another working day

Red Cross State Emergency Operations Centre – day nine

It is a long working day in the Red Cross State Emergency Operations Centre in Milton, on the outskirts of Brisbane. With over 140 people deployed all over Queensland, it is a full-time job every day for about 27 people just to keep the Red Cross operation going full-steam ahead.

Red Cross Commander Shanna Provost keeps a calm and steady hand on the tiller, as the planning, logistics and operations teams work steadily through the day, responding to ever-changing circumstances, reports of ebbing and flowing rivers, new information coming through, all somehow keeping a cheerful attitude and really caring about each other.

I sit in on meetings, chat one-to-one with a few people, and generally try to get a sense of how things are going in my real-time evaluation role. Evaluation asks not only if we are working in line with our plans, but also if the plans are appropriate and in line with broader agency policy. These people know what they are doing, they know the bigger picture, and even then they are anxious to do more.

At one point Jodi, the intrepid Emergency Operations Centre Manager, follows me around the office to satisfy herself that I am eating properly and getting enough water. Later in the afternoon, Commander is approached by both the State Planning Officer and the State Logistics Officer, both arguing the case for the other one to have a shorter working day tomorrow to have a rest. Where is the tension? Where are the short tempers? I see some tired faces but the power of humanity is alive in this team.

Duncan our IT guy, who flew from Perth a few days ago to be the on-site trouble-shooter, works hourly miracles on wayward computer files and generally makes technology problems go away. Like the rest of our support colleagues, their fulltime job is not emergency response, but it feels like he’s been around forever. He slots right into the gang.

Later in the evening towards the end of our shift, we chat over dinner. Most of the Emergency Operations Centre team eat three meals a day together at the moment, and there is a great atmosphere in the dining room as people leave their jobs (and tabards) at the door and relax for a few minutes. We start all over again at 8am tomorrow morning, to another set of challenges, another list of record-breaking river levels, another litany of changing demands and logistical problems. But we are Red Cross, and we can do it.

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