Disaster Response: From Behind the Scenes to the Front Lines
By Alex Keilty
When Cameron Bochman was completing his accounting degree in North Carolina, did he ever imagine his work would take him to a meeting with FBI agents who were investigating a helicopter crash in New York City? No he didn’t, because his career path has been anything but predictable.
Cameron, an American Red Cross employee, studied accounting because he had a natural talent for it. He says, “I took accounting because it clicked with me. But I didn’t really feel it was my passion.”
He found that passion after a two-year stint as a Peace Corps volunteer teaching English in China.
“I knew I wanted to do something in humanitarian work,” he says. “And the Red Cross really stood out.” And so this Boston hometown boy packed his bags for New York City three and a half years ago to start his job as a Disaster Response Manager working the overnight shift from midnight to 8 a.m.
Part of a Disaster Action Team – a group of employees and volunteers who are the first, on-the-scene, Red Cross contacts at the site of disasters – Cameron observed the “power of volunteers,” as he calls it. His volunteers responded to countless home fires within an hour of getting a call from the fire department. On site, they provided a shoulder to cry on for those displaced by the fire, and financial assistance in the form of a prepaid debit card that residents could use for shelter at a hotel, groceries, replacing clothing or any other expenses. Then the residents would be referred to Red Cross caseworkers for help with further recovery.
But back to that meeting with the FBI agents… In addition to home fires, there were unexpected emergencies like when a helicopter crash landed on the roof of a Manhattan building, tragically killing the pilot and erupting in flames.
On that freezing cold day, Cameron and his team brought a van loaded with meals, snacks and water to feed first responders as they worked at the site. Cameron also attended meetings with the intelligence agents who were investigating the crash to determine if it was a terrorist act.
Working in New York was never boring, but after a year Cameron wanted to work with the community in a different way. Running public engagement events and prevention programs appealed to him. And so did the sunny skies of California!
So he moved to Alameda County, to become a Disaster Program Manager, where he helps organize the Home Fire Campaign including the Sound the Alarm program to install free smoke alarms in homes across the county, and the nation.
Cameron and his team of employees and volunteers are also ready to respond to small and large scale tragedies, like when a lightning storm in the summer of 2020 sparked fires across Northern California. Cameron’s team facilitated the opening of an evacuation center and set up a shelter where evacuees from Livermore could sleep, get hot meals, access mental health support and receive the latest information from emergency responders.
Not predictable but definitely rewarding, Cameron says of his work: “You walk away feeling like you did something good.”