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The images of devastation left behind by Superstorm Sandy in 2012 are unforgettable. The scenes of flooding, damage, and loss were seen throughout the northeast, including in the Lehigh Valley. But while the human toll may be what comes to mind when thinking about a natural disaster like Superstorm Sandy, there is also a big toll on businesses.

In fact, according to the Insurance Information Institute, up to 40 percent of businesses affected by a disaster close their doors, never to reopen. Many of those are small businesses.

A big part of the reason is just how overwhelming a disaster’s impact can be. After Superstorm Sandy, an estimated 1.3 million customers in Pennsylvania lost power, among them, businesses in the Lehigh Valley. Floods and broken trees made roads impassable, preventing workers and materials from reaching those businesses. For business owners who did not have an emergency plan in place, the response was made up of guesswork, uncertainty, and confusion.

To help businesses keep their doors open after an emergency, the American Red Cross Lehigh Valley-Bucks Chapter has the Ready Rating Program. The program is a powerful tool that helps a business owner assess the business’s readiness if a disaster were to hit today, whether it’s a storm, blizzard, flood, or anything else. Using the results of the assessment, the program can help the business owner come up with a detailed plan to keep the business running.

                “It’s all about creating an environment where you’re reacting with a plan, not just having to make up a plan on the fly,” said Peter Brown, Executive Director of the American Red Cross Lehigh Valley-Bucks Chapter.

The time is ideal to take part in the Ready Rating Program. Almost five years have passed since Superstorm Sandy, which was perhaps the last big natural disaster to hit the Lehigh Valley. That’s the longest stretch without a disaster in the last 20 to 30 years. While that’s good news for the Lehigh Valley, it also means business owners may have forgotten the importance of preparation.

“The key is that you’re not going to be caught off-guard. It creates an organizational awareness, working from a plan, that you know where you are and what you need to do, so you can focus on implementation and keeping your team moving forward,” Brown said. To learn more about the Red Cross Ready Rating Program please email peter.brown@redcross.org

You can also visit our Workplace and Organization page on redcross.org, by visiting here.

Written by Chris Peralta

It was the middle of the night when Carol Crawford, 59, felt someone shaking her as she slept. When she turned to look – no one was there.

She went back to sleep. Then, it happened again – but this time, the shaking was harder. Again, she turned to look – and no one was next to her.

Stirred, she decided to go check on her son, Reggie Crawford, 32. Reggie works late into the night stocking a freezer at Wawa. He usually returns home in the early morning hours.

When she opened his bedroom door, it was a terrifying sight: a fire was completely surrounding him in his bed.

Carol quickly woke her son and got him out of the home, telling him to leave everything behind.

As scary as the situation was, it was one Carol had prepared for. She was trained by the Red Cross of Eastern Pennsylvania on how to respond to emergencies. As a teacher, she had even taught students what to do if a fire broke out. For her, it was second nature.

“I froze sometimes,” Carol said, recalling moments when the adrenaline rush almost paralyzed her. “But I had to be strong for my son.”

The fire department quickly arrived and contained the blaze, which was limited to Reggie’s bedroom. Unfortunately, though, they had to check to see if there was fire elsewhere in the home – which resulted in damage.

The Red Cross was called to help. Within ten minutes, a volunteer arrived. “We were frightened. We were scared. They gave us courage, hope, peace,” Carol said.

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Since Carol had been trained by the Red Cross, she knew about the Red Cross House, and the services it made available to people affected by fires.  The Red Cross House quickly responded when she reached out.

For Carol and her son, it made a devastating life event a little easier to cope with.

“When I got here, it felt like home,” she said. “The People here are very generous. There are no words to describe.”

Now, Carol and Reggie are working to clean and restore their damaged home. Carol credits her disaster preparedness with saving her and her son’s life.

“Training. What to do in a disaster. Practice it. Even plan it.”

 

Interviewed and written by Chris Peralta

 

The house was quiet as Reggie Ector sat in his den, reading. Suddenly, he heard three pops.

Curious, he looked around, wondering what the sound was. It didn’t take long to find out: he saw fire coming out of an electrical socket in the room.

Seeing that the fire was small, he tried to put it out with water. His fiancé, who was in a bedroom at the time, soon joined the effort. Reggie would later call this a mistake.

“Trying to put the fire out put our lives in danger,” he said.

They tried to fill a bucket with water. The bucket was too large for a sink, so they could barely get any water inside. Eventually, they grabbed a fire extinguisher, but by then smoke was becoming too thick and they were becoming disoriented.

Ten minutes after the fire started, they escaped the house.

A neighbor saw all the smoke and called 911. Firefighters soon arrived and were able to put the fire out.

Reggie was hospitalized for smoke inhalation. His fiancé was treated for a burn on her ear, the result of exposure to the heat.

Reggie’s sister came to see him in the hospital. While she was there, she told him she had called the Red Cross to help him out.

“It was a sense of relief to know I’d have a place to rest my head,” he said.

It wasn’t Regggie’s first time interacting with the Red Cross. He had been a volunteer with Disaster Services. But even though he had comforted and helped fire victims before, he admits he had no idea what it was like.

“Never did it dawn on me what a fire victim goes through, until it happened to me.”DSC_0012

The house has significant damage to it. The fire was mostly contained to one room, but the smoke damage is extensive. While he plans his next steps, Reggie says the Red Cross House is helping him through one of life’s toughest experiences.

“The food, the shelter, having a place to lay your head that was safe and clean,” he said, “that made a difference.”

But it hasn’t just been about the place to stay. It’s also been about the people who are providing comfort through some of life’s difficulties.

“I’ve laid in bed, crying many nights, thankful to God for this place,” Reggie said. “This place is excellent. Never have I met a more compassionate group of people. There’s a special kind of people here.”

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Interviewed and written by Chris Peralta