Through the eyes of an educator: Disasters, Deployment, and Development

by Stacey Ebert /
Stacey Ebert's picture
Nov 06, 2019 / 0 comments
October 29th marks the seventh year anniversary of Hurricane Sandy. Seven years ago, we were living in Long Beach, NY, and got a call telling us of a non-mandatory evacuation. Since we lived on the ocean and if the waters flooded the only way out would be by helicopter rescue, we chose to evacuate and head north to drier land. I can still hear the winds howling and remember trying to literally fling whatever we could into the car, not knowing how long it would be till we could likely return to our apartment. The next weeks and months were surreal. Luckily, we were unharmed, and our belongings and property all safe. By the whispers of the winds of the waves, our building was spared and didn’t take on any water, but our lives were never the same.
The husband and I spent the next weeks and ensuing months volunteering at the Long Beach Ice Arena, which had become the staging ground for all donations, deliveries, and even a makeshift hospital for the entire barrier island. There we met hundreds of huggable humans who returned day after day to sort items, help people in need, hand out food, unload trucks, sweep the floors, build shelving, and provide countless other tasks that took an entire society of kindness to provide relief and recovery efforts to one battered and bruised community. Strangers came from far and wide, donations from even further, and heroes of all shapes and sizes showed up with food, hugs, compassion, wisdom, guidance, and smiles. Wildland firefighters dropped in from the Midwest, Homeland Security drove in from Indiana, volunteer firefighters and their families came from eastern Long Island, and countless organizations and people came from all over to lend a hand. We’d lived here for many years prior, but after this disaster, we truly felt embedded in the community.
Now happily ensconced on the west coast, we have swapped hurricane season for fire season. And, like the global community at large, we are living through the rapid effects of climate change. Now we see those disaster relief friends, who dropped everything in their own lives to come help us in New York, do the same disaster after disaster. They show up after hurricane, monsoon, tornado, earthquake, fire, and other natural disasters. They jump into action with one call, and their swift response is a game changer to countless people across the globe. These disasters leave far more than debris in their wake. Amidst death and destruction, there’s trauma, time to recover, and perspective shifts that are not always positive. How can we teach our next generation about the urgent climate crisis, the urgency of emergency evacuations, and the need for those epic responders who bring compassion to their every mission? 
How do we share the importance of the pre-planning, the need for that shared experience, and the thoughtful ways to make a difference by being a productive volunteer and showing up offering to lend a hand?
First Long Beach Ice Arena list. From Through the eyes of an educator: Disasters, Deployment, and Development
First Long Beach Ice Arena list
Travelers everywhere have often depended on the kindness of strangers. As a guest in a new community, city, country, or continent, we often ask for directional assistance, restaurant suggestions, and, in those emergent situations, perhaps even medical help or a place to lay our heads. Today, many try to couple travel with giving back. Companies are careful to offer to offset carbon footprints, join in parks or beach clean ups, help to feed the hungry, or even deliberately head to a disaster area to join in the volunteer efforts. 
We want the next generation of travelers to do the same. 
We need to urge the next generation of travelers to be aware of their surroundings, heed weather warnings, and always be the ones to lend a hand. Perhaps, as a child, you remember setting a fire plan for your family. You know, in the event of an emergency, go to this neighbor’s house or we’ll all rendezvous at this particular point. Today, we need that more than ever...even while we travel.
Today, we need to temper fright with facts, allay fears with finite information, minimize panic with preparedness, and impart the wisdom of both protecting oneself and offering help to others. Travel teaches us all of those things; it’s our job to be sure that our young people have the skills and heart to continue the mission. We need to harness that travel awareness and use it to ignite disaster awareness and preparedness
No one ever wants to be caught in an emergency situation, but if our family, our friends, our animals, or our community happens to be at the center of one, it’s our job to be sure that after the humans and animals in our care are safe that we offer our services to those who need it - that can be as simple as a sandwich or a smile. 
The young people of the world have gathered in streets around the globe to urge world leaders to heed the warnings of climate scientists. They’ve used their voices, the power of the people, and social media to spread the message that science matters, the climate experts know what they’re talking about, and that if we don’t take action to stop our harmful impact now, we might not have a planet to leave to them. Being a part of those marches and messages is effective and powerful. Now we need to be sure that if or unfortunately, when those disasters occur, that same generation knows what to do. That they use their brilliance and skills to be that productive volunteer, be mindful of those instructions from emergency personnel, and are equipped with the tools necessary to get out of harms way and assist those affected in the aftermath. 
eeding those in need. From Through the eyes of an educator: Disasters, Deployment, and Development
Feeding those in need
Whether you’re a traveling family or a stationary one who travels, having those plans, being prepared, and knowing what to do in an emergency is important. Impart that information to the next generation. Empower them to help themselves and those around them. Share the idea that emergencies are just that: emergencies, and that being a productive volunteer matters. Let’s make sure we do our best to inspire community, kindness, activism, and volunteerism. Let’s teach those budding scientists, doctors, military service people, nurses, police, volunteers, paramedics, firefighters, incident managers, first responders, disaster relief organization leaders, and good hearted humans how to handle themselves if the emergency occurs and what to do in the aftermath of it all. We can all make a difference.
Indiana Homeland Security Mobile Command Center. From Through the eyes of an educator: Disasters, Deployment, and Development
Indiana Homeland Security Mobile Command Center

Actionable advice for emergent situations

• Download and customize the American Red Cross Emergency APP (able to customize to notify you of emergency alerts in the area you are presently located and enables users to keep in contact with family/friends)
• Heed weather warnings (set up alerts on your mobile devices)
• Evacuating in a non-mandatory evacuation is less risky than waiting for a mandatory one
• Set up a family fire plan (whether on the road or at home)
• Be sure your children have emergency contacts to reach out to in event of an emergency
• Know how to contact emergency services in your location
• Have a ‘go bag’ ready (if this isn’t possible, be sure to know where your documents are, or place necessary copies in a safety deposit box)
• Take only what is necessary
• ALWAYS be aware of your surroundings (i.e., count rows to exits on a plane, be mindful of your egress in large crowds, know how to contact emergency services)
• Care for your animals and if it’s safe, assist others in danger/distress; in the aftermath, know which organizations to reach out to in order to find any lost animals or connect those lost and found with their owners
• Take precautions for property protection
• Check in on non-mobile neighbors or family members
• Do not return to an evacuated area until first responders deem it safe (even to volunteer)
• Items to take with you in the event of an evacuation: 
     o Cash (power might not be available for credit cards)
     o Charging cords & cables, power strips, car chargers, solar chargers
     o Medication in their original bottles (DO NOT TRANSPORT MULTIPLE MEDS IN THE SAME BOTTLE) - enough to see you through longer than you hope you’ll need
     o Insurance cards, credit cards/visa gift cards
     o Extra eye glasses/contact lenses/solution
     o Toiletries: soap, toothbrush, etc.
     o Flashlight/batteries
     o Work clothes/ones that can get dirty, closed toed shoes
     o Towel, wash cloth, and zip top/dry bag for wet items
     o Portable snacks in sealed packages (things that can pop in a pocket)
Pin for later: 
What to Do in a Disaster:  * Actionable advice for emergent situations  * Actionable steps to be a productive volunteer

Actionable steps to be a productive volunteer

• Be ready to do any job that needs to be done. Register in advance with organizations, such as the Red Cross, to become a fully screened/trained volunteer
• Show up with a positive attitude and be prepared to work (wear closed toed shoes)
• If you’re a ‘spontaneous volunteer’, do NOT drive to the edge of a disaster zone without any information. Get directions from those in the know before jumping into action (be a help, not a hindrance)
• Take precautions to protect yourself and others
• Check in with those managing the situation and ASK QUESTIONS if you’re unsure of directions or details
• Remain hydrated, rest when you need to, & let organizers know of any urgent conditions
• Let first responders do their job first. Volunteers are needed ONLY when the area is safe
• Channel all of your compassion, kindness, and patience - this is a difficult time for all 
• Tell the volunteer coordinator of any skills you may have - they may be useful
• Utilize your contacts for good - ask what’s necessary before offering services
• Do NOT donate clothes unless asked for particular items (and then ONLY donate those requested items). New packaged underwear and socks are ALWAYS helpful; high heeled sandals, tutus for dogs, and whatever is in the back of your closet is NOT
• In the direct aftermath of a disaster: bleach, brooms, cleaning supplies, rakes, shovels, buckets, work gloves, wheelbarrows, masks, batteries, towels, trash bags - NOT CLOTHES
• If donating, consider particular populations: baby food, formula, diapers of all sizes including adult, pet food, leashes, blankets (new), and feminine products
• DO NOT DONATE MEDICATION (even over the counter items)
• Before sending ANYTHING, know where it will go, to whom it will go, and have a contact at the other end to be sure it made it there or will be accepted upon delivery
• Gift card donations are ALWAYS a good idea
• Cash donations that go directly to organizations are ALWAYS BEST!
• Research various charitable organizations to donate your time and money 
• First responder organizations are on the ground FIRST; immediate monetary donations help to allow those first responder organizations to be those boots on the ground and then allow accessibility to other volunteer organizations and civilian volunteers
• Find local, regional, national, and international organizations that allow volunteers, and find out how best to assist in the relief and recovery process (whether that’s monetarily or using your own sweat equity)
• Bring a smile - be ready for anything - this is a difficult time - you can make a difference
Beginning stages of donation center. From  Through the eyes of an educator: Disasters, Deployment, and Development
Beginning stages of donation center
Before we travel, we do research. Perhaps that’s checking visas and vaccinations, purchasing health insurance, and leaving our travel details with a friend. If we’re willing to be prepared to travel, we must also be prepared for those unexpected and unplanned emergencies. It’s our job to learn about emergency preparedness and educate those in the next generation. It’s our job to learn basic first aid skills, open our hearts to a neighbor, and know how to keep ourselves safe. It’s our job to listen to the voices of scientists and weather experts when they tell us we are in danger. And it’s our job to listen to those emergency responders who put themselves in harm's way in order to keep us safe, healthy, and alive. Not only do we need to be that thoughtful, global citizen, but also we need to work tirelessly to be sure the next generation does the same. Share what you know, learn more things, listen to those in the know, and act when necessary. Whether on the road or in that full-time home, be vigilant, be aware, and act early. Let’s make sure that our budding travelers are knowledgeable and aware and able to continue on all of their future adventures. 
Some of the many LB Ice Arena volunteers. From  Through the eyes of an educator: Disasters, Deployment, and Development
Some of the many LB Ice Arena volunteers
Actionable items for disaster preparedness & volunteer management provided by:
• Lori Postma: Incident Commander State of Indiana Incident Management Team, RN Emergency Preparedness Educator
• Suzanne Clark Flory: Forest Service Congressional Relations, Forest Service Fire Information Officer
• Paige Donaldson Connelly: Senior Disaster Program Manager for the Utah and Nevada Region of the American Red Cross, Former Public Information Officer/Liaison Officer for a Type III Incident Management Team in Indiana
• Stacey Ebert: Co-Volunteer Manager Hurricane Sandy Long Beach Ice Arena, Volunteer Manager 2017 San Diego Women’s March, Large-Scale Event Manager United Nations Association San Diego, Event Planner, Former Extra-curricular Advisor/Teacher Farmingdale High School

Stacey Ebert, our Educational Travels Editor, is a traveler at heart who met her Australian-born husband while on a trip in New Zealand. Stacey was an extracurricular advisor and taught history in a Long Island public high school for over fifteen years, enjoying both the formal and informal educational practices. After a one year 'round the world honeymoon, travel and its many gifts changed her perspective. She has since left the educational world to focus on writing and travel. She is energetic and enthusiastic about long term travel, finding what makes you happy and making the leap. In her spare time she is an event planner, yogi, dark chocolate lover, and spends as much time as possible with her toes in the sand.

Check out her website at for more of her travel musings.


All photos courtesy and copyright Stacey Ebert