When high winds kick in and lights start to flicker, the
National Weather Service issuing flood warnings, some Long Islanders flash back
to the dark, powerless days of Hurricane Sandy.
Not Great Neck resident Larry Kasten. A Red Cross mental health volunteer, Kasten assesses how badly the storm plays out and if his assistance is needed.
Kasten, who just returned from an 11-day deployment in Fort Collins, Colorado, helping people displaced by floods, said it isn’t surprising that hazardous weather alerts trigger Sandy memories for some Long Islanders.
“When people are subject to disaster, they never know how another will impact and how to respond,” Kasten said. “Many people impacted by Sandy will never experience a short power outage without harkening back to their experience with Sandy.”
Having retired from the New York State Commission for the Blind where he worked for more than 30 years, Kasten spent nearly the last six volunteering with the Red Cross, traveling across the country. The organization offers volunteer and training opportunities for adults and youth alike. Kasten said 90 percent of the workers are volunteers.
During Sandy, he was part of a team staffing a shelter at Manhasset High School, and was there for three days until members of the national Red Cross came in to relieve volunteers so that he and other locals could get back to their normal activities.
“There was a lot of need for mental health [experts] to support volunteers and survivors and the people impacted,” Kasten recalled.
A licensed mental health counselor, Kasten said that while psychotherapy is not among the services offered at a Red Cross shelter, “we are listening and keeping focused on the near future.”
“People have a need to talk about how they escaped,” he added. “I direct conversation toward short-term goals: FEMA assistance, recovery, moving on.”
Each disaster brings its own set of circumstances. In Colorado, “so much of the recovery had to do with restoring roads – many communities are served by one road. To get to some of the communities require special vehicles. Some were evacuated by helicopter.”
And while those displaced by hurricanes in some parts of the country might move to temporary trailers, that wasn’t the case in New York, where residents had to get their homes “livable as quickly as we could,” he said.
Once Kasten confirms with a director of disaster response that he is ready to assist, the pace moves quickly. Once he indicated that he could volunteer to help those displaced by the flooding in Colorado, for example, the Red Cross arranged for his travel so that he could get there within 24 hours.
Other deployments have included New Orleans after Hurricane Isaac, Alabama in response to tornadoes, Binghamton after flooding, and White Plains after a fire.
“It’s satisfying being a member of a team with people who know the locals,” he said. “You find yourself meeting lots of people.”
To learn about volunteer opportunities with the Red Cross, visit http://www.redcross.org/ny/new-york/volunteer