Archive

Disaster Response

Written by: David Haas

In 2017, the American Red Cross worked harder than ever in its mission “to prevent and alleviate human suffering in the face of emergencies by mobilizing the power of volunteers.’

This year Red Crossers delivered more food, relief supplies and shelter stays than the last four years combined. Eastern Pennsylvania volunteers supported many of these efforts, including volunteer deployments for back-to-back-to-back-to-back hurricanes — Harvey, Irma, Maria and Nate – the deadliest week of wildfires in California history, and the deadliest mass shooting in U.S. history in Las Vegas. Learn more about the value of your contribution to 2017 disaster work in this video.

As 2017 comes to a close, Eastern PA Red Cross leaders are preparing a response plan for the devastating and quick-moving wildfires in Southern California, ready to assist local Red Crossers who are opening shelters, and providing food, comfort, and a safe place for thousands of residents displaced from their homes.

blog1

The 2017 National Red Cross statistics are staggering.  More than 56,000 disaster workers — 92 percent volunteers — provided help to people affected by 242 significant disasters in 45 states and three territories. This year, the need for emergency shelter soared, with the Red Cross providing twice as many overnight stays than it did during the past four years combined. The Red Cross:

  • Opened 1,100 emergency shelters to provide 658,000 overnight stays
  • Served 13.6 million meals and snacks
  • Distributed 7 million relief items
  • Provided 267,000 health and mental health contacts
  • Supported 624,000 households with recovery assistance

Altogether, Red Cross emergency response vehicles traveled 2.5 million miles to deliver food, relief supplies and support to communities affected by disasters. That’s the same as driving around Earth 103 times.

blog 2

“There was someone every step of the way with a red vest on letting us know everything was going to be okay,” said Houston-resident Tabitha Barnes, who received Red Cross services after Hurricane Harvey flooded her home.

As volunteers in this region know, the most common disaster is not a hurricane or flood, but rather a home fire. There were nearly 50,000 home fires in the US this year which required Red Cross assistance, and caseworkers helped 76,000 affected families to recover.  Eastern PA volunteers respond quickly to local fires, including multiple teams that responded to the November 17th fire at the Barclay Friends Senior Living Community in West Chester where 140 people were evacuated. Dozens of people wrapped in blankets and sitting in wheelchairs were seen in news reports and being served by the Red Cross at a shelter nearby. The Red Cross House in Philadelphia is another unique resource available to help families and individuals get back on their feet after a house fire with temporary stays.

Eastern PA volunteers also support the Red Cross Home Fire Campaign, working to help prevent home fires and save lives. Since the Campaign launched in 2014, 303 lives have been saved, more than 1 million smoke alarms have been installed, and 940,000 youth have been taught about the importance of fire safety. Hear from Rosie Saunders how having a working smoke alarm saved her daughter’s life: https://vimeo.com/229324955.

And if you have not done so yet, consider donating blood at year-end when donations decline because of the holidays. Also consider a year-end financial donation. An average of 91 cents of every donated dollar goes to providing food, shelter, relief supplies, emotional support and other assistance, as well as supporting the vehicles, warehouses, technology and people that make help possible.

Written by: Samantha Antenucci

Months after the hurricanes wreaked havoc in Texas, Florida, and Puerto Rico, local residents still face hurdles on the path to recovery. While most of us cannot imagine the devastation, local Red Cross volunteers who have traveled to the affected areas have had a first-hand look at the recovery efforts.

When the hurricanes first struck, Red Cross volunteer Heidi Dampman was originally intending to leave for a vacation. When she first heard about Hurricane Harvey, she postponed her plans and took of an extra week of unpaid time off from work to go down to Texas to help. She recalled, “Even if I was going to get fired for taking off, I still would have done it. If I would have lost my job, that would have been alright, because for the first time in my life, I knew I was doing something right.”

Hurricane Harvey 2017

September 1, 2017. Woodsboro, Texas An Emergency Response Vehicle delivers hot meals in the town of Woodsboro, Texas where there is still now power a week after the storm made landfall. Photo by Chuck Haupt for the American Red Cross

Dampman’s positive attitude was contagious during her time in Texas where she drove a Red Cross emergency response vehicle into damaged neighborhoods to provide families with hot meals and drinks. As she was setting up for her shift, she had an idea to lift the spirits of the community members. She turned up the music in the truck for the neighborhood to hear, and as soon as she did, young children to the elderly, came out of their homes and started dancing in the streets! Dampman was giving them more than just a hot meal, she gave them hope.

Even though there were some heartwarming stories, Dampman remembers the hardships of her deployment as well. She recalls an image of a family standing outside of their home with all their belongings sprawled out on the front lawn. With an estimated five feet worth of flood damage, their home was destroyed.  When she offered the family food and water, they started crying. Dampman said, “It was difficult. You really got attached to the people there.”

Unfortunately, home destruction is not uncommon. John and Jane Hoopingarner, both Red Cross volunteers, worked in spiritual care for victims of Harvey as well. The Hoopingarners were deployed for two and a half weeks to Beaumont and Port Arthur and volunteered to listen, encourage, and work to restore some sense of normalcy to the hurricane victims. When the Hoopingarners arrived, they witnessed “the miles of damage with homes that were flooded to the roof and so many people lost absolutely everything.”

 

They described how some people were able to return to work and began to start over, but so many people were left homeless and moving from shelter to shelter. While there, the couple lived in and worked in the shelter with other victims, consoling them as much as they could. Mr. Hoopingarner recalled how many were in an emotional and physical downward spiral and how they managed to escape the disaster on helicopters and boats.

Mrs. Hoopingarner shared some of the stories of the people she encountered at the shelter. She shared how a family consisting of a single mother, and her two children, a 12-year-old daughter with disabilities and her 16-year-old son, came to the shelter after the hurricane. The family was in turmoil and Mrs. Hoopingarner consoled the family every day, sometimes twice a day, until her deployment ended. Once she left Texas, Mrs. Hoopingarner described how the mother found a job and started working while the people at the shelter would look after her daughter while she was at work!

When asked what people can do to help the victims of the hurricanes, they emphasized, “Though the recovery is still raw, we ask people not to forget what happened to Texas, Florida, and Puerto Rico once the news stops reporting on it.”

Though the damage is done and the news has simmered down, the recovery is still new, raw, and will take years to bounce back.

 

pleaseantville-halloween-5Looking back on the events two years ago when Superstorm Sandy was covering the almost the entire eastern Atlantic Ocean, I remember feeling astonished that the storm would actually turn toward the coast and make landfall in New Jersey. Hurricanes come north, of course, but not often and not with such threatening power. Were we ready? I suspected we weren’t, because how could we be? We tend to be “ready” for events we have already experienced. Sandy was unprecedented. Still, it was incredibly comforting to be a volunteer for the Red Cross. These were the folks who knew how to prepare and they were on the job.

I wrote, soon after the storm, about a friend who had texted me “Thank goodness for the Red Cross.”  Yes, indeed, for so many reasons. Here’s the rest of my 2012 blog post:

“What a week it’s been. Our job is to take care of the important stuff: shelter, food, comfort, survival. Currently, the Red Cross is sheltering close to 9,000 people in 171 Red Cross shelters across 13 states. Wow. . . Locally, close to 200 people (196) and 19 pets stayed the night in local SEPA Red Cross shelters in Montgomery, Bucks and Philadelphia Counties.

When I was in our offices last Thursday, I peeked in on a meeting of disaster preparedness personnel on the potential for a large hurricane to incapacitate the East Coast early the following week. At that point, the encounter between Sandy and the coast of New Jersey was still purely hypothetical and only one model was suggesting the storm would not turn safely out to sea. Even so, our staff was taking the situation seriously and beginning to make the preparations necessary to provide support and shelter should the worst case scenario occur. Thank goodness they did.

Needless to say, we’ve been moderately busy since then. At the height of the storm, we were ready with 14 shelters set up in five counties. We hosted a phone bank to answer storm related questions at a local television station. Tweets, Facebook posts, YouTube videos, a Hurricane App and several media appearances by our CEO, Judge Renée Hughes, shared vital information with the citizens of Southeastern, Pennsylvania. We helped people prepare and they did. We encouraged them to “shelter in place” by staying home, staying off the streets and letting our public officials do their jobs. People listened and we made it through this.

For those forced to evacuate, we provided warmth with blankets, food, shelter and the companionship of volunteers and others in the same situation. We take comfort seriously and believe it helps everyone weather the storm. And with comfort in mind, we are proud to say that Halloween celebrations went ahead for several of our younger shelter residents at a shelter in Pleasantville, NJ. “

I remember feeling so moved by these Halloween festivities. It’s so important to help children feel a sense of normalcy when their entire world has been disrupted. I was proud to be a Red Cross volunteer on that day, and I still am.

It was shortly after the celebration of America’s Birthday ended when a devastating fire ripped through the 6500 block of Gesner Street in Southwest Philadelphia. The raging fire destroyed or damaged 10 homes, leaving 42 residents without a place to stay. Sadly, 4 children did not escape the fire. This was a tragedy that stunned the entire community.

Red Cross workers, some who had just worked nearly 20 hours at the Wawa Welcome America events along the parkway, responded to assist a neighborhood in grief. Volunteers provided blankets, water, hugs, support, comfort and counsel in the early hours of July 5th. A reception center was set up nearby at Bartram High School where more than 2 dozen residents registered. By Sunday afternoon, Red Cross had provided financial assistance to 10 families, 33 people… 18 of who are in our care staying at Red Cross House.

rco_blog_img_GesnerThe Red Cross will continue to provide assistance to other families who may come forward in the days to come and will continue to support those families in grief over the loss of these children.

We have been inundated with requests to help, so here are the ways you can help:

First, please consider making a financial donation to local disaster relief to allow the Red Cross to have resources constantly available to respond to disasters like this one and to continue to provide support to the families affected by the Gesner Street fire. You can d this by calling 1-800-RED CROSS or by clicking here.

For those wishing to donate material items specifically to the affected families, many partners are coordinating these efforts. Here is a short list of places to contact or take items:

Christ International Baptist Church
2210 South 65th Street
Philadelphia. Ph:215-729-0214

Community Support Center
Connell Park
6401 Elmwood Ave
Philadelphia, PA

Liberian Association of Pennsylvania, Inc.
1155 South 54th Street
Philadelphia, PA
Ph: 215-651-9322

Saving Grace Orphanage
4918 Baltimore Ave
Philadelphia, PA
Ph: 215-779-5726

First Baptist Church of Paschall
7100 Woodland Avenue
Philadelphia, PA
Ph: 215-724-3294

(This list will be updated as more information becomes available)

Also, consider joining the Red Cross as a volunteer to respond to disaster like this one. We are always looking for dedicated people. You can learn more and sign up by clicking here.

 

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.”

 

I didn’t really start using Twitter until being deployed with the Red Cross to the Boston Marathon disaster a year ago. I was never a fan. Now, it’s not only part of my day but a large part of my response to disasters.

rco_blog_img_PETEWINE This weekend I was a #DigiVol (Digitally Deployed Volunteer) for the @Redcross (American Red Cross). We were 1,200 miles away from the disaster zone, but still helping to make a difference. It was a short but wild adventure.

As tornadoes and thunderstorms bore down on the Midwest, our job was to take to social media and promote preparedness and safety. Our intention was to engage people to help calm and guide them.

For my shift, I was handed the keys to @RedcrossNETexas (The Official Twitter of NE Texas and SW Arkansas) and sent out on my mission. Watching weather radar, media outlets, and other posts from tornado chasers, I promoted the Red Cross Tornado App and gave tips on how to prepare and respond to the storm. My partners for the day, @Telesara (Sara Smith) and @Mindy_Hart (Mindy Hart) were also from Philadelphia.

I went for quite a spin around the block with the account. Hashtags — symbols placed in front of a word to help Twitter organize different topics — were flying. Some were obvious… #helpme, #scared, #missing, #disaster, and some were not. For example, #NoRotation came to designate clouds not moving in a twisting funnel.

We engaged scared people by telling them it was alright to be scared and guiding them on what to do next. All the while, we watched the destruction start to hit national news. It’s a very scary, hopeless feeling. You just want to do more. At the end of the shift, Sara and I guided a young middle school student on how to find her uncle amidst a destroyed town using #safeandwell, the Red Cross database to help let loved ones know you are okay.

Later, I was listening to a storm chaser on a radio feed talking to the National Weather Service (NWS) in RDCC Terminal (1280x721)Little Rock, AR. He was with a pastor from the Antioch Baptist Church in Conway, AR. They were opening a shelter there to provide immediate cover for victims who had just lost their homes. Another round of bad weather was on the way. The phones were down and they couldn’t get in touch with the Red Cross. They needed our help. The NWS wasn’t able to get in touch with Red Cross yet either.

I told Sara what I’d heard. She said she saw the Red Cross communicator near Conway online. I gave her all the information, and we relayed it to Arkansas from Philly. A few minutes later, a Handheld Amateur Radio Operator (HAM) with our team in Arkansas was on the air advising people in Conway that they’d gotten the message and were sending them Red Cross teams and supplies. We had made a difference to immediate disaster victims from 1,200 miles away.

Now, a day later, the Digital Volunteers of @RedCrossPhilly are still watching over the people of the Midwest. We stand ready, waiting to respond, to help them recover, using the best communications methods at our disposal.

In person, at the scene of the disaster, or in the virtual world of cyberspace, our mission remains the same: Help alleviate the suffering of victims of disaster.

Posted by Volunteer @PWine_1_1 (Peter Wine)

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.