SSRI Team Member volunteers to help the State of North Carolina’s Emergency Operations Center in response to COVID-19

SSRI Team Member, Alexis Coates-Singh, volunteers to leave her Duke position temporarily to help the State of North Carolina’s Emergency Operations Center (EOC) in response to COVID-19

Q: What made you think you were a fit and decide to volunteer? Any hesitations on how this could impact your current professional or personal life?

A: The initial email stated “a traffic cop mindset, problem solving, and a can-do attitude” as criteria to provide logistics/project management support for EOC. Working under the SSRI Business Manager, I am tasked with using those same skills on a daily basis which prepared me for this volunteer role.

I had some hesitations on how this would impact my team members, however they agreed to shoulder the extra responsibility while I volunteered on behalf of SSRI to respond to the pandemic. My husband was immediately concerned about me compromising my health by going into the EOC every day. He sent me on my way the first day with an N95 respirator, gloves, and some hand sanitizer.

As a candidate for a Master’s of Public Administration from North Carolina Central University (NCCU), professionally, this volunteer position has a huge impact on how I view the role of government, locally and federally, in response to situations such as this pandemic. This has provided me with a personal, real-life, case study to review and analyze.

I knew immediately that it would have an affect on my family and how I interact with them. I have a 97-year-old grandma who’s active and lives by herself in Brooklyn, NY and all of my siblings are much older and are spread in two different states with varying health outlooks. Ultimately, I knew that anything I could do to support the EOC, even though they don’t live in this state, would impact my family as well. I’ve been fortunate to learn a lot in this short time and I’ve shared some precautions with my family members and also responded to some myths/rumors they’ve come across.

Q: Describe a typical day:

A: My day starts with a SERT (State Emergency Response Team) briefing. This multi-unit rundown provides my team and I with updates from Governor Cooper’s office, FEMA, DHHS, Risk Management, Recovery, and a number of other departments. It’s definitely one of the highlights of my day as I get a quick glance into what’s going on within each unit, what patterns are emerging, what issues can I foresee and possibly help curtail, and what is the general mood. At the end of each meeting Mike Sprayberry, Director of Emergency Management, yells good morning to get people riled up and ends with some thoughtful notes, including telling people to call a family member or friend just to check on them today.

Next, I have daily 10 am meetings with my team, the Task Force for Emergency Repurposing of Manufacturers (TFERM). We go over administrative tasks and information, in-take coordination tasks, summarize the NC EOC current needs, and talk about product matching for anything in process as well as any info that has come in since the day before that is relevant to the team.

After this meeting concludes, I generally start working on responding to emails, calling manufacturers who have reached out and want to provide some type of support for the NC COVID-19 response, providing specifications for PPE, and directing businesses to the NC request form to be designated as an essential business. All offers get logged in a spreadsheet we are hoping to merge with a couple of partner groups such as the Carolina Textile District and NCSU’s site very soon. I may occasionally have another meeting in the afternoon but for the most part I am calling, emailing, and texting with people around the world.

Q: What is the hardest part the job?

A: The hardest part of the job is getting excited when I come across a company that seems to have exactly what we need only to find out that it’s not a legitimate product or seller. As more information is being publicized on counterfeit products, fraudulent companies are getting better at disguising their product as authentic. It’s also hard talking with people who want to help but have had to close their business and send their workers home. This is emotionally straining.

Q: What is the easiest part the job?

A: Logging information is by far the easiest part of the job, although my left wrist might state otherwise.

Q: How do you think this experience will affect you?

A: I don’t take this experience lightly and every day it makes me want to find additional ways I can help. Seeing the pandemic behind the scenes has taken an emotional toll but has also opened my eyes to the disparities our elderly, lower income, and even lower level essential workers are facing while trying to deal with this. There are real long-term implications in our communities that need to be addressed in order for us to attempt to get ahead. This makes me want to work harder to do what I can, even if it’s something as simple as calling manufacturers.  Overall, this experience has changed my life and I hope to continue giving back to my community.

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