Volunteer Spotlight: Amy Cervene

When did you get involved with CEDR?
Amy became involved with the work of providing disaster information to the public through social media, mapping, and rescue facilitation during Hurricane Harvey, and has been volunteering ever since. She’s been working with CEDR since it’s inception.

What are your activities and what do they involve?
Amy is CEDR’s Training Team Lead, providing on demand training and orientation for new volunteers. She introduces them to the software that we use, guides them through the orientation process, and helps create the training materials the organization utilizes.

What motivates you to stay involved?
When asked what she finds most motivating, Amy responded that she’s motivated by “the chance to help people and make a difference, as well as the high standards of the other volunteers. Also, there’s always something different and interesting to do.”

Of what contribution or achievement are you most proud?
Amy is most proud of CEDRs achievements as a group. “We’ve come so far, so fast. FEMA uses our maps now, and they’ve launched a crowdsource unit”.

In your opinion, what is the most important work that this organization does?
Amy believes that the most important work that CEDR does is helping people and animals prepare for disasters, and helping them to find important information during an emergency.

What do you do when you aren’t working and volunteering?
When she isn’t volunteering with CEDR, Amy is an avid birder and volunteers with Colorado Parks and Wildlife. She works with rehabilitating wild birds, as well as keeping their website updated with up-to-date information. She’s also a musician and plays both guitar and ukulele.

Volunteer Spotlight: Sandi Lilly (Lotus)

When did you get involved with CEDR?

I’ve worked with CEDR since 2019, and have been doing volunteer work with hurricane and weather related information online since 2017. I initially had to cloak my identity online due to domestic violence, and opted to use the name Lotus. I chose it from the THich Nhat Hanh quote “No mud, no lotus.” as it seemed appropriate for my life at the time, and now more people recognize me by “Lotus” online than by my real name. 

What are your activities and what do they involve?

My main role with CEDR is the Personal Resiliency Coordinator. I run a channel within Slack that’s dedicated to psychological learning and self care resources, provide self care education calls for our volunteers once a week, and provide Critical Incident Stress Management calls during activations as necessary. I’m also available during activations for one on one chats and calls as needed to help our volunteers process the information that they’re seeing online. 

I also assist with fundraising, web design, social media, content writing, and moderating the Slack channels during activations. 

What motivates you to stay involved?

I find the ability to utilize my skills online from home highly motivating, as I can make a difference in real time using modern digital tools. As a disabled individual, it can be difficult to find volunteer opportunities that are a good fit for the skills that I have and that don’t require me to be personally present in order to participate. 

Of what contribution or achievement are you most proud?

I’m most proud of the ever-growing support network that CEDR has developed through the resilience skills that our volunteers learn each week on our educational calls. It’s great to see them encouraging one another to take breaks, get enough rest, enjoy hobbies, and practice self care throughout the week. 

In your opinion, what is the most important work that this organization does?

Our organization fills an informational gap left by other organizations, finding and distributing valuable resources in ways that make them most likely to get to the average citizen quickly and efficiently. In a disaster, this is extremely valuable. Not everyone knows how to get to their state or federal disaster management agency’s information. Most people do know how to use their favorite social media site to find and share information quickly. 

What do you do when you aren’t working and volunteering?

When I’m not working and volunteering, I’m also a homeschooling mother of two. I enjoy spending time with my partners and friends, reading, playing video games, and container gardening.

Volunteer Spotlight: Rob Neppell

When did you get involved with CEDR?

Early 2018 as CEDR was emerging from the CRHQ work that came before it.

I became interested in “digital disaster response” during the 2017 hurricane season and was a co-founder of Florida Search and Rescue (FLSAR) after working with Mike McGill and Amy Couts on Irma and Maria response. (More on FLSAR and my experience there in this article I wrote & my friend Ed at HotAir.com kindly published).

When the CRHQ team decided to form what would become CEDR, they put out an invitation to folks who *hadn’t* worked with CRHQ but might be interested in joining CEDR’s core team. As much as I enjoyed working with Mike & Amy and the FLSAR team, they focused on FL and I’m in CA, and CEDR’s overall focus was more aligned with my interests, so I interviewed with the recruiting team, they thought I’d be a good fit, and the rest is history…

What are your activities and what do they involve?

My title is “Vice President – Incident Response & Technology Innovation” (or something like that) and as that somewhat wordy label implies, I wear several hats at CEDR.

With my “incident response” leadership hat, I help coordinate CEDR’s activities during specific incidents (what we call “activations”). In between activations, I focus on developing and improving our processes and procedures so we most effectively leverage the work of our volunteers and the tools & technology we have available. 

The “technology innovation” part is my work looking at new tools and technologies and brainstorming / thinking creatively about how they might be applied to improve disaster response generally, and CEDR’s work specifically. So as a recent example, CEDR’s animated videos of wildfires are an idea I came up with about using Google Earth Studio (GES), and were a result of me experimenting with GES and thinking “I wonder if we could show wildfires in a new and interesting way using this?” (spoiler: the answer is yes!).

What motivates you to stay involved?

Knowing that we’re actually making a difference and helping people when they need it most during disasters. And knowing that we’re “helping the helpers” — that part of CEDR’s work that provides better situational awareness or other information that first responders and state/local/federal emergency management agencies use to accomplish their missions. 

The positive feedback we get from emergency management professionals and our colleagues at other organizations also means a lot. When CEDR gets praise or recognition from people I respect and admire for their own work, that’s a big clue to me that we’re doing something right. 

Of what contribution or achievement are you most proud?

I don’t know if this has had the most impact of anything I or CEDR has done, but I’m proud that CEDR as a group, and I personally (I hope) provide an example of the idea that “normal” people — who may not have any prior experience — can make valuable contributions that actually help people on the ground during disasters. 

For me, it’s often via technology: I’ve found ways to use my background and understanding of software and information technology to solve problems in disaster response with CEDR in ways nobody has ever tried before. But the idea isn’t just about technology: everyone has their own set of skills and experience they can bring to bear on the challenges of disaster response and sometimes make a real difference.

I try to ‘evangelize’ that idea wherever and to whoever I can (including in this LinkedIn post I wrote at the very start of my ‘digital disaster response’ career). 

In your opinion, what is the most important work that this organization does?

I think our work in crowdsourcing shelter information during major disasters like hurricanes has been extremely important and made a real difference in a lot of ways. We’ve made a direct impact by providing that common view of shelters which people who need shelter information actually use during disasters. And perhaps even more importantly, we’ve “led by example” and showed official agencies and other organizations involved with emergency shelters that the challenge of maintaining a truly accurate and complete shelter map across jurisdictions is solvable, and that it’s possible to do better than the current state of existing official systems. 

What do you do when you aren’t working and volunteering?

I have three wonderful young boys of grade school age, so any time that I’m not focused on CEDR efforts, it’s a pretty safe bet I’m enjoying time with them!

Volunteer Spotlight: Melissa Swenson


When did you get involved with CEDR?

I got involved back in 2018 when the spontaneous volunteer groups jumped in to help with Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Maria. I jumped in at Hurricane Maria and as that wrapped up decided to stay and help build the new organization because I could see that there was an opportunity to help feel a gap in the disaster space for an organization like CEDR

What are your activities and what do they involve?
I am the President so I have a very full and varying plate!  On a daily basis, I’m looking at potential events (fires, hurricanes, severe weather) that could impact the public and assessing if we need to change or raise our activation status.  I also help out on social media which is very interesting. It’s also very intense during activation when I have to focus to make sure we’re getting accurate information out to the public quickly. I also work with stakeholders and other groups to see how we can work together to improve our collective response during disasters

What motivates you to stay involved?
What motivates me is seeing that there’s a need for what we do to help fill gaps in the disaster space.  As the pace and intensity of disasters increases, we see a demographic shift where people go to social media first for information. CEDR is there with information on evacuations, links to maps, shelter information and information on recovery resources.  We can also dig into the online nooks and crannies to find sources of information that may not be easy for the general public to find, but finding this information quickly and accurately is important so they can stay safe


Of what contribution or achievement are you most proud?
Most proud.  Oh wow.  I think it’s when I saw a picture of our shelter map on the big screens of FEMA’s NRCC for Hurricane Dorian.  Over 13 days we mapped shelters from Puerto Rico up through Virginia and Maryland and monitored hundred of counties for updates  so to see out shelter map that we shared with the public up on the screen was a huge thrill

In your opinion, what is the most important work that this organization does?
Our most important work is identifying what the public needs and figuring out how to fill the gap.  For the storms in February, for example, potable water was the issue and so we crowdsourced to find water distribution sites.  In the wildfires in the west we recognize that pets large and small are a major concern, so we map shelters for small animals and livestock.  While we have a general idea going into an activation what the needs will be, we also keep ourselves open that there may be new needs that the public has that we need to watch for and be ready to adjust

What do you do when you aren’t working and volunteering?
When I’m not volunteering or at my day job, I both watch soccer and pre-COVID I also play in a 7v7 CoEd soccer league.  I hope we get to play again soon because it’s a fantastic stress reliever!  Shoutout to @fc_tiny and @TimbersArmyFC

Volunteer Spotlight: Ariana Mercer

When did you get involved with CEDR?

I’ve been volunteering with CEDR since August 2019, after seeing CEDR’s response to wildfires in the west and hurricanes in the east.

What are your activities and what do they involve?

I work with CEDR’s maps and GIS applications, primarily in ArcGIS Online. During activations, myself and other volunteers use these applications to map and update shelter locations in real time. Our shelter map is shared with the public to provide a single place to see all shelter locations, which often cross jurisdictional lines. The feature layers we maintain are made available to other organizations that may wish to use them in their own maps and apps.

I also participate in data mining during activations, which involves monitoring for new information about evacuations, shelters, and resources for those affected by a disaster.

What motivates you to stay involved?

Providing timely, accurate information to the public during a disaster is my goal at CEDR. Having been through many wildfire seasons growing up in California, a lack of current information can be dangerous, not to mention extremely frustrating. With new technology being applied to track and respond to disasters, there is more information to share and more places to share it than ever before. The challenge now lies in separating the good information from the bad, and helping accomplish that goal is what motivates me to stay involved with CEDR.

Of what contribution or achievement are you most proud?

During 2020, I revamped CEDR’s shelter mapping workflow, to move from a spreadsheet-based database to a truly GIS-based database. Combining the spreadsheets from all previous activations gave me several hundred shelter locations to start with, and in 2020 alone our volunteers (including myself) mapped more than 700 new shelter locations and over 200 evacuation center locations.

Using the tools available in ArcGIS Online, I was able to streamline the data entry process, so that we no longer have to manually enter information such as the county, state, and latitude and longitude of each shelter. In addition, relevant information is now easier for the public to see, such as the date and time each shelter location was last updated, and a link to Google Maps that will route someone from their location to a shelter.

In your opinion, what is the most important work that this organization does?

Sharing critical – and accurate – information quickly during a disaster response is the most important function of CEDR, in my opinion. While social media allows for easier and more frequent information sharing, it can also lead to misinformation spreading very quickly, which can have a real impact on peoples’ lives during a disaster. CEDR provides an important function by reviewing multiple sources to ensure we share only verified information.

What do you do when you aren’t working and volunteering?

In my free time, I enjoy spending time outdoors – hiking, camping, kayaking, anything that allows me to get out into nature (bonus points for anywhere without cell service). I also love reading; there’s nothing better than a used bookstore on a rainy day.