20 years ago today, I made a phone call

by | Sep 13, 2021 | News, Organization, Volunteers

20 years ago today, on Sep 13 2001, I made a phone call. Today, I’m asking you to donate $20 to help create a more socially resilient world.

Here’s the story.

Sep 13 2001

I was trying to work on my dissertation, but, like much of the country, couldn’t concentrate. I vaguely knew that the Red Cross did something with disaster, so I called the local office. I thought that maybe I could shake a can at the local airshow that weekend.

Little did I know that phone call was the start of an entirely different life.

I spent that day and the next answering phones, and accepting walk-in donations at the Red Cross office. On the weekend, I took my first disaster class. I’ve been a Red Cross volunteer ever since. I’ve deployed locally and nationally to floods, fires, hurricanes, earthquakes, taken numerous classes, taught CPR and First Aid, developed training exercises, and have served with four different chapters. This uncovered a passion for disaster management.

But that was only the beginning.

Straddling the gap

The next shift toward my new life came with a National Research Council fellowship (yes, I did eventually finish the d*dissertation) at the Pacific Disaster Center, and a subsequent job with InSTEDD, a non-profit startup working to use technology for very early detection of emerging infectious diseases.

These experiences brought me into touch with people outside formal response organizations who were working to prepare their communities for disaster. I gained a deep appreciation for the people who respond to disaster because they happen to be in its way, and a recognition that grassroots responders far outnumber trained responders.

But I was still not ready to let go of technology, and leap into a life in disaster.

My own crisis

As is so often the case, I needed my own crisis to catalyze real change. I had been working on a very large, very challenging, and very prestigious project. It was also very contentious. I was in over my head in more ways than one, and failed both myself and the project. Traumatized by the experience, I went on a six-week road trip determined to understand what I was doing wrong, and how I could ensure that I never got myself into such a situation ever again.

I came back with two insights:

  1. With all the privileges I’ve been given, I had absolute no right to be unhappy; I should find a way to be happy or give everything to someone who could.
  2. Most of my life, I’d been living other people’s lives, disaster was my real passion, and what I really wanted to do was to work to make grassroots crisis responses more likely to happen and to be effective.

That gave me a clear direction, albeit with vague marching orders.

Making the leap

Fast forward to today, Sep 13 2021.

I have transformed myself into Founder and Executive Director of a non-profit startup. Creative Crisis Leadership is gaining momentum every day. We have five active team members. Others come and go as we undertake new projects. We have done research, and tested our training approach. We are talking with several community organizations about partnering with us in our Wildfire Readiness project. We have an active blog, a YouTube channel, and are launching a LinkedIn page — maybe even later today. We are recruiting people to help us to develop strategic business, fundraising, and marketing plans, so that we can make ourselves worthy of the support our small following of active supporters and donors have given us.

In the past two years, disaster has gone mainstream. I no longer have to explain that everyone is at risk, people need to work together in disaster, or that people need to be ready to take action in crisis to help themselves and their communities rather than waiting for someone else to take care of them.

Creative Crisis Leadership has the right mission at the right time. My next goal is an organization that doesn’t need me.

Am I happy?

Yes. For the most part. I still have some changes to make in my personal life. Starting a non-profit is a guaranteed recipe for financial worry (unless you’re independently wealthy, which I’m not). But I’m living my own life, and have no one else to blame for any unhappiness I experience.

Sep 13 2021


Twenty years ago, I made a phone call. Today, you can help create a world of people who are ready to act, improvise and overcome when facing disaster.

I’ve given 20 years. Will you give $20 to help the world get through the next 20?

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