Nick Tomizawa

My Story: A Volunteer’s Path to Disaster Response

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I am constantly uplifted knowing and having seen the good in people and what they will do to help others in crisis.

By Nick Tomizawa

Prior to 9/11, I was a system safety consultant to the transit industry working closely with transit agencies and the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) and other industry organizations to improve organizational and operational safety practices. After 9/11, I ended up on one of three consulting teams hired by the FTA to assess the readiness of the top 50 transit systems in the country, develop security and emergency management best practices, and provide assistance to these agencies to ramp up for the new world order. We helped them to understand what the growing homeland security world would expect of them but we too had a learning curve as we also had to watch how the new homeland security world was taking shape. I will say my one big regret during that time is that I did not do more to assist my native NY after 9/11 – I had a hard time wrapping my head around what had happened and still needed to do my work for my company.

After working in another industry for a few years, I decided to return to transportation at the NYC Office of Emergency Management as a senior transportation planner. I was the city ESF-1 (Transportation) Lead for activations of the city’s Emergency Operations Center and worked on evacuation planning for hurricanes and other disruptions, which included working with the logistical folks to plan for movements of shelter supplies when the city’s hurricane shelters are activated.

Assisting with Hurricane Irene
After a year, I left to do transit/emergency management consulting around the United States. As Hurricane Irene was approaching, a friend in city government was appointed to help manage a large shelter in Queens. When she asked for assistance, I flew in from a job in Arizona and helped her to prep the shelter. The process was honestly a bit chaotic – the shelter was being run by volunteers who were not steeped in the issues of incident command and were not emergency managers. With my background, I was able to provide support setting up systems to start up, as well as to prepare for the roll up of the shelter.
Out of the wreckage and sadness that was wrought from that storm, I saw hundreds of people bringing compassion, energy, and hope to survivors.
Responding to Superstorm Sandy and Working with World Cares Center
When Sandy hit NY, I immediately responded to a call from my OEM friends for assistance as they were all overworked simply preparing for Sandy. I worked in the city EOC for three days, but soon had the pang inside my gut that I had after 9/11, and I decided to figure out a way to get into the field and provide assistance. I first worked out of the Rockaways with New York Cares and Team Rubicon to muck out homes.

Eventually, I found World Cares Center through an email from Occupy Sandy, went to be trained by Lisa Orloff who soon appointed me a Team Leader as she came to understand my background and training. I got to work regularly with a few inspired and amazing volunteers like Reggie Warren and Kevin Worthington in World Cares Center’s Far Rockaway Volunteer Reception Center, organizing, providing safety briefings, outfitting, dispatching, and demobilizing hundreds of volunteers sent out to muck out homes. World Cares Center provided a spontaneous volunteer management system to manage hundreds of volunteers a day, supplies, and personal protective equipment, and we executed the process to make sure aid was getting to survivors of that terrible storm. That Fall, out of the wreckage and sadness that was wrought from that storm, I saw hundreds of people bringing compassion, energy, and hope to survivors. I am blessed to have been able to contribute and be one of those volunteers. I am constantly uplifted knowing and having seen the good in people and what they will do to help others in crisis. In the end, I know I have the energy, capacity, and the inclination to provide assistance after a disaster. I will try to help again if the opportunity arises and I can make myself available, especially in my city.

My Tip for New Volunteers: Enforce Rest Time!
Disaster aid and response work may be some of the most amazing, instant-gratification jobs you’ll ever have. Have a family cry and tell you that you saved them, you too will feel like you’re wearing a cape and make you think that your real job is mundane and possibly meaningless in comparison. But you can’t take care of others if you don’t take care of yourself. Responder self-care and enforcing rest time is critical. Even Superman has to sleep.

Thanks to our guest blogger Nick for sharing his story. If you’d like to share your experience with disaster volunteerism, email

World Cares Center’s mission is to empower communities to prepare for, respond to, and recover from disasters through training, support, and coordination. To learn more about trainings and other events, please visit the World Cares Center website.

1 comment

  1. Lisa 2 years ago September 8, 2016

    Thank you Nick! It is great to know that you are always there to help!


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