Danger zone: volunteering in the path of tornadoes


By EEB
Jul 16, 2013 Bookmark and Share

Dale Austin tornado

Dale Austin taking a short break on top of relief supplies. “I've lost track of how many trucks I've unloaded in the last two days. Hundreds of tarps, thousands of batteries, rolls of toilet paper, paper towels, shovels, rakes, bug repellent, sunblock, bleach and wipes, diapers.”

Dale Austin spent three-weeks in tornado ravaged Norman, Okla., supporting disaster relief efforts for the American Red Cross.

“I got to witness first-hand the damage a tornado can inflict,” Austin said. “They areHome showing the tornado’s wrath. unpredictable in the extreme. Destroyed houses can be intermixed with the nearly intact. Roofs can be picked up and set back down. Vehicles can be rolled along the ground till they look like a lumpy metal ball. I also had the chance to chat with many of those affected as they were in the process of cleaning up and recovering their property.”

As a Red Cross facilities manager, Austin provided on-site logistics support for two multi-agency resource centers, temporary Red-Cross facilities that they shared with other governmental and non-governmental assistance agencies. Austin is a photographer for the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, and media consultant in the Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences. He has worked at the University of Michigan for 30 years.

“Logistics is a wildly varied job,” he said. “On-site I was involved in space negotiations and set-up with local and national groups, acted as the point of contact for issues related to building maintenance and safety, ordered supplies for the facility, checked in and distributed relief supplies to the clients, and acted as all-round resource person.” His Red Cross stint lasted from May 25 – June 15, 2013.

He was out in the field almost daily for an hour or two performing damage assessment to confirm addresses, ownership, and past condition of properties. “Most of the time I could confirm damage and eligibility for assistance while the clients were still in the center, sparing them a second trip.”

Following are email updates Austin sent during his time in Oklahoma: May 29, 2013 -- “The sky is threatening trouble today -- and the forecast predicts worse for tomorrow. Despite the heat and humidity, those seeking assistance wait patiently, sometimes with dozens of others -- all neighbors, all a community. What impresses me most is the outpouring from the community. Fully half the volunteers are from the local community. Donated goods and money have poured into the area. The school and the local Red Cross Chapter set up a distribution center here for donated goods. Donations have ranged from used clothing, prepaid cell phones, to chainsaws still in the box.”

June 1, 2013 -- “If you've been watching the news you saw that this area has been hit again. We spent an hour in the safe room last night waiting for the storm to pass. I am safe and well. We are re-aligning the operation to deal with the new situation.”

More than 900 Red Cross disaster workers are providing shelter, food, relief supplies, health and mental health services and recovery assistance to help people after the devastating tornadoes in Oklahoma.

A welcome sight: repair trucks lined up. Images credit: Dale AustinA welcome sight: repair trucks lined up. 
Images credit: Dale Austin

austin car tornado

"Vehicles can be rolled along the ground til they look like a lumpy metal ball."