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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)

Me with some of my favorite volunteers at Red Ball

Vicki Worrall, Janice Winston and me at       Red Ball

I volunteer for the Red Cross of Southeastern Pennsylvania. I am not trained in Emergency Services. I am not an instructor in swimming or First Aid. I cannot drive an ERV (The acronym for Emergency Response Vehicle, a Red Cross response truck). I do not ever deploy in the middle of the night to scenes of fire and flood. Nevertheless, I make my contribution. I take in information at the speed of sound.  My fingers are a blur at a keyboard.  I am here to tell the world what we do, why we do it and how it is absolutely essential to a just and humane society.

A short perusal of my file in the Volunteer folder of our hard drive reveals that, since becoming a volunteer, I have written 34 blogs, 26 news articles, 10 storyboards and countless news releases.  Some of my favorite pieces are about the history of the Red Cross – I did one on the how the service of one of our founding members was inspired by her experience on the Titanic – but the pieces I love the most are about the day to day efforts of ordinary members of our community to make the world a more caring place.

This leads me to this morning, when the Red Cross office here at 23rd and Chestnut was a little empty. Several people I work with were out attending the Montgomery County Heroes Breakfast. For the last couple years, I have had the pleasure of writing a short summary of the deeds of heroes in Bucks County for the program to be read by attendees.  The Montgomery heroesare equally impressive. There is no way that one event could capture all the extraordinary things that we do for one another every day, but it’s important to remember that the honorees are representative of the rest of us and our “better angels”. Among them, Patricia Lloyd used her Red Cross training to save a five-year-old from choking to death at her school. Montgomery County police officers risked their lives to apprehend a dangerous fugitive and protect their community. Fire Chief Thomas Hayden rescued two women from a home engulfed in flames.  Did you know that men like David Gartner give both blood and plasma several times a year, saving countless lives?

My workstation

I love telling these stories, which is why I keep coming back to this desk, despite an increasing busy professional schedule as my children age into their college years. The work we do is here is essential and important. The people who are trained to teach First Aid, who respond to emergency calls and who provide comfort to veterans and their families are deeply committed and caring. The world is an uncertain place and everyone here stays vigilant, just in case others need our help. It is an honor to sit at this keyboard.

— Submitted by Sarah Peterson, Proud Red Cross Communications Volunteer

Submitted by: Lisa Piraino

TV appearances, winning the lottery and deviled eggs – all part of a day’s work as a volunteer for the Red Cross. Although the real work of preventing and alleviating human suffering in the face of emergencies is done by Disaster Action Team volunteers (those are the folks getting the call in the middle of the night to go help a family who has just lost their home to a fire), there are opportunities to help the local Red Cross in ways that you might not have imagined.

As a fundraiser by profession, I help the Red Cross Financial Development and Communications teams. In order to raise money, people have to know about what the Red Cross is doing! Through partnerships with TV stations and newspapers as well as the SEPA Facebook and Twitter accounts, the Communications team shares updates on preparing for severe weather, fire safety and other Red Cross events. They also work closely with the Red Cross fundraising team to share how donors can help.photo (2)

After the devastating series of tornadoes in Oklahoma last summer, the Red Cross partnered with CBS Philly to hold an all-day telethon. Volunteers staffed a phone bank and throughout the day CBS Philly anchors urged viewers to call in and donate. I worked a shift at the phone bank and enjoyed talking to many generous members of our community. I felt very privileged to be able to answer questions about Red Cross efforts

in Oklahoma (and in Philadelphia), many of the donors thanked me for my work, and it felt great to be a part of the Red Cross team. The highlight of the evening was when the woman sitting next to me took the information for a $5,000 donation – it felt like winning the lottery for the Red Cross.

I’ve also worked at Red Cross events designed to raise money and honor our partners, the first responders. At the Bucks County Police vs. Firefighter Football Game I was in charge of twitter coverage and staffing the biggest celebrity there – Fred Cross!photo (3)

 It was a beautiful fall day at Palisades High School. I played the part of a sideline reporter, interviewing the players and special guests, taking pictures and sharing game highlights.

Some Red Cross events focus on donors (like the telethon), or the community (like the football game), but many Red Cross events are for our clients: those who have suffered from fires, floods or other disasters. This past fall, Red Cross House hosted a barbeque for the residents, and asked for volunteers to help prepare and serve the food. So, on a Saturday morning I found myself making hundreds of deviled eggs. There were no TV cameras. There was no twitter feed. We were just a wonderful group of dedicated volunteers helping.

rco_blog_img_LisaPiraino

If you’ve wanted to volunteer with the Red Cross but aren’t sure how to begin, don’t let that stop you anymore! The mission of the Red Cross is so big and the work so expansive that there is a place for everyone to help.

Find your perfect volunteering opportunity here!

Lisa Piraino is a former employee turned volunteer with the American Red Cross Southeastern Pennsylvania.

Red Cross volunteers are asked to play many different rolls. Our fearless leaders like to keep life interesting here at the Southeastern Pennsylvania Chapter. I don’t know if it’s the same at other chapters but WE are “on our toes!”

Yesterday, our toes took the rest of us down to the small parking area under our building for an important 11 AM meeting with Mr. Tyrone Johnson. We had no idea what to expect. The day before, we were informed of the meeting with a wink and secret smile and were told to contact Mr. Johnson 10-15 minutes ahead of our arrival. We found him lifting a large covered object down a short flight of concrete stairs and placing it in the parking area among several Red Cross mini-vans and other rescue vehicles. Mildly intimidated, we stepped back and watched Tyrone unveil an ERV in miniature, but not so miniature that it wasn’t capable of running over some toes if not controlled properly.

It quickly became clear that proper control and handing of Ernie was to be the focus of the next 45 minutes. We were thrilled. We were charmed. We laughed. Ernie was darn cute. He had eyelids that moved up and down separately and together. He had flashing lights. He had a siren and horn. Best of all, he had his own soundtrack of super cool songs about staying safe around fires, strangers and bullies! He drove straight or around and around in circles depending on the skill of his remote control operator and he moved pretty fast if you pushed the throttle down all the way. (I couldn’t help but perform this small test.)

It turns out, Ernie operators don a head set with a microphone that makes their ”Alvin the Chipmunk” altered voice sound like it’s emanating from Ernie, himself. That, way, our cute little ERV can charm or alarm small fry by addressing them himself!

Tyrone is sweetly protective of Ernie. He says that when he inherited the enormous toy a few years back, he was in poor condition and barely operational. He cleaned him up, replaced some parts and the little ERV thrives under his care. He says that kids go crazy when they meet Ernie for the first time. They try to climb on him, ride him, touch him, hug him, open his back door and generally treat him to the same level of extreme abuse inflicted on all beloved toys.

Apparently, it is essential for operators to power on the remote control before flicking the power switch inside Ernie. Otherwise, Ernie could pick up another remote signal in his vicinity and take off for parts unknown at an unfortunate speed. “Please be careful,” says Tyrone. “If he runs away, I’ll miss him.”

Yesterday, the American Red Cross and Dell unveiled the Digital Operations Center, utilizing social media trends to disperse validated information during a crisis and to accurately target areas that need help.

Sounds great, but what does that mean for us? As a frequent visitor to social media forums, such as Facebook, Twitter & Tumblr, I wasn’t sure how this would serve me. I’m certain I could find vital information on my own when there’s a crisis at hand. But there is a bigger picture!

In my junior year of college, I lived in a five-bedroom house with my close friends. As fun as it was, it could be chaotic at times. Different utilities were in different names; our landlord would communicate with us by calling only one of us at random; and notes to remind fellow housemates to do their assigned chores that week went unnoticed and were tossed in a shuffle of bills, flyers and take-out menus.

Then, upon returning from winter break and our respective homes, someone took a trip to the dollar store. They bought a magnetic notepad to post messages from the landlord on the refrigerator, bright magnets designated for each utility bill, and a tray for each person’s letters and personal messages. The house was more organized and streamlined, and we could easily identify problems if and when they arose.

With the new Digital Operations Center, the public can work together with the Red Cross using social media forums to give in-the-field observations and to get answers to their questions, not to mention emotional support.  Its function is a lot like the message system my roommates and I set up – we all knew our weekly chores and that we’d have to broadcast any news from our landlord, but the messages were clearer and more direct when they were sorted and organized for us.

The Digital Operations Center will collect all those little status updates and tweets about an emergency or disaster, and use them to anticipate the needs of affected areas. For example, someone may post about a hurricane they drove through on their way home. The American Red Cross can respond with safety tips, list available shelters, and repost about the hurricane to inform neighboring communities.

In addition, the Digital Operations Center can track trends in social media. They’ll be able to tell if an area is without electricity, or that another area is without water. That way, the Red Cross can avoid discrepancies and accurately assist those in need of water rather than shelter, or in need of blood donations rather than electricity. People on Facebook and Twitter can turn to this official source for updates, rather than relying on all the different information posted by their friends.

Just about everyone is using social media these days, and now the Red Cross can actively listen for distress. The center is going to be powered by a new digital volunteer program, where volunteers around the country can respond to questions from the public and provide both critical information and reassurance.

Click here for more information, or go to www.redcross.org

Welcome to the new blog of the American Red Cross of Southeastern Pennsylvania!

Here, you will be able to find information on our upcoming events, and track what we’ve been up to lately.

Soon, you will also be able to link to our Facebook and Twitter accounts, so that you’re never far out of the loop.

Please drop by frequently as we continue to upgrade and improve the site.