Red Cross volunteer Victor Hett makes adjustments to a 30-foot radio tower he is installing alongside the Red Cross building in Kenai on Monday.
Just hours before departing for Washington, D.C., Victor Hett stood outside the American Red Cross building in Kenai in Carhartts installing a radio tower. The tower would link the Kenai Peninsula to the outside world in case of a disaster.
Hett, 28-year resident of Kenai and a retired phone company installer repairman, has experience with disaster since becoming an American Red Cross volunteer during the 2001 Kenai Lake fires. He was called to set up phone lines and has been on the go across the United States since.
"It has grown from there," he said.
Hett, apart of the response technology team, was later called to help in the relief efforts of Hurricane Emily in Florida in July. While there, he helped to set up telephone lines that were linked to wireless computers for external communication during the relief efforts.
Hurricane Dennis hit soon after Emily, and Hett was off again for the a three-week stay. He was not home long before Hurricane Katrina tore through the Gulf Coast states.
"It is still very overwhelming," Hett said with a deep breath.
He flew into Houston the day after Katrina hit and spent much of the following day driving to Baton Rouge with another volunteer. On the way, they passed countless buses filled with evacuees.
"It was so sad. A lot of people just had a little bag. That is all they had," he said.
The next day the men were sent to Lafayette, La., where they passed more buses filled with homeless people being sent to shelters. He said they stopped near the CajunDome, where a long line had formed and officials said they lost count of those inside at 21,000.
The men were later sent to Baton Rouge for more communication needs.
Once in Baton Rouge, Hett worked several 18-hour days, setting up communications in a vacant Wal-Mart building, which became the headquarters for the relief effort with the FBI, Federal Emergency Management Agency and immigration on site.
"Everything that happened, happened there," Hett said.
The building became a mass care and feeding facility for those needing help. Hett said he met men and women from France, Germany and all over the world who were volunteering their time in the relief effort.
"It was so neat to see all these people come," he said.
On another trip heading to Reserve, La., Hett and his partner became lost and wound up on the outskirts of New Orleans. While the majority of the damage was inside the Crescent City, Hett said he saw a glimpse of the destruction where several studs stood in place of a two-story apartment building.
"It looked like someone came in with a mixer and stirred everything up," he said. "There was pretty unbelievable damage."
Annette Hakkinen, Kenai Peninsula district manager for the American Red Cross of Alaska, said Hett is one of many peninsula disaster services human resource volunteers who have been deployed nationwide. Extensive training is needed to become a DSHR volunteer, as well as having a speciality and carrying personal medical insurance. Volunteers also need to be able to commit to 21 days of relief work.
"The more things you can offer, the more classes you take, the better the chances you will be deployed," she said.
Once deployed to disaster areas, DSHR volunteers are provided with transportation, food and lodging, though lodging often is in shelters.
"Every single disaster is different," she said.
After returning recently from Katrina's aftermath, Hett's experience was again called upon, and he left Tuesday for the American Red Cross headquarters in D.C.
Hett said has has been blessed in life and wants to do what he can for those in need.
"We have so much and we don't know how spoiled we are," he said.
Peninsula Clarion ©2013. All Rights Reserved.