In less than a month of work at her new position with the American Red Cross, Annette Hakkinen has been flooded with work.
Hakkinen took over as programs manager for the Kenai Peninsula branch of the Red Cross in early October. As the person in charge of coordinating disaster relief efforts in the area, that meant she had to wade into her job right away when major flooding hit the peninsula.
For Hakkinen, disasters are just part of the job.
Her previous work dealing with natural disasters has included work in Mississippi, California and Washington. In that time, she's seen the whole range of calamities, from fires to flooding to hurricanes.
"I've done this sort of work before," Hakkinen said Thursday. "But every one is a little different."
When a disaster strikes, Hakkinen is responsible for making sure Red Cross volunteers are in the right place at the right time. For example, when flooding forced Seward residents from their homes, the Red Cross set up temporary shelters where people could stay. The Red Cross also provided food to displaced families and maintenance workers in need of a good meal. Somebody has to make sure the volunteers cooking the food keep in touch with the ones serving it. That's where Hakkinen comes in.
"Her job is to manage the disaster action team," said Kelly Hurd, community relations manager for the Red Cross in Anchorage.
Hakkinen got involved with the Red Cross as a part-time volunteer in 1990, during the Persian Gulf War. A longtime Alaska resident (all three of her children were raised on the peninsula), Hakkinen recently had moved to the Tri-Cities area of Washington state and decided a good way to get involved with the community would be to volunteer.
"I'd heard how the Red Cross was in need of volunteers, so I decided to try and help," she said.
As a volunteer, Hakkinen was responsible for acting as a liaison between military personnel stationed overseas and their families back home. If someone in the military needed to return home due to an emergency, Hakkinen helped them with the process.
Following that experience, Hakkinen decided she wanted to continue her involvement with the Red Cross. She became a receptionist at the Kennewick, Wash., chapter, then moved on to educating others on such things as HIV/AIDS awareness, CPR and disaster preparedness.
In 1996, she moved back to Alaska, and her involvement with the Red Cross continued.
After volunteering for the organization and working a variety of other jobs, Hakkinen found out about the local opening this year. She knew right away the job would be perfect for her.
"I heard that this job was going to be available, and I went to Anchorage and applied," she said.
Now she's the only full-time Red Cross employee on the peninsula. As such, she'll be in charge of disaster relief efforts, health and safety classes and other educational efforts. It's a lot of work, but judging by her performance early on, she should have no trouble fitting into her new role.
"Within a week or so, she was thrust into all the things we were doing down there," Hurd said. "She's just been a wonderful asset already."
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