By Y. Hope Osborn, Volunteer Contributor, American Red Cross

Home fires. Floods. Tornadoes. Earthquakes. Wildfires. Disasters of all kinds happen when we least expect it, but that’s when the men and women in red vests get out of their beds or drop what they are doing to respond to the needs of the individuals and first responders affected by these life-changing events.

“They are loving, giving people that want to help. Our primary concern is that we’re there to help the clients,” says Karen Gamblin about disaster responders with the Red Cross.

Karen does Workforce Engagement and Staffing for Arkansas, partnering with Jennifer Young in Oklahoma, to organize responders when there is a disaster in Arkansas, Oklahoma, and, sometimes, beyond. Karen said there is a great need everywhere for disaster responders.

“We are always needing volunteers. We need people who can deploy nationally [and] … people who can work locally … There’s jobs for everyone.”

Who are disaster responders and how do they find the time to respond to disasters? They are employed and use vacation time. They are retired and want to stay active. They are disabled and work from home. Some companies even pay employees while they volunteer. Some states fund work leave for volunteering.

Disaster responders open and manage your shelter in the ice storm that cut your power. They help you develop a plan for relocating from your flooded town. They organize staffing to respond to the tornado that devastated your state. They see people a lot of time on one of their worst days. They are flexible, because every disaster is different. And disaster responders, like all Red Cross volunteers, support one another like family.

“There’s no [volunteer] that’s any more important than another in the Red Cross … Every job is important … Every person is important.” And Karen says the best part of her job is “working with and supporting volunteers…It’s my privilege to get to support them in what they do.”

To join disaster responders with the Red Cross, go to and Apply Now or call your local chapter office. Your application is sent to Volunteer Services who have an initial conversation with you. Then, your local chapter’s Workforce Engagement Team talk to you about your interests and availability. Finally, a chapter executive lines up your first online training to prepare you for volunteering and in-person orientation to meet other volunteers and find out about your local Red Cross chapter.

Karen says some of the most important things to consider about becoming a disaster responder are—

Why do you want to volunteer? What do you want to get out of it?

How much time do you have available?

Do you want to respond locally or beyond?

Is your family supportive of and supported when you volunteer? Do you have childcare or pet care? How do your responsibilities at home fit with working with the Red Cross?

But most importantly do you want to give your time to do this because you are “loving, giving person that wants to help”?