by Jacob Uzman, American Red Cross
Brian Imiola had only been with the American Red Cross for a year, when a tornado swept through the north Texas town of Van. The tornado’s 135 mph winds damaged numerous buildings, injured dozens of people and tragically claimed the lives of two residents. This was Brian’s first major disaster response effort as a Senior Disaster Program Manager in East Texas. The storm’s destructive forces made some roads impassable, fortunately, he lived only 12 miles from Van and could navigate downed trees and debris to make it to the town. As one of the first people on the scene, Brian guided the Red Cross Disaster Action Team (DAT) to marshal resources and coordinate disaster response efforts.
Though Brian joined the Red Cross in 2014, his relationship with the organization goes back more than 20 years to when he served in the U.S. Army. After Hurricane Andrew ripped through Florida, Brian and thousands of other soldiers deployed to provide food and shelter to people displaced by the hurricane. Working alongside Red Cross staff, Brian witnessed firsthand the impact the organization made on communities devastated by natural disasters.
As Brian continued his military service in the years following the hurricane, he worked with the International Committee of the American Red Cross and other humanitarian organizations that helped to make “order out of chaos.”
After more than 28 years in the Army, it was time for a change. “I wanted to join an organization I really believed in,” said Brian. “The choice was pretty easy.” He had seen the Red Cross put its principles into action in the U.S. and around the world and those principles were a big draw for him.
Brian is not alone. Transitioning military and veterans often search for ways to continue serving their country and communities and many of them find their way to the Red Cross. In fact, the organization’s extensive recruitment and retention of military veterans earned it a Military Friendly Employer Designation in 2017. Ten percent of Red Cross employees are transitioning military or veterans, meaning the organization has become home to thousands of veterans like Brian who are looking to continue their public service as a civilian.
While there were very real differences between his former life in the Army and his new life at the Red Cross, there was a familiar commitment to service. Brian found himself surrounded by people who take pride in their work and when asked what he enjoyed most about working for the organization, Brian was quick to respond: “Honestly, it’s the people.”
Eight months ago, Brian became the Regional Disaster Officer for the Texas Gulf Coast region, where he helps lead efforts to increase the region’s self-sufficiency during disaster response efforts. Guided by the philosophy that “all disasters are local,” Brian and his team are running simulated tabletop and live exercises to prepare staff and volunteers for potential disasters during the spring storm season and are looking to increase the region’s capabilities by ensuring that disaster leadership positions have six people capable of fulfilling the role’s responsibilities during a disaster.
With the spring storm season upon the region, Brian said he hopes that the advanced preparation and training efforts will help Texas Gulf Coast territories respond to disasters internally, ensuring more efficient use of resources and taking pressure off of the national American Red Cross organization.
“We’ve set the right vision,” says Brian. “People understand it and now they are really contributing to making that vision a reality.”
If you are interested in helping the region respond to disasters large and small, please consider volunteering with Disaster Cycle Services. Call 713-313-1608 for more information.