Sunday, October 9, 2005

The War Room

Yesterday was our first full day of work here at Baton Rouge Red Cross HQ. Sean has been assigned to Response Computer Operations, which means he fixes other people's computer problems all day. I am working in Response Customer Service, which is really a misnomer. It is more like Inventory Control. I spent the entire day issuing cell phones to new volunteers and taking back phones from folks finishing up their tour of duty. A typical assignment is 3 weeks, and most of those leaving looked pretty tired. Those arriving looked nervous.

HQ is in an old big-box store that has been stripped down to the bare walls. It looks like a war room, with several hundred workers in makeshift cubicles or huddled around groups of folding chairs and tables. Giant signs designating departments hang from the ceiling, and maps of Louisiana line the walls. Some maps show flood zones, others show shelter locations, yet others indicate where power, postal or telephone service is "full, intermittant, or none." White butcher paper is also everywhere on the walls, with handwritten updates, meeting announcements, phone numbers.

There is very little sense of drama here, though. In the RC training videos, there are many images of people confronting their losses: fire, flood, injury. In showing what the RC does, we also watched lots of footage of clients receiving food, blankets, and hugs. Good human-interest stuff. There are no clients at HQ, and the flooding is far off. It feels very much like a large office or commerical warehouse. Only those tired field workers and nervous new arrivals mark this as something different. While it is a little disappointing to not be helping clients directly, it should be very good experience for us to watch the background operation in great detail and to be able to at least help other volunteers with humor and compassion. Gosh darn it, I can make your cell phone issuance the most heart warming and meaningful exchange of electronics of your entire day!

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