Friday, March 23, 2018

Red Cross Month Volunteer Profile: Ioana Opris

by Stan Frank

For over 60 years, the President of the United States has designated March as American Red Cross Month. It is a month when we celebrate our volunteers and supporters who make the mission of the Red Cross a reality.

This month, we are taking a moment to celebrate the volunteers who raised their hands in 2017 to support an unprecedented year of disasters across the country and around the world. From natural catastrophes including hurricanes and floods to devastating wildfires and a tragic mass shooting, the Greater New York Region of the American Red Cross deployed more than 300 volunteers to deliver hope and help during a remarkable time.

We asked several volunteers to share some of their deployment experiences. Today we hear from Ioana Opris.

What first motivated you to become a Red Cross volunteer?
    I was first motivated to become a volunteer because I wanted to learn more about immediate disaster relief and develop skills in emergency management. For over three years, I have worked with refugees post-resettlement and individuals who have been granted asylum in the United States. Providing assistance to individuals who have been affected by disaster, whether man-made or natural, is a priority for me. I have a strong commitment to volunteerism, and I believe that we should all make the time to support our communities by volunteering.

    In the Red Cross I found a community of dedicated individuals who I see, time and again, go above and beyond to meet the needs of clients. Whether it's 14-hour work days on a DRO [disaster relief operation] or working through weekends to prepare for an incoming storm, I am regularly inspired by my colleagues.

    Where were you deployed and what was your mission?

    The Information and Planning Team in Puerto Rico.
    Ioana is third from right in center row.
    I deployed for the first time to Puerto Rico, after Hurricane Maria caused widespread destruction across the island. I worked out of the Disaster Relief Operation Headquarters (DRO HQ) in San Juan and served in the role of Information Dissemination Lead, Information and Planning. 

    My role was to gather and analyze operationally relevant information from both internal and external sources and compile it into reports for internal dissemination. I produced the Incident Action Plan (IAP) and Situation Report (SitRep) daily.

    After returning from Puerto Rico, I remained on virtual assignment to the DRO for over two months. I continued to fill an information dissemination position and provided virtual support to the team by training new members, translating and condensing Spanish language media, and dropping points in RC View (Red Cross ArcGIS mapping). When needed, I prepared the full IAP and SitRep remotely.

    What did you do on a daily basis?
      With the exception of conducting damage assessments, almost all of Information and Planning's work is based out of Headquarters.

      Each day, I attended meetings with Operations Management. The Operational Leadership Meeting in the morning, where I updated the IAP to reflect incident priorities and objectives for the following operational period. The Tactics Meeting in the afternoon, where I supported the discussion of outstanding needs and fulfillment of supplies. And the Operational Briefing Meeting in the evening, where I reviewed the complete IAP with the DRO Director, Deputy RCCO and activity leads and made any final edits.

      The meetings provided a daily structure to my work. The elements that make up the IAP range from contact rosters and work assignments to infrastructure impact assessments, safety messages, and incident maps. I built relationships with activity leads to obtain internal updates as well as informational products from Red Cross partners and government agencies.

      Each day I read and selected information from various materials, including mainstream media, government sources, and FEMA reports. Most of the local news reporting in Puerto Rico is in Spanish, so translating became a vital part of my job both when I was deployed and later on virtual assignment.

      After the Incident Action Plan was finalized, I edited and compiled the updates received from other activities into Situation Reports to provide an overview of the day's activities.

      Although much of my work was done in front of a laptop, I am grateful to have had the opportunity to go out with the water filter distribution teams for a day. We visited communities that had been most impacted by the hurricane and still lacked access to safe drinking water. I was involved in planning for the initial push to distribute water filters (identifying target areas) and it was very rewarding to be a part of the project in action.

      Can you tell us what touched you most during your deployment?

      Ioana (center) with Clair (left) and Natalie (right)
      Working alongside Puerto Rican volunteers was the most touching aspect of my experience. I was moved by their profound strength, dedication and care for their communities. When I left Puerto Rico, official reports showed only 38% of the island with power restoration. Interruptions to water service were frequent, even in areas where water had been restored. Many of the people I worked with continued to face these difficulties all the while going out each day to support relief efforts and volunteer. I am thankful to have been a part of their Red Cross community and for the genuine openness and friendship they showed me when I was there. 

      Thank you Ioana for sharing your experience and for traveling to Puerto Rico to deliver the mission of the American Red Cross. We are grateful for your service! #RedCrossMonth

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