Friday, February 14, 2020

Three Questions: Ioana Opris Deploys to Puerto Rico

"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. 

Ioana Opris, Disaster Workforce Engagement Manager at the American Red Cross in Greater New York, traveled to Puerto Rico last month, where 1,000+ earthquakes have damaged and destroyed homes and disrupted tens of thousands of lives since December. During her two-week deployment to the island, Ioana worked in the Information and Planning section.

Ioana has been part of the Red Cross family for over three years. She started with volunteer roles on the Disaster Response and Information and Planning teams, before taking on her current position as an employee in Workforce Engagement.

This was her fourth deployment with the American Red Cross. Her first was following Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico. That was followed by assignments in North Carolina (Hurricane Florence) and Northern California (Camp Fire).

Ioana, who lives in West Harlem, is originally from Romania and speaks Spanish, French, Romanian and English.

Ioana and Dr. Diego Zavala, Volunteer Information and Planning Lead who
served as Assistant Director of Information and Planning for this operation
Interviewed by Maria Sievers, American Red Cross in Greater NY

Can you talk about the impact of the earthquakes? 

The magnitude 6.4 earthquake that struck Puerto Rico on January 7th and caused the damage that initiated this Red Cross Disaster Relief Operation was part of a series of tremors that began on December 28th. Aftershocks have continued since, with greatest impacts felt in the southwestern portion of the island.

The impact is complex and there are several components: Initially, people have sustained physical damage to their residences and that is a huge loss for families and communities. Unlike a hurricane or an incident that happens and then it’s done, the impact of the earthquakes is fluid, and there is the potential for additional damage to homes as aftershocks continue. 

There is a significant emotional toll due to living under the stress of continuing earthquakes, and people fear returning to their homes. Many Puerto Ricans are staying in government-run shelters, but others are choosing to stay outside their homes and have set up temporary living arrangements outdoors. It’s tough, because as the aftershocks continue, they create a constant reminder of fear now associated with going home. The needs for emotional support, mental health care and disaster spiritual care are significant.

And to put things in context, the island is still recovering from Hurricanes Maria and Irma. That has a compounding implication, not only materially but in terms of people’s emotional well-being.

What was your specific role in Puerto Rico?

I deployed as the Deputy Assistant Director of Information and Planning. The Information and Planning section covers different areas including coordination of the planning process, information management and dissemination, situational awareness, and disaster assessment. We produce documents that are not only used to plan our future actions, but also reports and products to capture data on our completed actions and current operations. We manage the process of collecting, analyzing and visualizing information and data to support internal decision-making as well as to coordinate with external partners, including government agencies.

One of the ways in which we collect situational awareness from the field is through our Disaster Assessment Teams. They collect information on damages to homes which is then used to support our clients in their recovery process and helps the Red Cross allocate resources. We also use this information to get a clearer picture of where impacts are concentrated and target our service delivery.

My primary role has been to support the Assistant Director of Planning for the local Red Cross operation. He is part of the Info and Planning team in Puerto Rico, and he and I had worked together on the response to Hurricane Maria. The secondary purpose of my deployment was to assist in building capacity for the local chapter. Response to a disaster always starts and ends locally. So, a lot of the work that we are doing here is making sure that the local team has what they need to develop their own capacity while we train even more volunteers to improve their overall planning capacity. They’ve all been doing an amazing job.

Can you share some insight on the Puerto Rican people?

Puerto Ricans are very welcoming to the Red Cross. When our teams are going out in the community they are greeted with warmth and by people who want to share their stories. In disaster, we see people who are experiencing some of the worst days of their lives, and it’s just amazing how welcoming, kind and grateful Puerto Ricans are to us for even coming. People welcome the supplies and services we are providing, but the hope spread by our teams is also so appreciated.

One thing that I see every day in headquarters is that the volunteers in Puerto Rico are absolutely incredible. There are very few deployed staff here compared to [local] volunteers, and local volunteers have been carrying this mission and they have been incredible to work with. They amaze and inspire me every time I work with them.

Ioana (seated second from the left) and her
Information and Planning team in Puerto Rico

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