Mo Ghandehari – Disaster Action Team Volunteer Extraordinaire
By Larry Dietz
American Red Cross Volunteer Mo Ghandehari is an incredible example of the Red Cross mission – and of the caring and dedicated individuals who do what it takes to accomplish that mission.
Mo started with the Red Cross in 2000, first in Las Vegas, then in Salt Lake City, before moving to California and joining the Silicon Valley Chapter in 2007.
One of Mo’s first positions as a Red Cross volunteer was on his local Disaster Action Team (DAT). In this role, he responded to the full range of disaster calls ranging from fires in homes, mobile homes, condos, and even a ski resort. He even had the unique experience of responding to a home fire where he and the team installed smoke alarms only a few months earlier.
Red Cross volunteers from the Northern California Coastal Region respond to between 30 and 40 disasters a week where a small handful of local DAT volunteers are some of the first on scene to assist families that have been affected.
The first job of the DAT volunteer on site is to help make the affected residents comfortable and to get them the immediate assistance or materials they might need. This could include simple things like blankets or water. Though, the needs of those affected varies from disaster to disaster, and DAT volunteers also help arrange lodging or financial assistance, which allows families to pay for immediate needs and get back on their feet.
DAT volunteers are also general volunteers and can work in other Red Cross areas. In particular, they can work in their local chapter to perform inventories or make sure that supplies and vehicles are ready to go where they are needed.
There are constant training opportunities for DAT volunteers to learn more about the latest in Red Cross systems, or improve skills with courses like Psychological First Aid: Helping Others in Times of Stress.
DAT volunteers are committed. Many sign up for frequent shifts and are always ready to answer the call, no matter what time of the day or night. When disaster strikes, speed is of the essence, whether it is a major wildfire or a single-family home fire. DAT volunteers have the enthusiasm and confidence to deal with a variety of situations.
Mo advises new DAT members to be proactive in seeking initial training. You can start with your chapter’s DAT lead, or the workforce engagement lead, or the Disaster Program Manager for your area to enroll in training. Though, he says there is no substitute for being on-call and responding.
“It is truly gratifying to help a family that needs a place to stay for a few days, before figuring things out,” he said. “When you are on the scene it is very important to be patient, and respectful of those who were affected and to work closely with your supervisors and managers.”
While the core of being a DAT volunteer is at the local level, there are also many opportunities to expand one’s volunteer career path and deploy to a major disaster as a shelter volunteer as well. It comes as no surprise that Mo has seized many opportunities to deploy and lend his talents across the nation.
When asked about which of his deployments captured the essence of really being on a deployment, he said his time as a shelter supervisor during Hurricane Katrina in 2005 would have to be the one. It was Mo’s first assignment as a shelter supervisor on a disaster response. The shelter was in an elementary school in Pearl River, Louisiana.
“The experience taught me to treat shelter residents just like you would treat your own house guests,” he said. “Our crew did just that! The shelter experience was a team effort between the Red Cross and local volunteers. They opened and operated this shelter for two to three days, and were exhausted and very happy to see us. Residents had already been pitching in – helping the team to prepare breakfast, cleaning the bathrooms, and doing other chores. We had no electricity and water for the first few days. The new shelter team, which consisted of four volunteers, plus residents (before others arrived), were literally like a family (the shelter had about 50-80 residents), helping each other to make it through.”
Not only did Mo develop is shelter management skills and style on this deployment, it also taught him about the satisfaction of serving.
“As I was leaving the job – after two weeks – I noticed a hand-written thank you note on the board, on behalf of the shelter, saying that I provided good care during my two weeks as shelter manager,” he recalls. “This, to me, was heartwarming – a very good rewards for two weeks of hard work.”
When asked about what it takes to be a successful shelter manager, Mo said, “Being compassionate, friendly, and able to relate to people from all walks of life, able to establish trust with supervisors and shelter workers, and being a coach and mentor to other team members.”
Mo is a shining example of a Red Cross volunteer. He has won a number of awards, including the Chapter International Services Award (2021), the Extraordinary Commitment and Dedication Award for Chapter Disaster Cycle Services (2016) and the Chapter Clara Barton Award (2012).
You too can become a Disaster Action Team or Sheltering Volunteer and serve your community in their time of need. Visit redcross.org/volunteer to learn more.