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Monthly Archives: August 2012

As I write this, Tropical Storm (likely soon to be Hurricane) Isaac is barreling toward Florida and the Gulf Coast. Hundreds of thousands of people are potentially in harm’s way. It’s not a place most people want to be going. But right now, hundreds of Red Crossers are going there. They are headed there in advance of Isaac to help set up shelters, position equipment and supplies, and provide minor medical help and mental health counseling.

Volunteers Kay and Fred before leaving for Florida.

Volunteer Janice Winston being interviewed by a local TV station moments before leaving for Florida.

That’s what Red Crossers do. They go into places before, during, and after a natural disaster when most people are leaving. 15 people from my chapter are there now. I, however, am not one of them. I’d like to be, but I’m not and truth be told, part of me really wishes I was. Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not complaining. But for something like this, as part of the American Red Cross Advanced Public Affairs Team (APAT), I would normally be on one of the first planes down there. Being an APAT member means being the voice and sometimes the face of the Red Cross during a national disaster, like a hurricane or tornado. I can sum it up in a DM I got over twitter from a fellow APAT member that asked the question, “Why aren’t you deploying sir?”

My answer: I’m sitting this one out, because I’m about to go on vacation. I know “boo-hoo” for me. “Poor Dave is missing a hurricane to go sit on a beach in the sun with his family.”

Again, I’m not complaining. But hear me out. I would never wish for a disaster, but what is happening in Florida is exactly what I’m trained for. It’s the most rewarding and exciting part of my job. There are about 50-60 other APAT members at the Red Cross, many of whom are in Florida now. They are great to work with. And they are already doing an amazing job. I miss being a part of that.

A Red Cross APAT member on the Weather Channel talking about preparing for and responding to Isaac.

It’s funny, today I’m sort of (but not really) complaining that my vacation was interrupting my ability to respond to a hurricane. But this time last year, I was complaining that a hurricane was interrupting my vacation.

Irene hit this very same weekend. The same weekend my vacation was supposed to begin. But unlike Isaac, Irene was striking where I live; where my Red Cross Chapter is. Not helping was not an option. I spent the first night of my vacation in a Red Cross shelter instead of walking the boardwalk eating junk food. Over the next few days, I helped my chapter and our national headquarters manage media and response in the Philly area. My vacation got delayed. I was bummed. My family was even more bummed. Mother Nature had picked an inconvenient time to show her wrath.

Same goes for this week. Any other week, I could help with the Red Cross response. But I wasn’t about to miss my vacation again. I am not about to disappoint my family again. The Red Cross will manage just fine without me.

The moral of this story is not that Dave likes to complain, though I realize it is easy to draw that conclusion. The moral is, disaster never waits for when it’s convenient. Mother Nature can choose to be angry at any moment. She can disrupt my life, your life, all our lives at the drop of a hat.

That’s why you need to be prepared. That’s why you need to have a plan for what you would do if Mother Nature was suddenly inconvenient. Don’t just assume it can wait until tomorrow. If you need help with developing that plan, go to our website, RedCrossPhilly.org. It has lots of great, free advice.

A secondary moral is to be thankful for the Red Cross and the many, many thousands of volunteers willing to have their lives interrupted on a moment’s notice to go into a potentially dangerous place, to help people they never met recover from something that’s usually far worse than just an inconvenience.

Have you ever contemplated the difficulties people face when a natural disaster strikes? Have you ever known someone who had been so moved by the scenes of a disaster that they wanted to help? With Hurricane warnings going into effect down in the Caribbean and parts of Florida bracing for Hurricane Isaac, the American Red Cross SEPA chapter is bracing to respond to Hurricane Isaac as well by sending 11 volunteers to Florida with preparation and relief efforts in mind in the event that the hurricane makes landfall.

Let’s talk about those volunteer efforts. It’s always phenomenal to see people help other people. In those moments strangers become family. Volunteers are enormously valuable during a disaster. Still, during disasters such as Hurricane Katrina and 9/11, there were such a vast number of people who wanted to help, that some showed up to disaster locations without an affiliation to work with or even a place to stay. This isn’t the case for Red Cross volunteers, as the Red Cross champions volunteer efforts during a disaster and makes sure every volunteer has a purpose and a place. Most of all, the Red Cross encourages organized volunteer efforts and invites you to become a Red Cross volunteer.  Here at the Red Cross SEPA Chapter and at every Red Cross chapter nationwide, volunteers who are sent to major distress sites gain experience first by volunteering with their local Red Cross chapter. The Red Cross trains individuals before they are sent out to provide assistance and the Red Cross will also make sure that their volunteers have food and lodging in anticipation of venturing to a place that may be far from home.

Disaster relief work has never been easy. The will to volunteer in itself is a vital component to becoming part of a relief effort team but there is a reason the Red Cross offers training to individuals before they set out to help. Disaster relief efforts can be demanding and necessitate lengthy hours of service. The environment, in which one works, can sometimes be in uncomfortable climates or at uncomfortable temperatures. Volunteers must be ready to engage in dialogue with people who may be in different stages of emotional distress. Volunteers must also be prepared themselves to come to a place where everything has been turned upside down after a disaster.

If you want to respond to large disasters like Katrina, Irene, or even Isaac, the Red Cross wants you and will make sure you are trained and prepared when the time comes to respond. In fact the Red Cross has a Disaster Services Human Resource (DSHR) team that evaluates individuals, making sure that they are in a fair state of health, making sure that they are properly trained and making sure that they are assigned according to their desires and strengths to serve. This is so volunteers can work in the capacity they are most comfortable. This is also because the Red Cross not only cares about the survivors they help but also the Red Cross team members who provide that vital help.

Want to become one of our heroes? You can… just click here to get started!

Our volunteers talk about leaving for Florida to help with relief efforts there.

Jabril Redmond, guest, volunteer blogger

Have you seen the new redcrossphilly.org? Spread the word, it’s live and ready to be explored by you, your family and all of your friends.
I’m one of the people behind this beast of a redesign and I thought I’d take a moment today to give you a little behind the scenes top five list of things you probably don’t know about the new site:

5- The Southeastern Pennsylvania Region was chosen as one of eight Red Cross Chapters to serve as pilot Chapters in the redesign. What does this mean? This means that we are one of only eight Red Cross Chapters whose new websites are up and running right now. We lead the charge of the migration to this new “One Red Cross” way of thinking on the web and we invite you to visit and click around!

4- The redesign and migration has been nearly a year in the making. As part of the pilot program, I was privy to design conversations and was able to voice my opinion about not only the chapter redesign, but also the RedCross.org (RCO) redesign. I took part in conference calls with members of the Red Cross staff across the country starting last year and it has all lead to this week’s launch.

3- We (and by “we” I mean me) provide every picture that is displayed on the new Southeastern Pennsylvania (SEPA) site. All but 5 of them are local pictures taken by SEPA employees or volunteers. Here’s a fun game, go find the 5 pictures and leave a comment to tell us which ones you think are not local. I’m really proud that we were able to provide so many great images from around our region and this leads me to another tidbit…

2- You may see SEPA photos on other Chapter sites. We’re so lucky to have such great images of the many things we do here at SEPA, that other chapters are using them as well! Thanks to all of our employees and volunteers who make gathering these great photos so easy!

1-The number one thing you probably don’t know about the new SEPA redesign? We were the FIRST to launch… the FIRST to redirect our old website to the new one and the FIRST to be used as a model for chapter sites across the county.

It’s been a long process that has involved coordination between many different departments and people working here at SEPA, but I’m so proud of our newly redesigned redcrossphilly.org. In April, I gave birth to my second child… and in August – it was like another birth… redcrossphilly.org is my baby. Feel free to ooh and ahh over it!

While you’re here, check out the mission moment explaining all about the new website!

Here as a volunteer blogger for the SEPA chapter, I’m getting a chance to learn some of the things that the Red Cross does that don’t make it onto your local news but does make an impact on people’s lives.

Whether it’s mental health volunteers helping out in Colorado or the SEPA Communications team being the first on the scene to help survivors access the help they need following a fire in Philadelphia, I’m also learning that the hundreds of Red Cross chapters nationwide and their volunteers adhere to one vision and one mission.

Two Red Cross Southeastern Pennsylvania workers console a woman displaced by a fatal fire in West Philadelphia.

The mission is to “prevent and alleviate human suffering in the face of emergencies by mobilizing the power of volunteers and the generosity of donors.”

The vision is to turn compassion into action so that:

.all people affected by disaster across the country and around the world receive care, shelter and hope;

..our communities are ready and prepared for disasters;

…everyone in our country has access to safe, lifesaving blood and blood products;

….all members of our armed services and their families find support and comfort whenever needed; and

…..in an emergency, there are always trained individuals nearby, ready to use their Red Cross skills to save lives.

Both are daunting tasks and responsibilities.

Yet both were demonstrated during the number of tragedies this past summer. Tragedies that ranged from but not limited to house fires, water main breaks, and some natural disasters on the local level as well as wildfires and mass causality crises on the national level.

American Red Cross Southeastern Pennsylvania mental health volunteer meeting with a man displaced by the Colorado wildfires.

Through them all, the American Red Cross was there to help and through their actions I begin to realize how volunteers live the American Red Cross mission and vision everyday.

– Jabril Redmond, volunteer guest blogger

A disaster and media response coordinated 140 characters at a time.

Most people would agree social media has great value during large scale disasters. I can tell you first hand about the countless times I used social media to spread the word about thunderstorms, tornadoes, blizzards and fires to thousands and thousands of people at once.

But few can see the value in social media for the smaller scale disasters, like a single home fire or when a car crashes into a house. You may be thinking  “Car into House, that’s random.” Maybe so, but that’s exactly what happened last night and what I want to use to demonstrate the important role  social media can play even during a small disaster.

Yesterday afternoon I saw a tweet from Fox 29 reporter Chris O’Connell that he was working on a story for the 6pm news about a family forced from their home after a car smashed into their house. I emailed Chris with information on how the family could get help from the Red Cross. I didn’t get a response right away. Since I wanted to make sure the family got help as soon as possible and seeing the possibility the Red Cross would get positive news coverage (I am the Communications Director after all), I got impatient. So I replied to one of his tweets saying the Red Cross could help.

Here is the initial tweet exchange between Fox 29’s Chris O’Connell and myself

I got a tweet back a little while later from Chris saying the family was calling for help now. Our emergency response center (We call it the Bridge) dispatched a team immediately and help was soon on the way. That was a very gratifying tweet to read. It may be a small thing to just about everyone else, but a big deal to me.

The family was very upset. Their reaction was typical of what our volunteers see everyday after a fire or other disaster. It’s very traumatic to lose your home and the uncertainty that comes with it. And even though the Red Cross couldn’t fix everything, it could provide some comfort, some hope, in what can seem like a hopeless situation.

I’ve included below an edited version of how Chris O’Connell’s 6pm and 10pm stories turned out and the prominent mention the Red Cross got in them. But the most gratifying part was not the publicity we got, but rather, the knowledge that the family last night and for many nights to come would be staying at our one of a kind Red Cross House – Center for Disaster Recovery with a roof over their heads, clothes on their back, and food in their stomach — soon to be on the path back to independent living, thanks to the Red Cross.

 

Danelle Stoppel, a Red Cross volunteer with the SEPA Chapter who specializes in mental health services who is a very experienced volunteer when it comes to disasters. She has no problems transiting from volunteering at the local level to the national level. During her last two deployments, Danelle has been traveling and keeping us updated on what she has been experiencing through text message. After spending time in Colorado, she is now in Tulsa, Oklahoma just a month later. Here is her latest string of texts outlining her recent deployment:

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August 9, 2012

Arrived in Oklahoma and redirected to Tulsa.  Along the interstate there were long stretches of burned areas.  I was assigned to a work site in Creek County where American Red Cross (ARC) services are being delivered.  There are strong community liaisons like Colorado spring, the Baptist church and the medical corp.  Temperatures are in the 100s, but there is little humidity.  There are strong winds and no chance of rain until Sunday.

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All that is left of a neighborhood after the Creek County Wildfires in Oklahoma. Photo by: Danelle Stoppel

August 10, 2012

Disaster Relief (DR) is very small. I have been assigned to Mannford and services are concentrated there.  Like Colorado Springs, the local chapter, county and state agencies are working together.  Services begin at twelve noon, but I am meeting with client case management to coordinate mental health services in an outreach effort.  I will know more after that meeting.  I still have not seen the damaged areas since these fires were scattered over a large area.  I met a gentleman last night who lost everything.

August 10, 2012

All services in Creek County are located in a service center.  Four other mental health workers and myself are  working with client case management as people arrive.  We serviced over 80 families today.  Families are receiving funds from the Red Cross.

Red Cross provides services to aid victims of the wildfires. Photo by: Danelle Stoppel

August 10, 2012

Many of the families from Creek County live on large tracts of land…50,100 acres with multiple houses of family members’ land that has been in the family forever.  People reported helping their neighbor rescue their horses only to return home and find their own land on fire.  One young woman operates a family salvage business and in June a fire swept through about ten acres burning most of their salvaged autos.  She was married several weeks after and last week her home was completely destroyed including all of her wedding presents.  Her husband fled their home wearing the first present she ever bought him, a green pair of shorts.  She laughed thinking of how much she hated those shorts since they were now four years old and had a large white stain on them.  But those pants survived the fire as did her husband.  People from here are very hard working and never ask for help.  Many of them are now realizing that they need help.  Due to the fire and the drought many farmers do not have feed for their livestock.  See attached request

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A flyer for hay and feed donations in Creek County. Photo by: Danelle Stoppel

August 11, 2012

The staff at ARC are overwhelmed with the number of people seeking assistance.  In the last four days over 300 901s have been written.  Many animals /pets have been injured, missing and lost in the fire.  A local group called the Alliance for Animals is providing free medical services.  The front of the center has posters for missing pets.  The four mental health workers are working hand in hand with client management.  It has been difficult to assess since large tracts of land were affected. The fires were finally contracted on Tuesday.  Families were allowed to return to their properties late on Tuesday.  Emotions are very raw since FEMA has yet to arrive.  A farmer came into the center and reported that his entire farm of 1,000 acres has been burned and he needs assistance with his livestock.  People reported having only minutes to leave their homes.

Compiled by: Lana Pizzo

Are you ready for change? Well, here at the SEPA Chapter, the office has been a buzz, enamored with and swamped preparing for the unveiling of the new Red Cross website.

In an effort to make the Red Cross chapters more uniform nationwide, the Red Cross’s website will undergo a few modifications and the SEPA chapter will be a pilot chapter for this redesign.

Without losing the qualities that make it so user friendly, you’ll still be able to sign up for classes, volunteer, make a donation, get help and interact with us on the site. And don’t worry, the domain name you have embraced and grown to love: RedCrossPhilly.org will remain the same but like a wardrobe change the web page will be fashioned with a new look. So expect the same content, the same availability of features but only with an updated design. It’s been in the works for quite some time, with you the user in mind and we are very excited about it.  Our new website makes its debut next week. So be on the lookout for it.(preview below).

A preview of new RedCrossPhilly.org

Here’s what RedCrossPhilly.org looks like now.

In the end, all our hard work will make our website even easier for you to navigate, click and search for the information you need and easier for us to continue to meet the needs of the people we serve.

– Jabril Redmond, volunteer, guest blogger