By Gordon Williams
Dan Mosley of West Seattle credits mountain biking for making him a Red Cross volunteer in Colorado a quarter-century ago. Dan is an avid mountain biker, and the Colorado Red Cross raised money through its annual Fat Tire Classic mountain-biking event. “I was impressed with the great job the Red Cross did in putting in the whole event, so I became a volunteer,” he says.
Since then, Dan has moved from Colorado to Washington. He remains a Red Cross volunteer, though, and a very active one. When we talked recently, Dan was managing disaster mental health for the Red Cross response to the wildfires that swept through Washington in September. As with all Red Cross responses these days, this one is mostly virtual. “I am doing it all from my home in West Seattle,” he says.
Mental health becomes a critical issue in events such as the wildfire epidemic. Thousands of people all over Washington were forced to flee their homes, sometimes having to out-race fast-moving walls of fire. Now they are being sheltered among strangers by the Red Cross, not knowing if their homes have survived the flames. Red Cross volunteers have given up their normal routines to care for the clients they are sheltering. The Covid-19 rules aimed at limiting contagion simply add to the stress.
Dan and his team of five mental health volunteers are on call to help both Red Cross clients and Red Cross shelter workers manage their anxiety. Dan talks about what he does as psychological first aid. “The emotional support we provide clients is every bit as important as the material support we provide,” he says. “Whatever issues they have, we are available for consultations.”
He comes to the task armed with a doctorate in psychology and 30 years of professional practice, specializing in child and family issues.
Dan’s response to the Washington wildfires marks the 26th time he has deployed to a disaster scene on behalf of the Red Cross. But he keeps busy even when there is no major disaster unfolding. Day-to-day Red Cross responses can be highly stressful. Disaster Action Teams (DAT) — the Red Cross units that respond to disasters — assist families that have suffered material loss and even injury and death in home fires, landslides and floods.
So, when Dan isn’t deployed to a disaster, he teaches classes on coping with stress and anxiety to Red Cross responders in his home chapter in Seattle. A vital part of that training lately has focused on the stresses brought on by the Covid-19 pandemic.
Disasters are upsetting experiences for everyone involved. Children, senior citizens, people with disabilities and people for whom English is not their first language are especially at risk and are likely to need extra care and help. But everyone, even the people that others look up to for guidance and assistance, is entitled to their feelings and deserves support throughout the recovery process.
To reach out for free 24/7 counseling or support, contact the Disaster Distress Helpline at 1-800-985-5990 or text “TalkWithUs’ to 66746. More information available at this Red Cross website.