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LETTER: Former Red Cross Worker Not Wishing to Volunteer Any Further

June 28, 2018, 6:07 PM HST (Updated June 28, 2018, 6:08 PM)
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This is a Chronology of the events leading up to my leaving Red Cross and not wishing to volunteer any further.

I began volunteering with Red Cross in 1989 during the Oakland Loma Prieta Earthquake and enjoyed the missions I was helping with. In 1991 I again volunteered with Red Cross during the Oakland Hills Fire.  I was unable to volunteer further due to National Guard deployments but when I moved to the Big Island of Hawaii in 2010 I returned to volunteering with Red Cross and deployed to many local fires and disasters including Tsunami and Hurricanes. I worked my way up to Senior Responder and Instructor for Disaster Action Team Training. I had a good working relation with Barney Scheffield who was the administrator at the time and during the time working with Barney we had a list of volunteers and a great structure of notifying volunteers before a disaster occurred.  Debbie Weeks came in as administrator and eliminated all leadership and instructor positions. 

On May 29,2018, I contacted Red Cross Hilo Administrator Debbie Weeks and asked her if we were going to be contacting volunteers on standby due to the impending eruption of Kilauea volcano. I was told that she had a meeting with Civil Defense and they told her that there was a probability there would not be any significant event which would need Red Cross. I then just took the message as we were not needed. On May 3, 2018 while out on a motorcycle ride, I went to visit friends living in Leilani estates to look at some cracks in their yard created by the numerous earthquakes which were occurring in the area. While talking with my friends they received a phone call that steam was coming from a crack in the road which would later become fissure #1.  I went to the location to see the steam and State Highways were at the intersection blocking the road and notifying Civil Defense of what was occurring. State Highways was telling everyone that was there taking pictures that Leilani Estates was being evacuated and that a shelter was being opened at Pahoa Community Center. 

I contacted Debbie Weeks to inform her of what State Highways was telling people there at the location about evacuating and the shelter opening at Pahoa Community Center. Debbie’s response was “NO! Don’t be telling anyone that a shelter is opening in Pahoa!” I told her it has already been done and she then told me “Oh yeah Civil Defense called and said there was a shelter being opened and go assist with setting it up.” I proceeded to the Pahoa Community Center and met with Parks and Recreation workers and asked for the Red Cross shelter kit, I was handed a clear box with a Civil Defense Emblem and the markings which said, “Shelter Kit” and inside had Red Cross signage.  Due to traffic coming to Pahoa during the time other responding volunteers were tied up in their response.  A registration table was set up and the upper gym at Pahoa Community Center was set up for a graduation which was cancelled by Parks and Recreation due to the evacuation and had to be torn down, so the gym could be used for sheltering. After setting up signs and the Community Center for receiving displaced residents, I contacted Debbie and told her the center was set and ready.  During the time the shelter was set up, there were no cots because at the time the shelter was designated as temporary.  At approximately 8:00 PM, Maurice, who is a director with Parks and Recreation had told me they were bringing in cots. I again contacted Debbie to inform her of what Maurice had said and she responded “NO! Don’t tell anyone we are bringing cots!” I told her it was a decision from Parks and Recreation and she said, “Have Maurice call me.” I informed Maurice and he said he would call her. Debbie then called me back and said the cots were Civil Defense cots and that was the end of it. The cots that were stored in the Civil Defense Warehouse are Red Cross cots and a lot of our Red Cross equipment are stored there. 

I ended my shift at midnight with no cots arriving and Parks and Recreation had opened the Senior Center unbeknownst to me so I was unable to have people registered.  I then had a few days off due to work and returned on Tuesday May 8, 2018 Maria Lutz and a crew from Oahu arrived and myself and Anthony Columbo met with her along with Marty Moran who is with LSEP. Myself and Anthony told Maria that there was no leadership structure in place for the shelters or any structure of planning, operations and staffing. One of the head people who came over, said he was not worried about what happened in the past and they were going to be setting up the leadership. We were also informed Debbie was leaving for 2 weeks to go on vacation and that Maria Lutz was going to oversee the operation. I was then tasked with going to Keaau Shelter. I worked from morning until 8:00 PM and went home. I returned on May 8,2018 and was sent to the Keaau shelter. I noticed yellow tape on the upper part of the building and asked the volunteers about the yellow tape. They told me the upper half of the shelter was condemned due to damage from a 6.9 Earthquake which occurred Friday May 4,2018. 

I contacted Maurice with Parks and Recreation and asked about the damage and was assured the shelter was safe.  I finished shift and took some time off for my regular work schedule. When I returned I was assigned to the Keaau Shelter and when I arrived was met by a lady named Sylvia who was from the Mainland.  I told her I was there to be Shelter supervisor and she informed me she was the shelter supervisor, so I contacted Anthony Columbo to ask him what was going on and he said he did not know. I observed Sylvia’s actions during the shift and she was raising her voice at not only volunteers but to the shelter residents as well. At this point I had enough and went to Headquarters which was at the University of Hawaii Hilo.

I turned in my Red Cross badge and vest and told Maria Lutz I quit. She took me outside and asked what was wrong and I explained to her everything from prior to the Disaster. Maria told me there was going to be some changes and to just hang in there. I then went home and took time off. I was contacted by someone who was head of staffing and was told to go to Keaau Staff Shelter and I would be shelter manager for a 12-hour shift. I was informed that I would have to clean the bathrooms and the shelter area. I informed the off going shelter manager that I was not housekeeping and if the volunteers use the showers the can clean them up when they use it.

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After my shift I left and was contacted by Anthony Columbo and others who had come over from Ocean View to volunteer and was advised they had quit Red Cross. I have not volunteered since this matter and have focused my time volunteering for Team Rubicon which is a group of Military Veterans. I am a 15 Year Military Veteran, Retired Police Officer and have ICS 100,200,230,315,700,702,703 and 800, Conflict Resolution and numerous other trainings useful to what I do as a volunteer. I feel my training and skills are not being used to their full capacity and no longer feel like dealing with an organization that brings people in to push out the local volunteers. My time with Red Cross has ben an experience and I have met some wonderful volunteers but due to what has been going on due to Debbie Weeks they have all departed Red Cross and I am ready to join them.  The State of Hawaii is and At Will State and employees may be fired for any reason without cause or explanation.

This Statement is True to The Best of my Knowledge.

Letters, commentaries and opinion pieces are not edited by Big Island Now. 

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