When disaster strikes, Deb Lancaster drops everything in her life to go pick up the pieces for others — because she can.
This time, the Pahrump resident is ahead of the storm.
Lancaster, 59, is preparing dozens of shelters in the New England states for the wrath Hurricane Irene is expected to unleash this weekend. She is an American Red Cross operations manager assistant director for this crisis.
The hurricane has teetered between Category 2 and 3 and probably will be downgraded to a tropical storm when it hits Lancaster’s headquarters in Massachusetts on Sunday afternoon. Flooding is a major concern, she said.
While emergency responders from the West Coast would be the last to deploy to an East Coast disaster, officials at Nevada agencies said they are prepared to send crews if necessary. Numbers on how many locals might be sent haven’t been determined because the storm’s effect is still unknown.
After working in various capacities for the Red Cross over the past 23 years, Lancaster is now a reservist for the Southern Nevada chapter and knows what to expect when deployed, she said.
“When that family comes up who has lost everything, I can say ‘I can help,’ ” said Lancaster, who is considered an expert in flooding disasters. “I have training and the expertise that Red Cross has given me. That’s why I do it — because I can. I feel guilty when I don’t.”
Lancaster arrived in Massachusetts early Friday morning and went straight to work. As of Friday evening, she hadn’t slept in more than 24 hours and had yet to locate her luggage, which was lost in transit. But she glossed over those details in describing her trip, focused instead on the help she was hoping to offer others.
“She works some awful long hours, running on pure adrenaline,” her husband, Paul Lancaster, said, filling in the parts his wife didn’t mention. “A lot of times she goes in, and she doesn’t know if she is getting picked up from the airport, where she’s staying or with who. She goes into these situations blind. I couldn’t do it.”
For Hurricane Irene relief, Lancaster will serve two weeks, her shortest-ever assignment because of prior obligations. She is usually in the field for up to five or six weeks at a time. Until the hurricane hits the northeast, Lancaster will continue planning the logistics for several shelters, including ensuring proper staffing and supply inventory. Then, she will help lead relief efforts.
“Everybody is hurried, busy, focused,” she said of her team stationed in Cape Cod on Friday. They will move inland today, and she might be reassigned to another area. “They have tasks to do. You’re on a timeline, you’re watching this storm coming. There’s no standing around.”
Her husband said she often works 18-hour days during a deployment, then comes home to sleep for three or four straight. He said her time away from home has become easier now that their three children are grown.
“She always goes out, and she knows that no matter how bad it is for her, it’s worse off for someone else,” he said.
Lancaster has responded to dozens of other disasters in her decades-long career at the Red Cross. Her first assignment was for Hurricane Hugo in 1989. She also helped in relief efforts for 9/11, Hurricane Frances in 2004 and the flooding in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, in 2008.
“They’re all bad, I don’t know how else to say it,” she said. “You see the damage and see what families go through and knowing I can do something to help, I have to be there.”
`Contact Jessica Fryman at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-380-4535.Go to www.lvrj.com/irene for complete Hurricane Irene coverage.