Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Volunteer Profile: Mike Hollis

By Gordon Williams

Mike Hollis of Sunnyside, Queens, has played a great many roles in his five years as a volunteer with the American Red Cross Greater New York region.

His association with the Red Cross actually began in high school with the blood services program in his home state of Connecticut. Later he moved to New York City and over five years with Greater New York has been a responder in disaster services, a member of the Bronx Disaster Action Team (DAT), a DAT lead and, most recently, a shelter supervisor for Mass Care (feeding).

When a rain storm flooded the Mid-Atlantic States late last summer, he was deployed as a shelter manager in Montgomery County, Md. He not only ran the shelter but also helped the Montgomery County officials who staffed the facility learn the ins-and-outs of shelter management—from how to register clients to how to assemble cots.

These days, Hollis has a new and more challenging assignment—one not previously given to a volunteer.

NSS Reporting

Not only is Hollis now a support specialist in the Red Cross National Shelter System (NSS)—the first volunteer to hold the job—but he has also been named as an NSS Trainer—the first one ever for the Greater New York region.

Monica Czwarno, regional manager for Mass Care and Logistics, explained, “Not only can Mike teach NSS nationally through conference call-style classes, but he has taught two different NSS courses as a classroom instructor in New York City.”

If that didn't keep Hollis busy enough (he has a full time job as a database manager for an environmental consulting firm) he has also written a new NSS Pocket Guide.

“It will give volunteers a go-to guide when they need a refresher on how to use the system,” Czwarno said.

So what is the National Shelter System and where does it fit in the Red Cross mission of bringing relief to disaster victims?

Hollis explained that the primary function of NSS is as an analytical tool that collects data from Red Cross shelters while they are in operation. Once collected and analyzed, all the data help tomorrow’s shelter managers and their crews do a better job by learning from the past experiences of others.

Hollis explained that the function of NSS support specialist was created so that shelter reporting is done by specific individuals who are trained to do the job: “This assures that data is reported into the system efficiently, while freeing up shelter managers and staff to fulfill their primary responsibilities.” 

On the job, Hollis and his fellow support specialists contact shelter managers twice a day during operations, collecting such data as shelter populations and feeding it into the NSS system. The function can be performed remotely, from any location that offers internet access. The material is useful in helping the Red Cross understand shelter trends and do post-operation analysis. 

Hollis is one of three NSS Support Specialists for the region—each spending a month on call on a rotation basis.

Superstorm Sandy

Hollis’s NSS experience became even more valuable when Sandy hit the East Coast. For five days after the storm hit, Hollis worked out of the Emergency Operations Center as shelter coordinator for the region before returning to his job. That entailed everything from NSS reporting to troubleshooting issues ranging from a need for basic resources, such as blankets, to helping to find a safe haven for pets belonging to evacuees, to coordinating visits to Red Cross shelters by elected officials. 

“It was a very intense experience, but incredibly rewarding,” he said. “A side of the Red Cross I hadn’t experienced. I think we were able to keep things really organized for the operation.” 

Like so many Red Cross employees and volunteers, each of those four nights, Hollis slept on the building’s fourth floor—when he had time to sleep. NSS reporting needs to occur at 12 hour intervals, so he would be up for a 9 am meeting, spend the morning and afternoon tackling other issues, as well as preparing for the noon and midnight counts.

The following week, Hollis helped with the initial training of new shelter volunteers arriving from across the country to help Sandy evacuees. Then, from end of November to end of January, he remotely handled NSS reporting for the final Sandy shelter reports.

Work-life Balance

Despite his busy Red Cross schedule, Hollis still has time for a personal life. His work involves managing the team that provides research support for environmental consulting projects the firm undertakes. Hollis also coordinates the training program for the firm’s field staff. What free time he has is spent jogging, gardening and reading.

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