Tag Archives: Disaster Response

DAT Duty Officer Nik Rochnik Answers the Call to Help and Encourages Others to Join the Line

By Lindsay R. Peak

Nik Rochnik helping those affected by Hurricane Ian at the Red Cross office in Daytona Beach, Florida.
Photo courtesy of Nick Rochnik

Rain or shine. Morning or night. From floods to fires, the Red Cross Disaster Action Team (DAT) volunteers answer the call for help 24 hours a day. And, for some, they discover their own calling. Meet Nik Rochnik.

Born in Ukraine, he immigrated to the United States for collegiate studies in Boston before making the Bay Area his home. This husband and father of two children and one dog felt the urge to connect with his neighbors by donating what little free time he could find to assist others in times of crisis despite having a full-time job in computer software.

“I joined Red Cross looking for opportunities to directly help people in the community,” says Rochnik. After researching various organizations, his search ended at the Red Cross website. “I was very impressed with Red Cross 100% disaster response coverage and the efficiency of how much donor’s funds are distributed to clients,” he relives.

Nik joined DAT as a trainee a little over six months ago. His hands-on involvement started almost immediately. With unprecedented rainstorms, his boots hit the ground post-training working in emergency shelters and traveling across state lines aiding those in need in their recovery. After four local DAT calls, Nik was deployed in December of 2022 to Hurricane Ian in Florida. He was tasked with registratio onsite as well as on mobile outreach at that Disaster Response Operation (DRO). The most satisfying days were processing high quantities of assistance cards for the people we serve.

“The reactions and interactions are very memorable. They say thank you in different ways. There are tears and hugs, but many times it’s just words that imprint volunteer’s minds and hearts,” he adds.

Learning of folks’s plans for utilizing funds also left a lasting impression on Nik. “I think of myself as a tough guy, but when I think of these things, I choke up a bit,” shares the volunteer. A grandmother shared her intent to use the assistance monies to buy bunkbeds so that her grandkids wouldn’t have to sleep on the floor any longer. A disabled veteran planned to purchase a new scooter to replace the one he lost in a fire allowing him to regain his mobility.

Red Cross’s high percentage of donor funds distributed to the people who needs it most and the opportunity to assist in times of need pulled Nik in. And, he plans to stay hoping to recruit others. Nik has plans to use vacation time to do at least one DRO per year until he retirement frees up his schedule. Future goals include assisting in potential improvements to Red Cross processes and technology, answering DAT calls and responding to DROs.

This mentor keeps motivating prospective and current volunteers. Through personal assessment of one’s own skillset and individual strengths, anyone can add to Red Cross’ functions. “I see it as continuous learning.” His wheels are always turning and finding ways to maximize value to the organization through volunteer work. Now, Nik has advanced to Duty Officer answering the calls from client’s in need and directing responders to the scene.

Every eight minutes, the Red Cross responds to a disaster. Whether it’s being an ear to listen, a shoulder to cry on, or a friendly face who aids in meeting immediate needs for shelter or supplies, volunteers ensure during times of crisis, someone will be on the other end of the call for help.

If you are bilingual, empathetic, goal oriented, or have availability or flexibility in your schedule, consider joining the DAT team. Training is online and in-person. The Red Cross can use your skills and compassion, either on the scene, or coordinating remotely.

Visit redcross.org/volunteer/disaster-action-team to find volunteer opportunities in your area and apply now.

Red Cross and community help RV park residents recover from flood waters

Even before an American Red Cross emergency response vehicle dropped off 100 meals at the Mission Farm RV Park in San Juan Bautista on March 21, eager residents lined up for lunch, happy to get some fuel for the difficult job of trying to clean up the damage done by flooding to their community 11 days earlier. 

Mission Farm RV Park homeowner, Kerry Dickie, thanks American Red Cross volunteers for the cleanup kits and food delivered to his neighbors. Photo by Jaka Vinsek/American Red Cross

Kerry Dickie was among them. Dickie said he lost his mobile home and about 70 percent of his possessions to the flooding and mud that followed. Dickie said that even before waters from several adjacent creeks and a nearby subdivision’s retention pond started pouring into the park, he and his son found their way out was blocked by flooded streets strewn with large underwater rocks.  

As water started to come in, the two tried to move his collections from an enclosed porch into his 1986 Avion mobile home. By the time they got everything into the mobile home, water was knee high.  

The two took one of their vehicles to dry land but by the time they came back to move the other, water had already crept inside the mobile home.  

While the water receded within about 24 hours, when Dickie returned home, he found 1.5 feet of standing water inside. The enclosed porch was totaled as is his mobile home.  

“It’s just a horrible muddy mess,” Dickie said.  

Red Cross volunteer Roberta Jones and Leslie Jordan, mayor of San Juan Bautista, unload meals for residents of the Mission Farm RV Park. Photo by Barbara Wood/American Red Cross

“I’m kind of wondering what my next house is going to look like because this one’s not habitable any more,” Dickie said. He said he will probably look for a used mobile home to replace the one destroyed by the water.  

He’s not one to take handouts, Dickie said, but “when you need help, you need help.”  

Residents of the park have been helping each other recover from the flooding, which affected some of the recreational vehicles more than others. Kurt Kurasaki, whose father built the park in the 70s, says he tried to come out to assess the storm damage on March 10th, but couldn’t get through the flooded roads. When he trudged in through the water he saw the berm he had built to raise the heights of a nearby creek bed by a foot was about to be overtopped. Kurasaki started going door to door telling residents of the 70 recreational vehicles and mobile homes on the property to evacuate.  

Kerry Dickie thanks Red Cross volunteers Mary Marcus and Hideaki Yamazaki for the cleanup kits. Photo by Jaka Vinsek/American Red Cross

Not everyone left. Some people were at work, Kurasaki says, some “opted to ride it out” and some didn’t have a vehicle to get out with.  

Kurasaki said the park had flooded once before, but it was two decades ago.  

Now, those who had less damage are helping those with more damage to remove their trashed belongings.  

Leslie Jordan, the mayor of San Juan Bautista, and other volunteers came in Tuesday and Wednesday to help serve the food and promised to come back as long as the deliveries lasted. Earlier in the week, more San Juan Bautista residents came out for a work party to help their flooded neighbors.  

“This is our community,” Jordan said. 

Volunteering for the Red Cross: a life-changing experience

Volunteers from all over the country are working together, providing food, shelter and relief supplies to those affected by severe weather across California. Many are experienced volunteers and have deployed several times. But some joined the Red Cross not so long ago and are on their first deployment. This experience can be both challenging and  life-changing, and it’s a great opportunity to find mentorship and build camaraderie. 

Here are some of their stories: 

Photo by Barbara Wood / American Red Cross

Kevin Wiramihardja: “I want to make the world better” 
Kevin Wiramihardja started volunteering for the American Red Cross in Boston in January, but by mid-March he had already found himself in California, ready to go to work in a shelter for those displaced by the series of storms that have been slamming the state.   
As he waited to be assigned to a shelter Kevin, who is in his 30’s, explained his real passion is to try to figure out how organizations and businesses can improve their communications.  To that end, he has taken a year off work to research and volunteer for the Red Cross. He is signed up as a “volunteer services feedback specialist,” trying to help the Boston chapter with things like volunteer surveys and what is done with the information gathered.   

To help him in that work, Kevin said he wants to learn as much about the Red Cross as he can, taking classes and working as a local responder to home fires, as well as volunteering to work 12-hour shifts in a shelter.  “I want to make the world better,” he said.   

On Wednesday, Kevin was hard at work on his second day of working in the Seven Trees Community Center shelter in San Jose. He said he appreciated that shelter manager Patrick McKenna is a good supervisor and “answers all my questions. I am grateful for that.”

So far, Kevin said, he found the work a “very life-changing experience.”   

Aidin, Juana and Cody: Help comes from the heart 

Photo by Barbara Wood / American Red Cross

Aidin Shahi is a true believer in the mission of the Red Cross. He isn’t yet 40, but he’s been a Red Cross volunteer for 19 years, at first as part of the International Red Cross and Red Crescent in his native Iran and for the past 10 years as part of the American Red Cross. 
Aidin, a resident of the Winnetka neighborhood of Los Angeles, is one of over a dozen Red Cross volunteers helping Monterey County in the evacuation shelter at the Santa Cruz County Fairgrounds in Watsonville. That number of volunteers has swelled since Aidin arrived because he’s signed up at least four new Red Cross volunteers in less than four days at the shelter.   

Aiden helped those who told him they’d like to join the Red Cross by shepherding them through the process online. “I cannot help everyone in the entire world, but I can help the people in need,” Aidin says.  “The best organization for helping people in need is the Red Cross. And it’s free and it comes heart to heart.”   

At least two of the volunteers Aiden helped sign up are already hard at work helping the residents of the shelter. Juana Uribe, a Watsonville resident who speaks fluent Spanish as well as English, helped serve food, clean up and whatever else was needed until the Shelter Resident Transition team asked her to help translate for Spanish speaking shelter residents the team is helping to figure out what they’ll do once they leave the shelter.   

Juana, a former office manager for a church who is currently looking for a new job, says she asked Aiden about joining the Red Cross because “I like the labor the Red Cross does.”   

“I love customer service,” she said. “I love to help people and bring hope to someone, even with a friendly face. Sometimes a child needs someone to approach them and smile at them. I just like to help those in need.”  

A second new volunteer, Cody Mortensen, has a unique perspective because he is staying in the evacuation shelter after the tent he had been living in was destroyed in the storm. The bar/restaurant he works at has also been shut down because of storm damage. Cody has helped with everything in the shelter from emptying garbage to setting up cots and serving food to the residents.   

Lucy Aita, a new volunteer that is ‘all in’ 

Photo by Barbara Wood / American Red Cross

American Red Cross volunteer Lucy Aita says she will never forget helping the family of a 93-year-old Florida woman who hadn’t been heard from for two weeks following Hurricane Ian last year. Lucy, a resident of Monroe, New Jersey, and fellow members of the Red Cross reunification team found the woman at her home, but without electricity or a working phone. The Red Crossers lent her a phone and helped her make calls. “We stayed with her for three hours while she called people,” Lucy said. The woman’s friends and relatives “were in tears on the phone. They thought she was gone,” Lucy said. “That was very touching.”   

Lucy, who has been a Red Cross volunteer for only 11 months, is currently on her fifth national deployment, working in an evacuation shelter in California helping those affected by the current series of storms slamming the state. She is trained to help with sheltering, feeding, and driving a Red Cross emergency response vehicle as well as reunification. At home, Lucy heads up the local teams who respond to home fires, and in her region, she oversees feeding.   

“I wanted to join the Red Cross since I was a teenager,” Lucy said.  But busy with life, school and as an only child with older parents who needed her help, Lucy put it off until after her mother passed away at the age of 97. Covid and health problems delayed Lucy for a bit longer, but last year she was finally able to realize her teen dream. “That was it – I was in there full time,” she said.   

Red Cross Responds as Severe Winter Weather Impacts California

This information was last updated on Friday, March 24 at 9:30 a.m. Please check back regularly for updates.

March 22, 2023. Red Cross Warehouse, Alameda, California. American Red Cross volunteers, Lisa Wright-Bishop and Vicki McNeil, load cleanup supplies to be distributed to residents affected by the California Atmospheric River Event. Photo by Jaka Vinsek/American Red Cross

Much of California continues its recovery from yet another round of intense rain and wind earlier this week.

Thursday night 732 people took refuge in 17 Red Cross and partner shelters statewide. Within our region, 530 people were supported in 11 shelters.

The American Red Cross has been helping in California since the atmospheric river onslaught began in late December of last year and is currently responding all over the state alongside local and state officials to help ensure people get the assistance they need.

For an updated map of road/lane closures, please visit the CalTrans QuickMap. Check your route before heading out!


The following shelters are open in anticipation of forecast weather and potential for flooding. Open shelters may also be found online at redcross.org/shelter.

Monterey County

Santa Cruz County

San Joaquin County

  • Manteca Senior Center, 295 Cherry Lane, Manteca CA 95337

Stanislaus County:

  • Salvation Army, Red Shield Community Center, 1649 Las Vegas St, Modesto, CA 95358
  • Stanislaus Fairgrounds–RV Grounds Outdoor Shelter, 800 N. Broadway Ave, Turlock, CA 95380

Everyone is welcome at Red Cross shelters, and anyone affected by the extreme weather can always stop by the shelter to access Red Cross services, warm up, and contact loved ones regardless of whether or not they choose to stay overnight at the shelter.

Donating Items at Shelters

Please do not drop off items like blankets, toys, food, etc. at Red Cross shelters. We appreciate everyone’s desire to help during a disaster, but the Red Cross does not have the capacity to accept, process, clean, organize or distribute these items. We work with our partners to procure items for our shelters and ensure everyone who comes to our shelters has everything they need.

Stay Up-to-Date on Social Media

Updated information on the Red Cross response to this storm, and preparedness information is updated regularly on our regional social media channels:

Sign up to volunteer

While trained Red Cross volunteers and staff continue to manage the response efforts, we are looking for additional volunteers to help with disaster response and recovery activities. Apply online to become a Red Cross volunteer by visiting redcross.org/volunteertoday if you are interested in helping with this response or responses like this in the future.

Blood During Disasters

The Red Cross is working to maintain a stable blood supply amid the threat of storms and winter weather across the country, as severe weather often causes widespread blood drive cancellations. Where it is safe to do so, we encourage donors to make and keep blood donation appointments by using the Red Cross Blood Donor App, visiting RedCrossBlood.org or calling 1-800-RED CROSS (1-800-733-2767).

Disaster Mental Health Team: tips to improve coping skills after repeat disasters

photo by Barbara Wood / American Red Cross

American Red Crosser Jeff Roediger has some tips for coping with the anxiety and other effects of stress caused by the series of severe atmospheric river storms (currently 11 and counting) that have slammed California this winter. 

Roediger says that events such as disasters and evacuations, especially those that occur more than once, “are mentally, physically and spiritually draining.” Such events can create a sense of loss or grief over things already lost, fear for life or safety, even hopelessness, he says.

Among the thoughts and behaviors that can appear, Roediger says, are anger, cognitive difficulties such as not being able to think clearly, racing thoughts, the desire to isolate ones self, or bad coping skills such as using drugs or alcohol or risky behavior.

Here are some of Roediger’s tips:

1  –  Keep in touch with family and friends.  
“Talk to somebody about the event. Don’t bottle it up,” Roediger, a professional counselor from South Carolina on his 30th disaster response assignment, says.

“The more we talk about it, the more we normalize it,” he says.  “It becomes part of our life and it no longer it has power over us.”  

2 -If you know someone who has suffered from a disaster Listen to what the person has to say.
”Just let them talk,” Roediger says. “People want to be heard.”  

3  – Distract yourself 
If you find yourself unable to stop thinking about the disaster, find something else to do Roediger says.  Listen to music, draw, write, go for a walk, make a gratitude list.

4 – If you have suffered a loss in a disaster, make a list of things you must do to recover.
“Let the list sit for a time and then prioritize each item. Lists help move focus to the future, not the past,” he says. 

5 – Anyone stressed by a disaster can ask to speak to a Red Cross counselor, free of charge.
The Red Cross also partners with the free SAMHSA Disaster Distress helpline, where a trained counselor is available 24 hours a day at (800) 985-5990. 

The Heart of the Mission: Red Cross Volunteers Assess California Storm Damage

Story and Photos by Marcia Antipa, Public Affairs Volunteer

Joe Baldi and Dianna Soula inspect damaged Marin County building
Photo by Marcia Antipa / American Red Cross volunteer

After weeks of heavy rain and high winds, the sun has come out again in California. However, the American Red Cross disaster response continues. More than 800 trained Red Cross volunteers from nearly all 50 states have been supporting people in the affected communities. Eighty shelters were opened during the disaster, and the Red Cross, working with community partners, distributed thousands of meals and relief items such as comfort kits and cleaning supplies. Now, as people slowly move toward recovery, volunteer Red Cross Disaster Assessment Teams are spreading out through storm-ravaged communities, taking stock of damage to homes.

“The assessment gives us information on the homes that were destroyed or had major damage,” says DA volunteer Joe Baldi of Sacramento.

Baldi and fellow volunteer Dianna Soula of Lancaster, Ohio recently visited an apartment complex in Marin County, California.  During the heavy rains, a mud-soaked hillside slammed into one of the buildings, making it uninhabitable. The two walked through thick mud to view the home, then documented the damage using guidelines from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). That information helps the Red Cross and its partner agencies provide assistance for those displaced by the disaster.

Al Gharibian and Howard Wilkens doing Disaster Assessment in Guerneville
Photo by Marcia Antipa /
American Red Cross

Right now, more than a dozen of Disaster Assessment teams have “boots on the ground” in California. Volunteers Howard Wilkens of Kansas City, MO and Alan Gharibian of Glendale, CA, took a preliminary Disaster Assessment tour of the Sonoma County town of Guerneville along the Russian River. After days of heavy rain, the river was swollen, muddy and threatening to crest its banks. The two men visited the Guerneville Fire Department to get information on which neighborhoods were hardest hit. Wilkens, who has deployed for the Red Cross to 30 disasters across the country in five years, explains just some of the damage they look for after a storm.

“For example, we look for water lines on the side of the house, broken joists on the roof decking, or homes where the winds have blown off the siding or the roof shingles.”

Alan Gharibian recently deployed to Hurricanes Nicole and Ian in Florida. He says the devastation and the suffering in the wake of the hurricanes was “heartbreaking, to say the least.” But he says he is happy to volunteer again, using his 37 years of experience in the insurance business to help assess the damage in California.

Ultimately, Disaster Assessment volunteers are the heart of the Red Cross mission to prevent and alleviate human suffering in the face of emergencies.

“It’s the Red Cross’s goal to assist them in any way they can,” says Dianna Soula, “to get them into a recovery state, someplace where they’re safe, have comforts and feeding, and medication that they needed, and just try to get their life back on track as quickly as we can.”

To find out how you can help those hit by the California storms, visit redcross.org.

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