Saturday, August 30, 2008

Watching Gustav in horror

We are still in Kissimmee, Florida, at the relief operation for Tropical Storm Fay.

I have a great deal to update since my last post here ten days ago. It's finally slowed down enough here at relief headquarters that I can spend some time writing -- we've been swamped the last ten days, and even our day off was busy with the backlog of household chores and errands, including replacing two leaky recirculating valves and a waterlogged feedhorn drumhead on the satellite dish, not to mention continuing to wring everything out from the part of Fay that actually made it inside the bus. We did take a couple hours to drive over to a local joint and get massages, which were much needed and appreciated.

Some of our readers may be wondering what, if any, impact Hurricane Gustav will have on our lives. To be honest, we are wondering the same thing ourselves. Our current status as assigned to TS Fay precludes us, at least for the current pre-landfall push, from being included in the massive recruitment for Gustav, which now stands at a call for over 4,000 (yes, that's not a typo) volunteers across five separate relief operations (Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Texas, and the Florida Panhandle). There is no doubt that Gustav will hit hard somewhere along the gulf, just three years after the one-two punch of Katrina and Rita.

That being said, there is some possibility that we will be kept in place here for additional flooding in Florida from the outer bands, which are already hitting here, as shown in this satellite photo (I have indicated our approximate location):

So I guess the immediate impact from Gustav on us will be additional rain (and Odyssey leakage). More importantly, the rivers in Florida are just now cresting over the last day or two from Fay -- we still had over 400 in one shelter in Fort Myers as of yesterday, due to flooding there over the last few days. So any rain dumped here from Gustav will just add to that problem, and perhaps cause this relief operation to extend further. And that does not even count what might come this way from Hanna, already making its way toward us.

All of which add up to us not being available to help with any of the operations west of here, at least in the near term. By the time we are done here, I expect those operations to be well under way and fully staffed (well, at least our department, anyway -- Mass Care will still be looking for help, as well as Client Services). So we may yet end up getting our visit to Disney World in before we leave Florida.

To be honest, our experience en route to this operation is causing me to rethink my commitment to the Red Cross. So whether we will be going to any disasters from here at all is an unanswered question. The details are too lengthy to expound upon here, and I think I'm still a bit too raw to write it up dispassionately. The upshot, though, is that we are collateral damage in somebody's political power game, with the net result that our expenses are being partially reimbursed only from Gainesville, rather than from Port Lavaca, where we were located when we learned we were needed here.

That's a difference of over 1,000 miles, and while we would never have been fully reimbursed for the roughly $900 that distance actually costs us, the few hundred bucks we'd normally see at least makes us feel welcome and needed, in addition to partially offsetting our costs. The money is decidedly not the issue, however -- I have already decided that we'll be reducing our significant annual donation this year by at least that much.

This slap in the face came the morning after the most grueling driving day in Odyssey's history to be available here in a timely way. And it came in the form of being told, in fact, that we would not be assigned to the operation at all, after coming almost the entire distance. Our chapter intervened at the last moment, and managed to get us assigned, but I have been in something of a funk ever since. All this came on the heels of having to fight to get our (partial) reimbursement for our Austin expenses while we were in Mercedes, a battle that took an emotional toll on all involved. So we are feeling, at the moment, a bit unappreciated as volunteers.

Perhaps after this operation is over and we have had a chance to recuperate a bit, I will have some calm time to write more. In the meantime, whether we go out again will have a great deal to do with how (or if) we are asked.


  1. Sean, I'm so sorry to hear about your recent experience with the Red Cross. From the volunteer work I've done, I know there are three things I care about:

    1. Being involved in an important cause.

    2. Being well used. I've volunteered with organizations that were prepared for volunteers and knew exactly how to best use them, and it was a joy. Others seemed befuddled, and I didn't stay there long.

    3. Being appreciated. That comes in the form of simple thank yous, and sometimes in other ways. I've done a lot of work that involved making phone calls or answering phones. It was always so nice when the organizations provided cold drinks and light snacks for the volunteers on the phones.

    Whether or not the Red Cross is showing its appreciation, I want to send my own big "thanks" for the work you've done!

  2. Sean,
    As a former American Red Cross DSHR/Mass Care responder/volunteer (back throughout the mid-late 90's)...I fully "understand" your frustrations...and your "fatigue" at this point of time in your current DR.

    I also fully understand your "frustrations" with "the system" as it applies to your current "situation".

    One of the reasons that I have been "eagerly following" your blogs was out of curiosity as to "how this was all going to work out"...what with your being "fulltime" RVers, as well as responders.

    Personally,I was "not welcomed" to come back into the Red Cross, despite my years of knowledge, training, and on the job "experience"...once I told them that I now live and travel in an RV.

    It simply does not "fit" their profile of what they "prefer" their personnel to be doing when not on actual "deployment".

    I was "told" to "find roots" and start all over again with a local Chapter somewhere...not "something" I care to do anymore.

    Why can't "someone" start a "National Nomad" specifically "fitted out" to work with those of us desirous of "wandering",...but also still fully qualified...and "willing" to come and help?

    Seems it's still the "same ol' bureaucratic" system that can't see beyond it's own "paper trails" (as it was back 10 years ago) though...and "that sounds like where" your current "problem" lies.

    Here's wishing ya "Good Luck!"...and just remember...don't make "serious decisions"...when yer burnt out and frustrated!

    I still "kick myself" for walking away when I did 10 years ago.

  3. I know the frustration of being a pawn in someone's political game. It is frustrating and demeaning, being reduced to that when you are really trying to help.

    Michael is right, though. Don't decide too quickly. You do a good work, and some small person should not rob you of the joy that should bring.

    I hope you resolve this in a manner that satisfies you. It is very sad.

  4. I'm sorry to see the red tape creep up. I must admit that when I read about the delay getting the deployment OK, my thinking was "there is a problem". I'm thinking that I just wouldn't move the BUS until I had that deployment OK.

    I don't think they were square with you and I will review my donation to the Red Cross.

  5. Bryce Gaston AKA BKSep 3, 2008, 12:38:00 PM

    Sean & Louise,
    I truely understand your frustrations with the situation at hand.
    While Aug. is typically a very slow month for us in the charter buse biz. We had a record olw number of charters this yr. Which really hurt after buying 2 more buses since April.
    But at the end of the month I had some last minute bid requests come in, so I studied our costs greatly, and bid on them with a reduced profit margin, in order to get "some" work.
    Well as soon as I became commited to theses low bid chaters they started calling for any & all buses to help out with evacuations for Gustav!
    Well for these operations we have a 5 yr contract with the state of TX. The contract states that we will be among the first notified & used if available. As well as the fact that we are not allowed to enter into any agreements with any outher angencies or states, while under the TX contract.
    Well we were asked repeatedly by several 3rd party companies asking us to sign a conract with them,and to immeadiately report to San Antonio, TX with what ever buses we have available.

    Well # 1) our contract with TX say's we may not engage into any others in the state of TX.
    #2)According to our contract we are supposed to be some of the first called.
    #3) we hadn't heard a word from TX.

    So friday we called the main guy from TX Procurement office that we've always dealt with. And he said that yes the state of TX did in fact contract it out to one of these 3rd party companies. Who in turn was subcontracting it out to even more companies.
    He sadi he was highly upset about it, but it was out of his hands. He then also told us to send what buses we had available to San Antonio. He said he'd have someone send us a PO where we can bill the state of TX directly.

    SO even though it is a different situtation, and a different approach. I do feel your frustrations!

    And even more frustrating to me is that of the buses I have down there not one of them has actually hauled anyone! They are being bounced from here to there empty! And while we are getting paid for it, it is a shame to see such a waste of tax $! Here they are screaming to get more $ for things like this, and they are wasting it faster than they get it! MY 2 cents FWIW. Bryce AKA "BK" (Busted Knuckles)

  6. Sean and Louise,

    Sorry to hear of your frustration. Now you know what I have been battling for the past 35 years. Some very good times and management to very poor management. We are currently in a "poor management" phase. It to will pass.

    Ted Harris

  7. I'm sure you are up to your eyeballs in alligators, but I miss your daily adventures and good advice. I hope things have improved with the Red Cross -- what a shame after you have invested so much of yourselves in helping others.

  8. Hope all is well. Miss your updates.

    Robert, Concord NH


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