well know. In fact, there is ongoing need,” he said. “When you see so much that needs to be done see that you can have a positive impact, it makes a big difference.”
You can learn more about Herrington’s experience from a feature article in his local newspaper, the Walla Walla Union-Bulletin.