By Staff Sgt. Julius Delos Reyes
50th Space Wing Public Affairs
It was a juxtaposition of order and chaos.
A pristine street had people mowing the lawn and children playing as if nothing had happened. Meanwhile on the next street over, a car destroyed by the raging waters sits abandoned on a flooded street. Police patrolled the neighborhood to prevent looting while people wore masks. Entire houses had been emptied onto the street to clean and dry; and some residents have had to throw out most of their belongings.
The aftermath of a widespread rainfall along Colorado’s Font Range left 17 counties flooded, more than 11,000 evacuated, eight people dead and more than 2,000 infrastructures destroyed, as of Sept. 27.
“It was easily the most destruction I’ve ever seen in person,” said 2nd Lt. William Beckman, 50th Civil Engineer Squadron programmer.
Beckman was volunteering with the American Red Cross as an attaché to his brother, Luke Beckman, manager for situation awareness for Red Cross Headquarters, Washington, D.C. To help with the devastation, the Red Cross sent Luke to Colorado to gain experience.
“I don’t get to see him often since I am stationed in Colorado,” Beckman said. “I asked my supervisor and leadership if there were any provisions for me to volunteer in Denver. I am extremely grateful they worked with me to allow me to do this.”
Beckman took leave for five days from Sept. 18-22 to spend time with his brother, volunteering at the Red Cross planning section in Denver, the location of the flood headquarters.
“He filled a crucial gap in the operation,” Luke said.
As a civil engineer officer, Beckman saw this as an opportunity to learn emergency management and witness firsthand the cooperation between various organizations, such as the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), various fire and police departments, the National Guard and more.
“This volunteer opportunity was a great way for him to expand his horizons and gain exposure to working disaster recovery in a real world, local event,” said Robert Blevins, 50 CES Chief of Engineering and Beckman’s supervisor.
Beckman said this volunteer work is also beneficial for him and his career.
“It wasn’t just random volunteer event,” the Arlington, Va., native said. “It was actually something that could be applied to my civil engineering career.”
During Beckman’s five days volunteer work, he and his brother designed a data input system for the Red Cross national call center.
“My brother helped to get the official Red Cross call center up and running, organized the information flow coming into the call center, and built a system from scratch that allowed Red Cross leadership the ability to track client needs from start to finish,” Luke said.
When people call the Red Cross hotline, they typically either want to donate or volunteer, or have been affected by catastrophe. Volunteers at the call center have to log the calls and “close the loop” by following through to make sure aid has been delivered.
“It was very important especially for those who really needed help,” Beckman said. “When someone calls and tells you a problem, you can’t just hang up. It makes them feel better that someone hears their need but you obviously want to do something about it too.”
The system the Beckman brothers implemented was a way to easily close the loop on those calls.
They were also a part of a damage assessment team, responsible for evaluating the scope and level of the devastation.
“It’s easier when you’re dealing with a disaster of limited scope,” he said. “If you’re in a city as big as Denver, how do you know which areas need help?”
They devised a method to that madness. They tested a prototype system for a damage assessment smart phone application that can be used in aid delivery vehicles.
“It can be used to track the movement, supplies and location,” he said.
As part of this, they conducted a boots-on-the-ground assessment and visited some of the affected areas. It was during this time when Beckman saw the contrasting streets. He also witnessed how volunteers make such a welcomed impact to the communities.
“Everyone we talked to said the help they were receiving was phenomenal,” Beckman said. “They really appreciated all of the first responder efforts and continuing support.”
“His civil engineering expertise was critical to assessing levels of damage to homes when were in the field as well as damage to transportation infrastructure,” Luke said.
Beckman was able to move forward on tasks and projects with minimal guidance and instruction. Within 24 hours, he was leading projects and overseeing damage assessment team deployment.
Blevins commended on Beckman’s volunteer effort to help with the flood disaster.
“Lieutenant Beckman has an excellent work ethic,” Blevins said. “He constantly looks for new opportunities to challenge himself. He has an aptitude for taking on work in areas new to him and consistently producing the highest quality work.”
Volunteering for five days, Beckman said it gave him a new outlook on the people who work to ensure victims of natural disasters are taken care of.
“The disaster doesn’t stop when the news stops covering it,” he said. “There were many volunteers who worked overnight delivering aid.”
The Duke University graduate also explained how there are volunteers who make an immediate impact by handing out items to the victims. However, there are also people behind the scenes providing a different type of function.
“You could either be on the ground facilitating the delivery of food, water, and supplies and see the devastation in-person, or you can be in the headquarters trying to make everything more efficient and ensure aid is being delivered where it is needed most,” Beckman said.
Luke commended his brother as is a tremendous asset to disaster planning, response and recovery in the future.
“The Red Cross welcomes his help and thanks the wing for letting him serve with us,” Luke said.
Because he worked at the headquarters most of the time, Beckman said it was challenging to see what really was happening in the affected areas.
“It gave me a new perspective about emergency management,” he said.
Beckman said he would do it again in a heartbeat.
“I love this type of volunteer work,” he said. “It’s very high tempo and fast paced. People make quick decisions and you can do a lot of good and help a lot of people who are in real need. It was just a bonus that I got to spend time with my brother.”