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5 Questions With ...Editorial

Diane Peters-Nguyen: Hurricane Douglas and COVID-19 presented a double challenge to the Red Cross in Hawaii

                                Diane Peters-Nguyen, Hawaii regional CEO for the American Red Cross.
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Diane Peters-Nguyen, Hawaii regional CEO for the American Red Cross.

Last month, as Hurricane Douglas approached, the Red Cross was in need of shelter volunteers. What was the response, and how did the sheltering effort go?

We mobilized more than 200 volunteers working virtually and in-person to provide sheltering, health services and coordination amongst agencies within the Emergency Operations Center. The community’s willingness to step up and help those in need was a true showing of aloha. That being said, we are always in need of volunteers and encourage everyone willing and able to help to visit redcross.org/Hawaii.

Douglas was the first hurricane to threaten Hawaii during the pandemic, and across the nation, disaster response organizations looked to us for how to best deal with such a disaster utilizing COVID-19 guidelines. The Red Cross entrusted all on-ground efforts to the local team, with volunteer mentors working remotely.

In our sheltering efforts for Hurricane Douglas, we included COVID-19-compliant procedures such as a health screening before entering, an isolation area should anyone be in need, and we worked to provide 60 square feet for each person. One lesson we learned is that we needed to actively manage lines entering the shelters to maintain social-distancing guidelines.

Among other Red Cross services are support for military families and instruction in preparedness and lifesaving skills. Which class attracts the most enrollment?

Our most popular class is Adult and Pediatric First Aid/CPR/AED (automated external defibrillator). It provides training on caring for victims of all ages. For those with elderly family members or young children at home, this is especially important. Classes are offered with a “blended learning” option. The lecture part is accessible via computer, phone or tablet at the student’s own pace — with time in-class shortened to focus strictly on the skills.

Also, we encourage everyone to be “Red Cross Ready.” In a disaster, that means having an emergency kit, making a plan and staying informed. Trained volunteers offer virtual disaster preparedness presentations to youth. In addition, the Red Cross offers virtual and in-person lifesaving classes. For classes held in-person, we limit class size, remain distant and thoroughly sanitize. Classes are taught locally by staff that have passed our instructor trainings.

When it comes to supporting military families, we work to facilitate emergency communication between deployed personnel and their families in times of major life events. To ensure all of this gets done, we rely on the efforts of over 1,500 volunteers here in Hawaii.

You started as CEO for the Pacific Islands Region last month. What are your top priorities?

Ensuring our volunteer workforce is diverse and includes a younger demographic is a top priority both for me here in the region as well as nationally. … Our vision is to cultivate a culturally competent and inclusive American Red Cross, where the makeup of our volunteers, employees and donors increasingly reflects the clients and communities we serve. Our volunteers come from a wide range of backgrounds and are of all ages, and we welcome each of them to contribute. With the challenges raised by the COVID-19 pandemic, we also look to the younger demographic for help with sheltering services.

The Red Cross alleviates human suffering in the face of emergencies by mobilizing our donors and our volunteers (who do 90% of the work). My long-term vision is to ensure that the American Red Cross is recognized in Hawaii and the Pacific as the premier humanitarian organization in the region.

How does your background in higher education inform your work?

A common thread … is change and transformation of individuals and communities. The role of the Red Cross is highly visible in the aftermath of disasters and emergencies. However, just as important is our role in emergency prevention through preparedness education and training. Emergencies and disasters disproportionately affect marginalized communities, something that the Red Cross is actively addressing nationwide. I am excited about the opportunity to leverage my background, skills and network in addressing these challenges.

With Hawaii’s depressed economy affecting so many, has Hawaii Red Cross seen a drop in charitable donations?

The financial impacts of COVID-19 have presented us, like other nonprofits, with unique challenges. In times of need, however, is when we need to come together the most. By ensuring that each donor dollar is used efficiently, we build strong relationships with our partners and continue to deliver our lifesaving mission. Disasters don’t stop during a pandemic and donors understand that our core work must continue. We incorporate new technologies and training to enable the compassion of our volunteers to be offered virtually with the same spirit of aloha that Hawaii Red Cross has provided for over a century.


>> Professional: Red Cross regional chief executive officer for the Pacific Islands Region (Hawaii, Guam, Northern Mariana Islands and American Samoa). Previously, vice president of advancement, Chaminade University of Honolulu, for nearly 13 years.

>> Community roles: In addition to serving on boards and commissions, is president of Hui Hanai. “Toward our mission of perpetuating the legacy of Queen Lili‘uokalani, we just published the first-ever compilation of her diaries, edited and annotated by David Forbes. The first day that I started at the Red Cross, I entered the room with the large Red Cross flag personally sewn by the Queen and felt her mana; it was a ‘chicken-skin’ moment.”

>> Work-life balance: On weekends, ocean bodyboarding or tennis

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