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We were so saddened to hear this morning of the death of Chester County Department of Emergency Services Director Colonel Ed Atkins. We send our deepest condolences to his family and the entire Chester County community.

The Red Cross and Colonel Atkins were great partners and worked closely to not only respond to disasters large and small in Chester County, but also to prevent disasters from happening in the first place. Atkins’ leadership during the recent flooding and the February ice storm was instrumental to keeping citizens safe and informed.

Col. Ed Atkins. keynote speaker at the Red Cross Chester County Heroes breakfast in April, 2014, recognizes military members at the back of the room (not shown). credit: Alex Greenblatt

It wasn’t that long ago that Colonel Atkins was delivering the keynote address at our Chester County Heroes Breakfast. His deep concern for the county and his deep appreciation for the Red Cross was powerful and clear.

Col. Ed Atkins delivering the keynote address during the American Red Cross Chester County Heroes Breakfast, April, 2014. credit: Alex Greenblatt

Col. Ed Atkins delivering the keynote address during the American Red Cross Chester County Heroes Breakfast, April, 2014. credit: Alex Greenblatt

 

Our CEO, Judge Renee Cardwell Hughes called Ed Atkins a “great man and a great friend to the American Red Cross,” adding, “Every single day he committed himself to making Chester County a better place to live and ensuring the citizens of Chester County were safe. We will miss him dearly.”

 

That was a sentiment echoed by everyone around the office today and in the field. One person who worked very closely with Ed and his team is our volunteer Chester County disaster action team captain, Denise Graf. She is the one making sure the needs of the county and the requests of the emergency services team are met during disasters.

Denise sums up our feelings really well. “As a volunteer disaster responder for the American Red Cross in Chester County, I’ve worked with Ed Atkins on many occasions,” Graf said. “He has always shown me and all Red Cross volunteers the highest respect and appreciation. This truly is a sad day.”

 

As of 5/1/14, 2:00pm

All American Red Cross Southeastern Pennsylvania flood shelters are now closed. In all, seven shelters were open at one time or another, with a maximum of four open at once. More than 110 people came through the shelters, with more than 50 spending the night.

The Red Cross continues to urge residents to remain vigilant about flood waters. They shouldcontinue to heed warnings and emergency officials’ advice. Drivers should never attempt to drive through high water. Below is a link to more flooding safety info.

http://www.redcross.org/prepare/disaster/flood

The recent flooding is an important reminder how unpredictable Mother Nature can be and the importance of being prepared. The Red Cross encourages people to download the Red Cross free flooding app iPhone and Android. It will alert people when there are watches and warnings. It also provides info on what to do before, during, and after flooding hits. The app can be found at redcross.org/mobileapps or by searching Red Cross on Apple app and Google play stores.

 

The current spring cold snap is proving to be far more than just a nuisance. It’s proving to be downright dangerous. The cold temperatures reinforces the direct correlation between cold temperatures and the rate of home fires.

north philly fire

All that’s left of a fire on April 15th in the 2400 block or Arlington Street in North Philadelphia that displaced a family of seven. Credit: Bob Schmidt/Red Cross volunteer

After a record setting winter that saw the American Red Cross Southeastern Pennsylvania respond to more than 450 fires, those who work and volunteer for the Red Cross had hoped and expected the number of fires to decrease significantly. And after a few days of warmer weather, that is exactly what happened. But sadly, it didn’t last, in part to Mother Nature.

Over the last 72 hours (since 4/15/14), as temperatures dropped to winter like levels again, the number of fires once again rose. In those 72 hours, the Red Cross responded to 12 fires, more than triple the 24  hour average. In all, the Red Cross assisted 21 families, 52 people displaced by those fires. Nine of those families are now at Red Cross House – The Center for Disaster Recovery. The American Red Cross Southeastern Pennsylvania is on pace to exceed 750 fire responses this year, the most in more than four years.

In addition to being financially devastating to the families affected by the fires, the ongoing cold temperatures have had a huge impact on Red Cross resources, human and financial. Since the Red Cross is made up of 90% volunteers, it is mostly volunteers responding to the fires. And while the volunteers are dedicated and committed to serving the public, the relentlessness of the fires can take its toll on even the most seasoned volunteer. So if you’ve ever thought about being a Red Cross volunteer, now would be a great time to let us know. (click HERE for more information.)

 

N. 12th street fire

This early morning fire on April 17th on north 12th Street in Philadelphia, displaced five families, 16 people, and multiple pets. CREDIT: Jen Leary/Red Paw Emergency Relief

Because the Red Cross provides disaster survivors money for things like food, clothing, lodging, and other emergency needs, the ongoing cold and increase in fires has had a dramatic impact on our financial resources. We are significantly over our disaster response budget. Since the Red Cross will ALWAYS respond and provide the highest level of care, no matter the cost, the money must be found elsewhere. So if you’ve ever considered making a financial donation to the Red Cross, now would be a great time to do so. (click HERE for more information.)

But even if you don’t make a financial donation or volunteer, you can still help the Red Cross and more importantly the greater community. Even as the Red Cross is hopeful warmer temperatures will eventually arrive and the number of fires will decrease, the Red Cross urges residents to remain vigilant about fire safety. Residents should limit having more than two things plugged into one outlet and make sure dryer lint screens and heating system filters are cleaned regularly. Residents should also ensure they have working smoke alarms and have and practice at least twice a year a fire escape plan that includes pets.

For more fire safety information, including how to create a fire escape plan, visit redcross.org/homefires.


April 6th – April 12th, 2014 is National Volunteer Week. We asked some of our volunteers why they volunteer for the Red Cross. Below is just sampling of some of their answers.

 

Carol Aldridge

9 years of service

Emergency Services

“I had seen so much that had happened at Katrina that it really pulled at my heartstrings.”

 

Carol Barnett    

22 years of service

Emergency Services

“The best part about the Red Cross is the people you work with and all the diversity.”

 

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Stan Dunn accepting an award during the 2013 American Red Cross Southeastern Pennsylvania Celebration of Volunteers

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Stan Dunn

12 years of service

Emergency Services

“(During 9/11) We were so impressed by what the Red Cross was doing, when we came home we decided we would volunteer for the Red Cross.”

 

Heath Morris    

5 years of service

Red Cross House

“I wanted something to do after leaving the Treasury Department. It (Red Cross House) is a good facility and helps people in need.

 

Anthony Robinson, pictured with our CEO, receiving an award at the 2013 Celebration of Awards

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Anthony Robinson

2 years of service

Volunteer Administration

“Here I feel as though I can actually do some good and help people. I had some health issues and I decided I needed to get out of hte house. It’s really worked out for me.”

 

Tom Reithof

30+ years of service

Emergency Services

“I kind of thought it was fun. Before (volunteering for the Red Cross) I worked as an engineer and physicist that never dealt with human beings. I started learning about human beings.”

 

Alice Taylor, at a desk in Volunteer Administration

Alice Taylor, at a desk in Volunteer Administration

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Alice Taylor  

11 years of service

Blood Services and Volunteer Administration

“I enjoy doing it. It keeps me out of trouble.”

 

Jen Tso      

4 months of service

Financial Development

“Everyone is super excited about the work that they do, so it’s a great environment to be part of.”

 

 

From left to right; Carol Barnet, at the Regional Disaster Coordination Center, David Yu, at the 2014 Red Ball, Jen Tso at her desk

David Yu

1 year of service

Disaster Action Team and Disaster Services Technology

“I get to meet a lot of different people. I love the fact that we are so diverse and that we can actually coordinate as one. That also amazes me.

 

rco_blog_img_BenFranklin

Not this Ben Franklin…

In the era of digital cameras, smartphones with 13 megapixel cameras that fit into your pocket, and everything being done remotely with a few strokes of a keyboard, you wouldn’t think getting a picture of a huge bridge would be all that difficult.

Well, you’d be wrong.

I preface this by saying this is absolutely no one’s fault. Everyone who helped with this did everything they could to facilitate. Every request I made was granted. But sometimes for a variety of reasons, even the smallest, simplest tasks, can wind up being a challenge.

Every March for Red Cross Month, I request the Delaware River Port Authority to light the Ben Franklin Bridge red to honor the work of the thousands of Red Cross volunteers. And DRPA always happily obliges by setting aside most days for the bridge to be red. (excluding March 17th when the bridge is green and a few other days here and there.)

Ben Franklin Bridge lit up on a normal evening. (Courtesy Jingoli.com)

This year was no exception. But I hit snags at just about every turn. First, there was some sort of construction on the bridge involving PATCO which made programming the light display on the bridge hit and miss. Some nights, the lights would work. Some nights they wouldn’t. Sadly, on the nights I dispatched a photographer to snap a photo, were nights the bridge wasn’t red.

I also called on my friends in the media to take beauty shots of the bridge lit in red during their news and weather casts. But without hard and fast dates and times, it’s difficult to ensure the bridge would ever make air.

Which brings me to last night (3/31), the last night of Red Cross Month and the last opportunity to get a photo of the bridge lit red.

I’m a lucky person. I work for the Red Cross so when I ask for a favor, people will go out of their way to try and help. The folks at DRPA exchanged emails with me and made phone calls off hours and over the weekend to make sure the bridge was red Monday night, March 31st, so I could get that photo, raise awareness about the great work the Red Cross does, and in a very real way, generate an extra sense of pride among our thousands of volunteers.

So I sent out the call one last time for volunteers to head to the bridge at dark to take pictures. (Not easy to do after 3 or 4 wild goose chases.) But as I mentioned earlier, people want to help the Red Cross. And bless their hearts, several people grabbed their iPhones and cameras to get the perfect shot. They even drove to Camden to get different angles.

At first, only a small part of the bridge was red and I began to get a huge sense of dread. Did I really do all this and ask others to do this AGAIN, for a few lights? I was feverishly texting back and forth with the volunteers in the area, asking who had the best angle. Could they see the red?

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Ben Franklin Bridge at 8:15pm on 3/31/14. Credit: Janice Winston

I’m sure I came off sounding like a crazed lunatic, obsessed with getting a photo of a bridge. But the volunteers didn’t complain. They have an overwhelming ability to be understanding. They have compassion, even for a guy who just wants a photo. They wanted to come through not for me, but for the Red Cross and their fellow volunteers.

And come through they did. It wasn’t until 11:30pm that all the volunteers were making their way home after chasing red lights on a bridge for four hours.  But the day after, I have plenty of great shots of the bridge lit in all its glorious red.

BRIDGE2

Credit: Bob Schmidt

 

And because DRPA came through for us, 6ABC’s Cecily Tynan gave the Red Cross a very nice shoutout during her weather cast.

 

It wasn’t easy, but mission accomplished, much like a disaster response. Rarely are they ever easy or go exactly according to plan. But Red Cross volunteers are adaptable, flexible, and understanding. They are compassionate. So even though in this case, Red Cross volunteers weren’t helping a family burned out their home by a fire or feeding a child at a shelter because a massive ice storm knocked out power to their home (although at the same time, other volunteers were responding to two fires in Philadelphia), they helped make a difference. They helped share their pride in the Red Cross with others as the photos are placed on Facebook, Twitter, newsletters, etc. They may have prompted someone to donate $25 to the Red Cross or better yet, volunteer.

bridge 1

Credit: Michelle Alton

car and bridge  MICHELLE

Ben Franklin Bridge with Red Cross vehicle. Credit: Michelle Alton

 

The willingness of volunteers to help is what makes the Red Cross run. So when you look at these photos, think of the volunteers who made them possible and be confident that when disaster strikes, the dedication and care volunteers give to getting a photo pales in comparison to the dedication and care they give to people in their moment of greatest need.

Want to see MORE photos of Ben Franklin decked in Red? Click here for the full set on Flickr.

 

UPDATED 5:30 pm 2/13/14:
The American Red Cross Southeastern Pennsylvania has its volunteers on standby and has established shelter team in the event sheltering is needed due to the ongoing snow storm.  But as of 5:30 pm 2/13, that has NOT been necessary.

Staff and volunteers are staffing any open county and city Emergency Operation Centers and equipment has been prepositioned throughout the area to respond to any requests for assistance or sheltering.

If shelters do open, they will be listed below by county. Information will also include an address and if the shelter is pet friendly.

You can also follow updates on twitter, by following @redcrossphilly @telesara and @dcschrader.

And if you need your sidewalk or driveway shoveled Friday morning, let Uber Philly do the work. And all proceeds will benefit Red Cross disaster relief.

Visit here for info and details. http://blog.uber.com/ubershovel

Please keep these safety tips in mind if you do lose power during the storm.

Here are some tips to be safe during a winter storm.
Don’t forget about your pets, here are safety tips for your pets during a winter storm.
And, here are tips about preventing and thawing frozen pipes.

Thank you and keep warm.

The Red Cross

Cots set up last week at the shelter at West Chester University for residents affected by power outage. February 5, 2014

Cots set up last week at the shelter at West Chester University for residents affected by power outage. February 5, 2014

RCH and volunteers at Hatboro shelter

Red Cross Southeastern PA CEO Judge Renee Hughes visits a shelter in Montgomery County during the ice storm and power outage. February 7th, 2014

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A tree knocks down power lines in Chester County, February 5th, 2014.

After any major disaster and the recent ice storm is no different, one of the most common questions I get is “How much did the disaster cost?” It’s a natural and fair question to ask. After all, the American Red Cross accepts only financial donations and people want to know where their donations are going.

RCH and volunteers at Hatboro shelter

American Red Cross Southeastern PA CEO Judge Renee Hughes (center) meets with volunteers and takes a tour of the Hatboro Horsham shelter on February 7th, 2014

In the case of the recent ice storm to hit Southeastern Pennsylvania, calculating the true cost is complicated, if not impossible. You see, most of the expenses the Red Cross is incurring during the ice storm response were incurred during the course of the last year. The Red Cross must be prepared to act immediately whenever there’s a disaster. The Red Cross does not have the luxury of waiting until donations roll-in to respond.

So the Red Cross spends much of its resources preparing. That means buying things like blankets, cots, pillows, soap, and shampoo in advance. That means paying to store those items at warehouses. That means replacing items that wear out or go bad because they have a limited shelf life. That means paying to recruit and train volunteers, who make up more than 90% of the Red Cross workforce. That means paying for technology to ensure workers can communicate more easily and can respond more effectively. That means providing its limited staff decent wages and benefits to get and retain quality employees.  This doesn’t even factor the amount of TIME spent responding to a disaster or travel costs like gas, tolls, and in some cases, airfare and hotels for outside help.  (VERY minimal in the case of this ice storm.)

(VIDEO below is a recap of Red Cross response after first 24 hours)

The Red Cross spends a lot of time going into the community and sharing safety and preparedness advice vital to reducing recovery time after a disaster, which ultimately reduces costs for everyone. But how do you calculate that?  The work of the Red Cross goes on year round. Costs are incurred year round, not just when we open a shelter or pay for food. The Red Cross is able to respond to disasters so efficiently and effectively because it puts a lot of its resources into making sure we are all ready when disaster strikes.

So what’s my point? The point is, the Red Cross relies on donations from the public year round, not just during and after disasters. The Red Cross isn’t funded by the government or your tax dollars. The generosity of individuals, corporations, civic groups, and foundations are solely what make it possible for the Red Cross to do what it does.

Wednesday, February 5th, nearly 400 cots were set up at West Chester University to help an expected influx of people who lost power.

Without donations, the Red Cross can’t be ready with 1,500 cots and blankets when an ice storm hits and 700,000 people don’t have power and may need a warm place to go. Without donations, the Red Cross can’t provide fire victims money for immediate needs like food, clothing, and shelter. Without donations the Red Cross can’t train volunteers who provide the compassion and experience shelter residents need after a disaster. In short, donations make it so when the Red Cross gets the call for help, the Red Cross is able to answer.

To learn more or make a donation, please visit redcross.org.

A resident at the West Chester University shelter made this cake for the Red Cross staff and volunteers in appreciation of all they do. February 8th, 2014

A resident at the West Chester University shelter made this cake for the Red Cross staff and volunteers in appreciation of all they do. February 8th, 2014