By Jennifer Astion
“We are dealing with several houses with trees on them today,” said Red Cross volunteer John McNamara when I spoke with him during a windstorm in mid-January 2021. He is a Disaster Action Team (DAT) Supervisor for the eastern part of the Greater Inland Northwest Chapter in Washington State.
That morning he was acting as a DAT Duty Officer and was on call for disasters such as wind damage and house fires. As a Duty Officer, John receives calls, confirms the information, and sends the case to a responder. The responder then does an intake interview with the individual or family needing assistance.
John highly recommends volunteering for a Disaster Action Team. “You can volunteer as little or as much as you want, you’re helping someone, and it’s relatively easy,” he said. Most weeks, he spends three to five hours volunteering.
Occasionally, DAT volunteers experience a spike in cases such as a fire at an apartment building. “In December 2020, we dealt with 24 cases in 40 hours,” he recalled. “We got help to everyone who needed it.”
Volunteering during the COVID-19 pandemic is safe. “You are not required to visit anyone,” he explained. Most of the work is done virtually, by phone and computer. If a volunteer needs to deliver a recovery item, the volunteer and the individual needing assistance would both go through COVID screening questions and meet in a public place using physical distancing.
Originally from Chicago, McNamara is a retired professor from Washington State University. He and his wife have lived in Pullman for 37 years and have adult children in Richland, in Seattle, and in the military.
He has volunteered with the Red Cross for twenty years, starting as a First Aid and CPR instructor. He also volunteers currently as a Blood Drive Manager.
McNamara continues to volunteer because he believes in the work of the Red Cross. “In March 2020, they had a virtual system for dealing with disasters in place in 48 hours,” he said. “The Red Cross showed how well an organization can adapt.”