Friday, April 26, 2019

Three Questions: Shirley Leung

By Doris Liu

"Three Questions …" is an American Red Cross in Greater New York blog series featuring staff, volunteers, and partners who help carry out our humanitarian mission. Through these short interviews, we hope to shine a light on our different programs and get to know those who make this work possible.

Shirley at the state EOC in Alabama following tornadoes last month. 
Shirley Leung is a data analysis and research expert who has volunteered with the Red Cross for almost two years. Her extensive background working with non-profits as well as her GIS mapping skills have proved invaluable in her Red Cross work. Shirley has supported local programs here in NYC and lent her expertise and dedication after large-scale disasters far from home. Last fall she deployed to California and more recently she traveled to Alabama to support Red Cross activities after devastating tornadoes.

How did your background lead you to the American Red Cross?

I have a background in non-profit and economic development as well as investment banking. A lot of those things contain data analysis that I do with the Red Cross. I’m really big on research. I’ve also been volunteering for a long time, since 1995, at other non-profit organizations, like charity races and children’s foundations. I did a lot of translation for patients since I’m bilingual. I feel like I’ve continued to do what I like to do here at the Red Cross. It is a way to invest in and contribute to my community. The Red Cross has a volunteer culture that I like because it’s doing something meaningful. I know I can contribute my skill set and my previous experiences to work here. In my previous experiences, I learned about GIS mapping, which is really helpful for the Red Cross fire safety campaign. 

What has been your favorite project so far at the Red Cross?

Being deployed to California [wildfires] for 12 days. Sitting in the EOC overnight might sound crazy for a favorite moment, but it really helped me learn a lot about these kinds of crises and how they are managed by multiple agencies at the federal level. In California, I was at the state EOC and so we were working with FEMA and other state level agencies. They would come to us [the Red Cross] for aid during the wildfires. We basically liaise with these agencies and help operate in shelters as well as with citizen evacuation. It’s complicated because when you see a fire on the screen it’s spreading one way and once the wind changes the direction the fire will spread to a completely different location. So, you really have to monitor everything. We also have to work with our partners to make sure that if something’s wrong in the shelters, it can get fixed. You never know what’s going to come up.

Recently, you deployed to Alabama to support after a large-scale tornado. What did you do there and how did the team cooperate with the local agencies?

I was at the government operation center representing the Red Cross, working with the Alabama county emergency management agency. Basically, what we did was serving as a conduit between the local agencies and the Red Cross. Working with local agencies, we work with information exchange because the Red Cross has a really strong damage assessment team. We went out to the field, saw the damaged and assessed it, and brought the data back. Then, we mapped it [the damage] so that the local agency directors could see it, and they came to us to get more information so that they can make their own decisions like setting up a multi-agency resources center. The agencies then used our data to predict and figure out how many families may need help, and what types of help they would need. Since I do mapping, I was able to help the GIS team.

What I learned the most is that because this disaster was very localized, we learned things about the community that we did not know before. We had to do outreach work through the churches. Because a lot of them [residents] lost transportation and there’s no car to drive them. Because it’s hard for them to access the resources, we had to go out and reach out to the churches in order to reach out to people. Also, the community was very closely knit. They didn’t go to the shelters, because the churches provide funding for them to stay in the hotels and their families take them in.

My biggest takeaway is that the local government really relies on organizations like the Red Cross to help them get through disasters. Because of our resources, including our knowledge, material, volunteers, technology, and expertise in disaster management. Therefore, we are always ready. We got a lot of training and a lot of us have deployment experiences, so we can just all drop in and start to work and made things happen.

To learn more about the American Red Cross response to last month's tornadoes in Alabama, click here. 


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