GeoVisions Blog

Participant Stories

Volunteers Know That Ready Or Not: Disasters Don't Care

Posted by Randy LeGrant | Sep 1, 2011 12:16:00 PM

In the early morning hours on Sunday, August 28, Hurricane Irene came ashore in Guilford, CT. Guilford is home to GeoVisions' Global Work and Service Program office. It is also home to most of our staff.

Old timers to this Blog probably remember photos I have taken of Guilford. I'm so proud of this small coastal town with it's Town Green built in 1639 and our office, built in 1750. We look over this Green from our office and do you know what? I never, ever take that view for granted.

When we have visitors from out of town we always take them to the Guilford Harbor. It's an actual working harbor with restaurants, pleasure boats, lobster boats, the Guilford Lobster Pound and other spots that just make walking down there very peaceful.

Parade now Whitfield St.

On Sunday morning, a lot of that changed. And to keep things in perspective, I'm not whining. We had a Category 1 hurricane. I cannot even imagine a Category 2, never mind a 5. I'm thankful, and all of us are taking this in stride.

How did Irene impact our staff? Well, for starters, we have no electricity, no cable TV, no Internet, cell phone service

is spotty, our yards are a mess, some of us lost beautiful trees, hundreds of dollars in food is spoiling, we can't flush toilets without pouring water in the back because in Guilford, 100% of the homes are on water wells and septic systems. So basically, we're camping! And many of us don't have running water and had to buy bottled water. Neighbors were buying hundreds upon hundreds of pounds of ice to keep food spoilage to a minimum.

How did this impact GeoVisions? No electricity. No Internet to stay in touch with volunteers and no email to communicate with people hoping to go on our programs. No phones, so when people call us they assume we're closed…or worse. Can you imagine being in business and locking up your doors for 5 days (and counting)? That's what we have had to do because of a natural disaster. And disasters don't care.

So what have we done? How area we providing 24/7 service to our volunteers and teachers abroad right now? Because that is key.

We quickly bought a generator and 25 gallons of gas before the stations ran out…which they did on Monday. This generator would end up powering 3 computers at a time, and a refrigerator with fresh water for 5 days. Our backup Verizon 3G/4G hot spot powered computers on a damaged cellular network so we could get plain text emails out, receive emails and update our volunteers and teachers abroad.

Next, we were able to get Comcast to forward the main phone line to our emergency telephone service. That service has 2 power generators and 7 days of diesel fuel each. By taking these 2 quick steps, we were able to protect our volunteers and teachers 24/7, and stand ready for any emergency abroad.

Our staff has been nothing short of amazing. They drove to New Haven for WiFi, and to family homes outside of Guilford with power and Internet. Some drove around to McDonalds, Starbucks and Subway to stay in touch with our participants and even those who plan to participate this month and need pre-departure materials. We have found that dedication to the service of others is contagious, and our staff just got in cars and found WiFi to stay in touch with everyone who touches them via GeoVisions.

As of this writing, we now have electricity in our office. We still have no phones and we have no Internet. We will no longer have to power computers with generators. But we will continue to use the Verizon hot spot. Verizon was very helpful and doubled our usage because of what has happened. And our staff will continue to call you via their personal cell phones.

GeoVisions office in GuilfordEmergency? There has been another 7 days of fuel added and we can go another week providing emergency phone service 24/7. All staff on those lines are reporting to work as usual.

Using a metaphor, our doors remain shut and the windows covered. But there is life inside, thanks to technology, fuel and dedicated staff.

Disasters don't care. Our volunteers who have worked in disaster areas know that first-hand.  Disasters kill indiscriminantly and destroy at will. We have experienced the fact that disasters don't care. People do care, however. We have had so many people encourage us through these difficult days, and our staff certainly care. And that is what makes the difference. It's the people we surround ourselves with…staff, volunteers and teachers alike that make the difference in letting the disaster get the best of us, of letting the disaster bring out the best in us.

How will you know us on the Internet? Everything is working and we are providing updates to you via our Home Page.

How will you know us if you see us? We're the ones with a roll of toilet paper in our hands madly searching for a toilet that flushes!

Enjoy your Labor Day weekend, here in the U.S.

Written by Randy LeGrant

Randy is the Executive Director of the GeoVisions Foundation. He has spent the last 44 years managing organizations that send people abroad on cultural and educational exchanges.

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