Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Reflections of a Seasoned Disaster Responder

By Stan Frank, American Red Cross

"To victims there is no such thing as a small disaster." That's Phil Cogan's mantra as a Red Cross Volunteer.

Phil joined the American Red Cross Greater New York Chapter in 2014 as Lead Disaster Responder and Public Affairs Team Member. As a volunteer with comprehensive hands-on experience in every aspect of disaster response, he has been an indispensable member of the Greater New York Chapter.

A California native, Phil earned a B.A. in Communications from UCLA where he was General Manager and News Director of the campus radio station. While at UCLA he also worked in the newsroom of KNX-CBS News Radio which later led to subsequent employment at several West Coast radio and TV stations.

After graduating from UCLA, Phil went on to earn a Master’s degree in Communications from the University of Washington. During college breaks, he honed his skills in crisis communications while working for the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) on numerous U.S. disasters. Subsequently, Phil served with FEMA for 23 years, the last five of which as Deputy Director for Public Affairs, while simultaneously working as Public Affairs Officer for the U.S. Navy. He also applied his crisis management expertise at the U.S. Export/Import Bank and Bernstein Crisis Management, Inc.

After the 9-11 attacks in 2001, Phil rejoined FEMA where he served as Public Affairs Lead for Urban Search and Rescue Operations at Ground Zero. In that position he developed and implemented media plans and worked closely with national and international print, broadcast and still photo news media and the New York City Office of Emergency Management (OEM) to cover the renewal work being done at Ground Zero.

Asked what he thinks new responders should keep in mind and what seasoned responders already know, Phil said:

“When a major disaster such as a hurricane, flood or multi-alarm fire strikes, we all know the tragedy it represents for hundreds and perhaps thousands of helpless residents. But major disasters do not occur every day. What does occur every day…in fact 7 to 10 times daily in the New York area…are ‘smaller’ events such as home fires that are just as tragic to its victims. A ‘small’ home fire can still put residents out onto the street; it can still disrupt their lives; it can still harm or kill their pets; it can still traumatize them and their children. To victims, there is no such thing as a ‘small’ disaster. All disasters are major disasters.”

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