Local Red Cross volunteer heads to Oklahoma

When she saw the devastation caused by the twister in Moore, Okla., Mary Dooley couldn’t just stay home. The EF5 tornado, the highest classification of tornado, wiped houses off the map and killed 24 people, including nine children, Monday night. As the retired executive director of the Iowa River chapter of the Red Cross – a position she held for 20 years – Dooley had the skills to help. And she planned to do just that.

Dooley now works as a volunteer for the Red Cross. She leaves for Oklahoma Friday morning to provide public affairs aid to those affected by the tornado. As a public affairs chief, Dooley will help communicate which services are available to disaster victims and how they can avail themselves to the Red Cross’s services through mass and social media as well as other, more old fashioned, methods such as flyers and posters.

“In addition to the tangible, concrete pieces of help We show them the country cares,” Dooley said. “They are not going through this alone.”

Dooley, who lives on a farm west of Albion, joins more than 300 Red Cross volunteers already on site, and she is one of two central Iowans to be deployed.

Dan Cataldi, state response officer for the Red Cross, said Dooley is one of the Red Cross’s top public affairs volunteers in the country, and Marshalltown is lucky to have her available should disaster strike the area.

Dooley helped in the wake of Hurricane Katrina and was on the ground following the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks in New York.

“It’s a huge benefit because Mary has seen many disasters in her career,” Cataldi said. “She understands emotions She is able to bring a calming sense with her experience and an unbelievable knowledge base.”

Dooley said she works hard to push through any glitches in communication. She said the complexity of disaster relief scenarios is frustrating to everyone and can weigh heavily on even the most seasoned volunteer.

In addition to her skills, Dooley said she hopes to bring patience and flexibility to the effort.

“Disasters are always chaotic. That is the very nature of them,” she said. “One of the real challenges is, in the United States, we are such an instant society. We expect to solve problems and make them go away right away. When disaster hits, not only do they bring myriad emotions, there is not an instant fix.”

It’s important to have well-trained volunteers working through organizations like the Red Cross, Dooley said.

While many people are eager to help, simply showing up at the site or sending items such as clothes is often counterproductive. Someone needs to sort, clean and distribute clothes or other items and volunteers not associated with an organization need to be fed and housed. The efforts to accommodate errant volunteers can bog down operations, as well-meaning as they might be, Dooley said.

In addition to those killed and the structural damage caused by the tornado, hospitals treated more than 200 patients injured by the twister.

To donate to the Red Cross call 800-733-2767 or visit redcross.org. To make a $10 donation via text message, text “red cross” to 90999.