Disaster Academy Where Red Crossers Go to Learn

Story by Darrell Fuller/Red Cross Cascades Region

Attendees to the 2022 Red Cross Cascades Region Disaster Academy gather for a group photo on June 5, 2022 at Willamette University in Salem, Oregon. Photo by Curtis Peetz/American Red Cross.

The name sounds ominous – Disaster Academy.

But its purpose is incredibly hopeful.

On the first weekend in June 2022, American Red Cross volunteers from across the west converged at Willamette University, just across the street from the Capitol Building in Salem, Oregon. 

Red Cross Cascades Region’s Disaster Officer, Rebecca Marshall presents during a class at the 2022 Disaster Academy on June 5, 2022 at Willamette University in Salem, Oregon. Photo by Darrell Fuller/American Red Cross.

It was “Disaster Academy” weekend, and the first in-person Academy in three years. 

Experienced and eager-to-learn volunteers gathered to build their skills to help when a disaster strikes. Volunteers slept in dorm rooms, ate college food (much better than I remembered as a student at Willamette in the late 1980s), slogged from building to building in the rain (that hasn’t changed from my student days), and sat in classrooms to better prepare themselves to help people they have never met. 

In its return to in-person learning following COVID-19, more than 150 people attended, with many others logging on virtually throughout the conference. Threaded throughout every class — on topics ranging from opening a shelter to DEI (diversity, equity and inclusion) — was the Red Cross mission: preventing and alleviating human suffering in the face of emergencies by mobilizing the power of volunteers and the generosity of donors.​

It’s serious stuff, but Red Vesters also know how to have fun.

The Red Cross mascot made an appearance. There was an ice cream feed. There was even a “friendly” competition to determine who could unfold and set up a Red Cross cot the fastest (congrats to volunteer Alan U. who clocked in at a mere :45 seconds).  

Oregon’s Director of Emergency Management, Andrew Phelps speaks to Red Cross volunteers, while Red Cross disaster executive Denise Everhart looks on, during the 2022 Disaster Academy on June 4, 2022 at Willamette University in Salem, Oregon as they train and prepare to support communities before, during and after disasters. Photo by Darrell Fuller/American Red Cross.

Headlining the weekend at Disaster Academy was Red Cross Pacific Division Disaster Executive Denise Everhart, who highlighted the importance of a prepared response workforce and Oregon’s Director of Emergency Management, Andrew Phelps.

Phelps — wearing stylish Red Cross socks — shared with the packed room that on July 1, 2022 Oregon will become the first western state government to elevate its OEM operation to a Cabinet-level position, rather than having it underneath the military department or an other agency. 

In typical Red Cross fashion, there were t-shirts, water bottles, wrists bands and … pins! 

The Disaster Academy is an established tradition in the Cascades Region, so keep your June, 2023 weekends clear until next year’s date is set. You won’t want to miss it!

If you’re interested in becoming a Red Cross volunteer, visit redcross.org/volunteer to begin your rewarding Red Cross career.