Four months in: Local Red Cross volunteer aids Sandy recovery

Pat Petrie has been in New York for going on 4 months, and she doesn’t know how much longer she will be there. Hurricane Sandy has wreaked havoc on the population there, and she doesn’t know how long it will take to restore stability.

Petrie, a Marshalltown native and Red Cross volunteer, works in computer operations for one of 13 disaster support teams the Red Cross has across the county. Her job is to help provide communications and technology infrastructure for those who relocate storm victims. She said the devastation she has seen there is worse than what she saw during her relief efforts for Hurricane Katrina.

“There isn’t any place to relocate them to,” she said of those displaced by the storm. “There is just this congestion of people to relocate them is tough.”

Tony Burke, chapter support officer for the Iowa River region of the Red Cross, said Petrie is a highly specialized volunteer. Petrie provides essential services to help case workers quickly and effectively assist victims. Communication services are vitally important in disaster response, he said.

Performance narratives from those who have been working with Petrie in Sandy’s wake show that they hold her in high esteem, saying she is “an enduring part of what makes Disaster Service Technology work” and “Her professionalism is second to none.”

The non-profit deployed Petrie before the storm hit, but the weather made flying impossible, so she had to wait until after Sandy swept through the region before she got to her station. When she arrived, what she saw left an impression.

“A person doesn’t really realize how much of a disaster it is until they see it,” she said. “What you see on TV doesn’t do it justice.”

Getting to know the people who work for the relief effort has given Petrie a sense of accomplishment, and although she misses the Mid-West’s green grass and fresh air and being able to drive, the people in New York have been appreciative.

Burke said the key to disaster relief is preparation. Complacency can have devastating results, and a person learning to be self-sufficient goes a long way.

“It can happen at any time,” he said. “We have to be ready. We can’t sit on our laurels.”

One of the more challenging aspects of Petrie’s deployment, she said, has been the amount of turn over. People come and go so often, it’s hard to nail down a system. And the stress involved can weigh on some people, she said. But whether it’s troubleshooting the computer network – which sees non-stop use because of the amount of people condensed into such a small area – or handing out equipment, there is never a dull moment.

“We are usually the first in and the last out,” Petrie said. “We have to think on our feet That’s what I like: the challenge of things changing every day.”