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Disaster Response

Written by David Haas

Isolated by high water for three days, a dedicated team of five Red Cross volunteers opened and maintained a shelter serving 900 people.  Outside contact was limited to helicopter deliveries. One of the five was an 84-year-old retired nurse with more than 30 deployments on her volunteer resume. “I am too busy thinking about other people, people who have lost everything” she says.

Helicopter

Red Cross volunteers personal belongings onto a national guard helicopter. They will fly to relieve shelter volunteers isolated by the effects of Hurricane Florence in Wilmington, NC. Photo credit: American Red Cross

A Red Cross volunteer from Newport NC summed up the hurricane’s effect by stating that, “it looks like someone took a bomb and dropped it” on her hometown. We found the woman helping run a Red Cross blood drive, a higher priority for her than cleaning up the storm damage to her home.

Flying over Elizabethtown North Carolina, a Red Cross volunteer saw “saw a silo and a barn roof sticking through the water, and knew there was a farm below that was surrounded by water.”  Four hundred pounds at a time, he worked with other volunteers to deliver 288,000 lbs. of supplies.

These are just some of the inspiring stories told by the more than 2,350 Red Cross volunteers providing disaster response for Hurricane Florence. More than 70 Eastern PA volunteers and staff deployed as part of the national response and many are still there providing support in the coastal areas of North and South Carolina.

As a public affairs volunteer during the first week following landfall, I witnessed the generous nature of Red Cross volunteers and the communities they support.

For example, one of the 110 Red Cross shelters in North Carolina was located in Chapel Hill.  Housing 340 people at its busiest, the shelter received tremendous community support. This included volunteers reading to children, fire fighters showing off their trucks, boy scouts cleaning cots and the entire championship UNC-Chapel Hill basketball team.  It was hard to tell whether the shelter residents or the Red Cross volunteers were more excited by the visits, but it did wonders for morale in the midst of long days in the shelter.

Basketball

Red Cross volunteers take pictures with members of the championship North Carolina Tarheels basketball team during the team’s visit to a shelter in Chapel Hill. Photo credit: David Haas/American Red Cross

More than 19 non-profit organizations coordinated with the Red Cross during the disaster. Members of the Southern Baptist Crisis Care Team worked in stand-alone kitchens to prepare 6,000 lunches and dinners each day. The meals were delivered by Red Cross volunteers to first responders, residents and survivors of the hurricane.  “The Red Cross and the Southern Baptists represent a unique display of partnership that is working well.”  Said spiritual care provider Kristen Curtis.

Southern Baptist

Red Cross volunteers load meals prepared by Southern Baptist volunteers at a mobile feeding station in Washington, NC. Photo credit: David Haas/American Red Cross

Even American Red Cross President and CEO Gail McGovern participated, spending two days visiting disaster assistance headquarters to listen to the issues faced by volunteers and thank them for their dedicated service. She stayed for a long time at each location until all questions were answered and all selfies were taken.

Gail

American Red Cross CEO Gail McGovern speaks with Red Cross volunteers staffing North Carolina District 2 disaster relief headquarters in Greenville NC. Photo credit: David Haas/American Red Cross

We could not reach many areas until the water level on roads receded.  Then I saw firsthand the damage caused by Florence.  Traveling with a small team, we visited a shelter in New Bern, NC to meet with volunteers and determine what additional supplies were needed. En-route, we saw boats lifted onto dry land by the surge, trees ripped up by their roots from the wind, and hundreds of homes whose insulation flooring and furniture were lying in the road, removed because of flood exposure.  We could see the discoloration of water marks halfway up the sides of many buildings.

damage

The contents of historic homes in New Bern, NC are piled in their front yards after being inundated with water during Hurricane Florence. Photo credit: David Haas/American Red Cross

Returning to regional headquarters, we learned of two Red Cross volunteers who left their 12-hour shift and were first on the scene of a serious car accident. A mother was trapped in the driver’s seat and her teenage daughter injured and hanging out of the passenger side window.  Using their Red Cross First Aid/CPR training, one stopped traffic to prevent a secondary collision while the other worked to stabilize the injured until first responders arrived.

Still wearing his Red Cross T-shirt, the volunteer was able to calm the teenager. “What we did seemed natural” he said. “When you see a need, you help.”

When the unspeakable happened on September 11th, 2001, the Red Cross was there in the immediate aftermath, and the years to follow. Immediately, the Red Cross:

  • Activated 6,000 Red Cross volunteers
  • Opened 13 Red Cross shelter
  • Sent Disaster Mental Health workers to shelters, crash sites, airports and hospitals
  • Set up a mental health hotline
  • Opened Respite Centers for firefighters, police officers, port authority workers and others
  • Received 1 million calls on the Blood Donation line (the previous record in one day was 3,000 calls)
  • Every chapter in the nation supported stranded passengers at airports as air space was shut down
  • Launched the Family Registration Web, a predecessor to today’s redcross.org/safeandwell
  • Sent teams of Red Cross workers door-to-door in the Restricted Zone for families who had chosen to stay
  • After one year, the Red Cross had served 14 million meals for disaster workers and victims, mental health services for more than 237,000 people, and health services for 131,000 people.
  • And much  more.

The Greater New York Red Cross has put together a YouTube playlist of Red Crossers remembering that day, including this video about all the spontaneous volunteers who showed up to help out where they could:

Remembering the Red Cross Response to 9/11

Written by Bryan Myers

Flooding has been a major concern throughout Pennsylvania this summer, especially in the Central and Eastern parts of the state. After several rounds of thunderstorm on August 13th, communities began to flood and houses became inundated with water. Montgomery County’s Department of Public Safety reported that the Pennsylvania Turnpike was closed between Valley Forge and Norristown. The Schuylkill Expressway and PA Turnpike were also shut down due to flooding in the county. Portions of Berks, Delaware, Lackawanna, Schuylkill, Susquehanna and Wyoming counties were particularly hard hit.

The Red Cross responded to the historic flooding in Delaware County by opening an evacuation center at the Darby Recreation Center for flood victims. Throughout the region, dozens of people fled the floodwaters into Red Cross shelters, which were opened in coordination with community partners.

shleter

As water levels receded, the Red Cross focus shifted to distributing emergency supplies, serving meals and working one on one with affected families.  In the first week alone, Red Cross volunteers served more than 2,100 meals and snacks and distributed hundreds of clean up kits and other flood related supplies.

Five emergency response vehicles were deployed to the hardest-hit areas where volunteers could hand out food and emergency supplies door to door. Disaster Assessment teams were sent out to traverse neighborhoods while caseworkers went door to door to talk with affected families, providing more than 75 of them with assistance.

flooding

To be prepared for flood emergencies, the Red Cross recommends assembling an emergency preparedness kit and creating a household evacuation plan. You should ensure that you have access to NOAA radio broadcasts and keep insurance policies in a safe-deposit box or with pictures on a flash drive. Remember to take precautionary measures for your pets by downloading the Red Cross Pet First Aid app.

Home protections might include raising your water heater or electric panels to higher floors, the addition of flood barriers around your house and waterproofing the walls in your basement. Check with your local municipality about the availability of sandbags prior to a flood watch or warning.

You can read more about flood safety from the Red Cross by visiting the Red Cross Flood Safety website. Stay up to date with the latest alerts with the Red Cross Emergency App for iPhone or Android.

Philadelphia’s Office of Emergency Management offers flood safety awareness with an outline of flooding hazards. At the state and federal level, a Pennsylvania Flooding Recovery Guide is also available.

Written by Sam Antenucci

Imagine yourself in a disaster without power or internet. Finding out vital information would be next to impossible.  However, amateur radio – ‘Ham’ as its more commonly called—is a popular hobby that doubles as a way to send disaster messages without the need for internet. During a disaster when internet and power can go down, Ham radio acts as a lifeline in times of need.

Seeing the potential of Ham Radios in disaster scenarios, John Weaver, a Red Cross Disaster and Mental Health volunteer, has been advocating and pushing for more awareness of Ham radios and the American Radio Relay League (ARRL) field day. Weaver says that “Field day is a chance to reach out to the community, practice for emergencies, enjoy informal contests, and most of all have fun!”

john Weaver

John (left) , Al (center) and Sean (right) from the Red Cross Lehigh Valley-Buck Chapter visited the 2018 Field Day sites. Using the Ham radio, they simulated emergency communication to an ARC volunteer in Texas.

With more than 40,000 attendees including Red Cross volunteers, the ARRL field day is easily the largest gathering of radio amateurs in the United States. During the ARRL field day, enthusiasts set up transmission stations throughout the Nation to showcase the service opportunities that the radios hold.

Ham radios work on a variety of frequencies for communications and can be set up anywhere in the world. Both Ham and non-Ham users can tune into their own receivers or radio scanners to listen to the broadcasts. Ham users utilize many frequency bands across the radio spectrum that have been given to them by the Federal Communications Commissions (FCC) for amateur use.

Ham radios have often been utilized in the past by those wishing to aid in disaster services. For example, Amateur Radio Services helped New York City agencies keep in contact with one another during the 9/11 tragedy. Ham radio has also aided in rescues during Hurricane Katrina and helped in the disastrous flooding in Colorado in 2013.

radio

Volunteers participate in Ham Radio training at the 2018 Red Cross Disaster Institute

If Ham radios are something you might want to get involved with, you need to acquire an Amateur Radio license from the FCC and your own equipment. The Red Cross offers Ham training and encourages you to participate in the 2019 ARRL field day on June 22nd and 23rd . Save the date and we’ll see you there!

Hurricane Maria 2017

Barceloneta, Commonwealth of Puerto Rico. Red Cross volunteers distribute water, food and other basic necessities to families affected by Hurricane Maria. Photo by Sergio Rojas for The American Red Cross

As the year nears the peak of the 2018 Atlantic Hurricane Season, the American Red Cross and its partners are ready. We are gearing up for the height, while hoping it will not be as active as last year.

2017 was marked by historic hurricanes, wildfires and other crises, the American Red Cross was there for a record number of people whose lives were upended by major events.  Last fall was unprecedented in terms of the scope and scale of our mission delivery.  We provided food, water, reconnected families, and mobilized thousands of relief supplies, including comfort kits, blankets and cleanup kits to help rebuild lives.  Everything we do depends on the needs of the people that we serve and we could not be there without the generous support of our partners.  Thank you for bringing hope to those in need.

  • Toll Brothers
  • SKF USA
  • Duane Morris
  • PJM Interconnection
  • Vanguard
  • Tanner Industries
  • Ametek Foundation
  • Bentley Systems
  • Dietz & Watson

Written By Sam Antenucci

The  2018 Hurricane Season, June through November, has arrived. Last season we, as a country, saw how hurricanes impacted Texas, Florida, and Puerto Rico. Red Cross volunteers dispatched to four southern states to aid in the recovery by mobilizing resources and help residents impacted by the storms. For Hurricane Irma victims, the Red Cross provided over 550,000 overnight shelter stays, 1.5 million meals and snacks, and provide 52,600 health and mental health services! Similarly, with Hurricane Harvey, the Red Cross provided immediate financial assistance to more than 575,000 households, 4.5 million meals in Texas and Louisiana, provided 435,000 overnight shelters, and offered 127,000 mental health services to those affected.

Hurricane Harvey 2017

A Red Cross worker assesses Harvey damage and standing water levels in Texas

However, even with all the great strides made in recovery, the devastation in these areas is still in effect going into the new hurricane season. For this reason, the American Red Cross wants to emphasize the importance of keeping you and your family safe this hurricane season.

NOAA’s forecasters predict a 70-percent likelihood of 10 to 16 named storms (winds of 39 mph or higher), of which 5 to 9 could become hurricanes (winds of 74 mph or higher), including 1 to 4 major hurricanes (category 3, 4 or 5; with winds of 111 mph or higher). An average hurricane season produces 12 named storms, of which 6 become hurricanes, including 3 major hurricanes.

infrared goes-16 harvey

Image: Infrared GOES-16 as Harvey hits Texas coast. CTSY: NOAA

While the predictions are concerning, there are tips you and your loved ones can do to prepare for the season. Right before hurricane and tropical storm announcements, it is recommended that you stay up-to-date with your local news and officials, National Weather Service and Red Cross with changing conditions. It is also advised that families create evacuation plans with well-marked destinations and local emergency shelters listed. In addition, a fully stocked emergency kit can aid in keeping your family safe and prepared before the storm hits.

During a hurricane, stay indoors! By avoiding any beaches, riverbanks, or contact with flood waters, you can help protect you and your family from any contaminated water and prevent being knocked over by fast-flowing waters. If caught on flooded roads, the Red Cross advises getting out of the car as quick as possible and move to higher grounds.

After the storm has passed, make sure you and your loved ones register on Safe and Well, a website designed to help communicate with family during disasters if cellular communication is not an option. Just like before, keep listening to local news stations and/or weather radios for updates on the storm and instructions for returning home.

With the new hurricane season quickly approaching, you and your family can be prepared! For more safety tips and resources, visit the Red Cross’s hurricane safety page and download the free Emergency app.

 

By: Elizabeth McLaren

One phone call can determine the entire course of Red Cross DAT Responder Elizabeth Stinson’s day. As part of the Disaster Action Team (DAT) in Chester County, Pennsylvania, Stinson knows her circumstances can change in an instant, just as they did on November 16, 2017. News of a five-alarm fire with possible injuries and fatalities at the Barclay Friends Senior Center in West Chester jarred her awake.

“I had fallen asleep on my couch,” Stinson said. “I got the call, got myself together and went.”

Stinson was on the scene of the Barclay fire for over 12 hours, supporting other local emergency responders and Barclay facility staff who were transporting clients to nearby senior and assisted living centers, and reuniting clients with family members. The relief efforts on the ground involved many moving parts. Stinson saw first-hand how small details can matter the most. “It was all about compassionate care. One of the volunteers went out to buy applesauce so patients could take their medicine.”

ES

Of the experiences Stinson has witnessed during her 419 hours logged as a DAT Responder, and close to 1,300 hours on call, the Barclay fire continues to stick with her. “It was the most rewarding experience I had with the Red Cross. I had no idea going into it how large the fire was or the type of people impacted. When I saw the clientele, we wanted to just keep them warm.”

Stinson helps with Red Cross workforce engagement on the days when she’s not involved with disaster response. She coordinates with Volunteer Services to introduce interested Red Cross volunteers to the many responsibilities of DAT Responders. Stinson helps with Red Cross initiatives such as the Home Fire Campaign and the Pillow Case Project, working towards community engagement for volunteers. She is also part of the committee organizing the Red Cross Disaster Institute offering classes to train DAT Responders. With her many efforts, she keeps one main approach in mind, both for herself and for potential volunteers.

“There’s no typical day at the Red Cross. Every day is different. I think that’s what I like about it. Each day is a new and unique set of challenges. Sometimes it’s routine like updating data and records, but it’s always different.”

Stinson believes that this variety adds value not only to her role, but also to her daily life. “Every experience is something to add to your toolkit. They’re all learning experiences. It’s [about] being a better human being. You get out there and you realize not everyone’s as fortunate as you.”