AUSTIN, TEXAS-As refugees from the Texas coast fled Hurricane Ike and streamed into this inland city, "spontaneous volunteers"-those previously unaffiliated with any disaster relief organization-emerged to help at shelters in schools and other buildings. Andrew Pedersen, American Red Cross site manager at the Volunteer Resource Center in northwest Austin, said he had optimistically expected 20 spontaneous volunteers per hour, but during the 10 hours from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Friday, 320 signed up for orientation, a quick interview/background check, and a training session. They were then dispatched to the shelters.
Just as soldiers going into battle often fight not for a grand cause but because of connections to others in their platoon, so many of the Central Texans waiting for orientation were there because family members already were volunteers. Amy Haas was there because her mom is a volunteer, and she had brought along her dad, Bill Haas. Kris Rodgers was volunteering because "My brother's in the Coast Guard, and I figured I'd help." Others, like Lisa Hayslip and Dana Zadow, had come to Austin from Houston recently or years before, and wanted to help people "from my own city."
What was evident in New Orleans two weeks ago is evident in Texas now: Organizations have learned from Katrina and Rita three years ago. Then, there was chaos, which brought out the best and worst in people. Now, an efficient process has taken over, at least in this small sector of hurricane response.