Tag Archives: disaster

How Ten Years Changed Disaster Preparedness and Response

gail-mcgovern-707x241Ten years ago, the Gulf Coast was devastated by Hurricane Katrina – a natural disaster unprecedented in its size and scope. Yet what would happen if a storm of this magnitude were to occur again? Would the images of volunteers rushing to help be different? And could some of the darkest tragedies that still haunt our memories of Katrina be avoided?

Over the last ten years, the American Red Cross and other disaster response organizations have taken the lessons of Katrina and applied new thinking and new technology to better prepare for and respond to natural disasters. Today, the iconic American Red Cross symbol is not only found on vehicles and volunteers’ armbands, but on websites, apps, and software tools that guide and aid our work.

With so many families separated by Katrina, it was vital for people to have a way to reconnect after a disaster. This led to the development of the “Safe and Well” website, where people can search for loved ones who have registered. After the Boston Marathon bombing, for example, more than 450 people used the site to tell friends and family they were okay.

The Red Cross has also created a series of free disaster preparedness mobile apps that put lifesaving information at user’s fingertips when they need it most. The latest release – the Emergency App – gives people instant access to customizable weather alerts, safety tips and preparedness information for 14 different types of emergencies. Additionally, the Emergency App contains the “I’m Safe” feature, which helps people use their social media channels to let loved ones know they are okay after an emergency. In total, these apps have been downloaded nearly 7 million times and have been credited with saving lives in Oklahoma, Texas and a number of other states.

Over the past decade, social media has not only become an essential tool in our daily lives, it’s also become a vital resource in helping response organizations anticipate needs on the ground during times of disaster. Thanks to grants from Dell, the Red Cross now operates three Digital Operations Centers where we monitor social media conversations as a disaster strikes, using real time data to identify communities in need. When a tornado and flash flood recently hit Wise County, a small rural area northwest of Fort Worth, digital volunteers were able to gather street addresses, photographs from the ground, and up-to-the-minute information on county roads where damage had occurred. This information was given to disaster response teams before the first relief truck even rolled in. It saved hours of work for field responders, making for a more effective response operation.

We have also focused on better preparing communities and individuals in a number of ways. Using supply chain analytics, we’ve prepositioned and are able to refresh relief supplies in high risk areas so that we can respond faster to communities in need. Through the generosity of donors and corporate partners, we now have a connected, nationwide network of warehouses, with relief supplies for more than 500,000 people. Through the National Shelter System, we now have the ability to open shelters within hours of a disaster impacting the community, and affected individuals are able to use the Emergency App to find out where these shelters are located.

Along with the use of new technology, we have worked harder to build strong partnerships within the communities we serve. We’ve worked with diverse organizations, including NAACP, National Baptist Convention USA and 100 Black Men, National Council of La Raza and the League of United Latin American Citizens, the National Congress of American Indians, Islamic Relief USA and the Buddhist Tzu Chi Foundation, among others.

We also undertook a program to help people prepare for the most frequent disaster the Red Cross responds to – home fires. Most people are familiar with our response during large disasters like hurricanes and tornados, but every year we respond to nearly 70,000 domestic disasters – with the vast majority of them being home fires. Over the next five years we will help install smoke alarms, develop family evacuation plans and teach people ways to prevent fires.

When the next disaster strikes you will see images of American Red Cross volunteers delivering services where they are needed most. We will be there to give comfort to those who suffer unimaginable loss. The Red Cross emblem will always signal that help is near. And with each passing year we will use new technology to ensure that help is closer than ever before.

About the American Red Cross:
The American Red Cross shelters, feeds and provides emotional support to victims of disasters; supplies about 40 percent of the nation’s blood; teaches skills that save lives; provides international humanitarian aid; and supports military members and their families. The Red Cross is a not-for-profit organization that depends on volunteers and the generosity of the American public to perform its mission. For more information, please visit redcross.org or visit us on Twitter at@RedCross.
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Preparedness is Sexy

Originally posted on February 10th, 2012 by Gail J McGovern

This week I had the opportunity to meet with several CEOs of large associations and talk with them about a number of topics, including the importance of preparedness.  I’ve found in my work that most people are more interested in the idea of emergency response, than emergency preparedness.  “Response” sounds sexy and exciting.  “Preparedness” sounds like homework and conjures up images of your mother telling you to eat your spinach.

But as I told the gathering of CEOs, preparedness can be sexy, and it certainly is impactful.

On March 11th, we’ll mark the one-year anniversary of the horrible earthquake and tsunami that hit Japan.  When I visited Japan not long after the disaster, I saw 350 miles of communities literally wiped off the face of the earth.  That disaster claimed more than 15,000 lives.  But there’s one fact that seems to get lost when we reflect on the Japan story:  Hundreds of thousands of Japanese heard the tsunami whistle and got to higher ground.  That simple preparedness measure saved their lives.

I think it’s a testament to our American optimism to think that nothing bad will happen to us in our country.  At various times in my career at AT&T and Fidelity investments, I’ve preached about the importance of back-up systems and preparing for retirement.  But since I’ve joined the American Red Cross, I’m more committed and determined than ever to help our country get prepared.  Research shows that only 12 percent of Americans are fully prepared for a disaster, and only 15 percent of those in communities like New Orleans—that know full well the impact of disasters—are prepared for another one to hit.

Since I’ve been at the Red Cross, there have been two employees who have had heart attacks on campus and their lives were saved because their co-workers had been trained in CPR.  Caterpillar, a very generous Red Cross donor, has opted in recent years to host CPR training at executive retreats, instead of the usual golf outing.  In the four years since they’ve been doing this, those executives have saved two lives because they were prepared with the right skills when someone needed help.

Preparedness is easy, and it saves lives.  And I happen to believe that knowing what to do when an emergency strikes is very important, empowering, and yes, sexy.

To learn more about your local American Red Cross of West Michigan and ways to be prepared for disasters visit www.arcwestmi.org.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Posted on November 22nd, 2011 by Erin Ferris

Many of my friends have used Facebook to publicly share who and what they’re thankful for this Thanksgiving season. I realized, as I read through my friends’ status updates, that I could fill a month’s worth of my own status updates with thank you notes about the Red Cross.

I won’t list all 24 (my complete list begins on November 1st and continues through Thanksgiving on November 24th) here, but I will share my top seven in hopes they get the ball rolling on all of us sharing what we’re thankful for this holiday season.

I’m thankful…
– For my mom, who encouraged me to take my very first Red Cross Health & Safety course (Babysitter’s Training) when I was 11 years old.

– For my very first Red Cross supervisor, who looked past my youth and inexperience, recognized my passion for the Red Cross mission, and opened the Red Cross employment door for me.

– For the supervisors and co-workers who followed, who taught me the ins and outs of – as well as how to survive and thrive in – this complex and extensive organization. Oh, and they also taught me all of the Red Cross acronyms. :)

– For an inspirational elementary school teacher and her enthusiastic and creative third, fourth, and fifth grade students, who taught me as an adult that you don’t have to be old enough to donate blood to save hundreds of lives a year.

– For the generous individuals whose seemingly routine (to them) blood donations saved the life of a wonderful friend of mine.

– For my CPR training, without which I may not have known how to clear my nine-month-old son’s airway when he choked on a Cheerio.

– For ALL of the volunteers with whom I’ve worked and without whom the Red Cross could not exist. There are few greater gifts than one’s time, and Red Cross volunteers give that gift more graciously and generously than any other group of people I have ever have the privilege of knowing.

W.J. Cameron said, “Thanksgiving, after all, is a word of action.”

How will you actively give thanks this week? Will you put your Red Cross training into action by teaching a CPR class or responding to a house fire? Will you donate blood, assemble Comfort Kits, or serve a meal to someone in need?

Or will you share what you’re thankful for – Red Cross-related or otherwise – in the Comments section below or on the American Red Cross Facebook page? Take this easy first step toward actively giving thanks, and then see where it leads.

Happy Thanksgiving!

ND Residents Wait to Return Home; Tornado Cleanup Continues in MO

Tuesday, July 05, 2011 — The holiday weekend meant festivities for many people across the U.S., but in some towns, it meant waiting to return home or continuing to clean up after a natural disaster.

On Sunday, the Red Cross closed its shelters in Los Alamos, N.M., after wildfire evacuation orders were lifted. However, the Red Cross will continue assisting disaster victims over the coming days and weeks, as staff help determine the long-term needs of those affected by the Las Conchas fire.

In Minot, N.D., which was inundated with record-breaking floods last week, residents continue to wait to return home to assess the damage. Since flood evacuations began, some have taken shelter with the Red Cross each night. On Monday evening, 160 people spent the night in one of the two Red Cross shelters open in Minot.

Once it is possible for residents to go home, the Red Cross will be there to distribute cleanup supplies such as bleach, shovels, trash bags and rakes. The Red Cross will also travel through neighborhoods to offer residents food and water as they work in their homes.

This kind of cleanup is now well underway hundreds of miles away in Joplin, Mo., the city hit by an EF5 tornado on May 22.

Since that day, the Red Cross has been there to help—providing shelter, food and water, cleanup supplies and emotional support. As temperatures hit 100 degrees in Joplin last week, Red Cross workers drove through neighborhoods to distribute water and ice, and to caution workers to be heat-safe and cleanup-safe.

“Everyone is at risk when temperatures rise above 90 degrees,” said Brian Keath, director of Emergency Services for the Greater Ozarks Chapter of the American Red Cross. “This week has been especially stressful for workers out in the heat raking and shoveling tornado debris. They need to be aware that they are susceptible to heat and heat-related illnesses, and need to take care of themselves.”

“Our crew is demolishing several homes that the tornado destroyed,” said Gary Sommer, a contractor from Osceola who has been working in Joplin for the last eleven days. “With this heat, we start work early in the morning and take breaks.”

Following their own advice, Sommer and his three crewmates took a breather from their work to get cold drinks from the Red Cross vehicle as it came down the street.

Lew Burdette, RN, is the disaster health services manager for the Joplin relief operation. He cautions cleanup workers to stay safe while they’re working in the debris.

The Red Cross is providing water and ice to help keep residents 
and workers hydrated during tornado cleanup efforts in Joplin, Mo. Red 
Cross volunteer Terry Ransom from Springfield, Ill., talks with Anna 
Santillan, who is in Joplin helping her daughter.
The Red Cross is providing water and ice to help keep residents and workers hydrated during tornado cleanup efforts in Joplin, Mo. Red Cross volunteer Terry Ransom from Springfield, Ill., talks with Anna Santillan, who is in Joplin helping her daughter.
Photo: Marie Colby/American Red Cross
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How the Red Cross Is Helping Disaster Victims

“The two most common problems that people working in the debris encounter are punctures from nails or sharp metal and skin dermatitis caused by irritants in contact with their skin,” he said.

Lisa and Borde Williams are volunteers from New Mexico who have come to Joplin to help the town clean up. The Red Cross vehicle making rounds through the devastated neighborhoods found them raking debris from the yard of Christopher Richardson’s severely damaged home on Annie Baxter Street. “It is hot and dirty work, but everyone is pulling together and we know that Joplin will get back on its feet.”

About the American Red Cross:
The American Red Cross shelters, feeds and provides emotional support to victims of disasters; supplies nearly half of the nation’s blood; teaches lifesaving skills; provides international humanitarian aid; and supports military members and their families. The Red Cross is a charitable organization — not a government agency — and depends on volunteers and the generosity of the American public to perform its mission. For more information, please visit www.redcrossggr.org or join our blog at https://redcrossggr.wordpress.com.

Red Cross Rushes to Help the Devastated South

Wednesday May 4, 2011 — As the scope of the tornado damage becomes clearer each day, the American Red Cross remains hard at work to help the thousands of people affected by this disaster.

Preliminary estimates indicate that last week’s storms destroyed or damaged more than 13,000 homes across six states; more than 10,000 in Alabama alone. According to NOAA, April 27, 2011, now holds the record for being the deadliest single day for tornadoes since 1925.

On Monday night, more than 1,200 people spent the night in Red Cross shelters. The Red Cross currently has 153 emergency response vehicles traveling through seven states to provide residents hot meals. Sixty-two of these are in Alabama, and more than a dozen additional vehicles are headed to the state. Since March 31, more than 3,700 Red Cross workers from all 50 U.S. states have assisted with recovery efforts in 16 affected states.

The Red Cross is working closely with its partners, including the Salvation Army and Southern Baptist Convention, to set up kitchens where meals are prepared before being distributed to affected neighborhoods. Five kitchens are currently serving meals in Alabama.

In addition to providing a comforting meal, Red Cross response vehicles are also distributing thousands of relief supplies to affected neighborhoods, such as blankets, toiletries, gloves, rakes, tarps, coolers and shovels.

With such widespread devastation, having emotional support is vital, so Red Cross nurses and mental health workers have traveled across the country to help people cope with this tragedy.

Muriel Minkler of the Oregon Trail Chapter of the Red Cross traveled to the Belk Activity Center shelter in Tuscaloosa, Ala., to work in the First Aid Clinic there. She and other nurses not only check on people’s physical health, but are also there to listen to their stories and even share a laugh, as she did with James Herrington.

Herrington was visiting Tuscaloosa from Mississippi when he saw the tornado coming down the road at him. He quickly jumped into a ditch and watched as the tornado took his truck into the air, never to be seen again. Although the tornado only passed over him for a few seconds, he said he heard the noise in his ears for six hours.

So far, Red Cross health workers have provided more than 6,200 health and mental health consultations. The Red Cross has also set up emergency aid stations in majorly damaged areas, and health services workers are also assisting people who have lost medications or items like eyeglasses.

How You Can Help
The Red Cross depends on financial donations to help in times of disaster. Those who want to help people affected by disasters like wildfires, floods and tornadoes, as well as countless crises at home and around the world, can make a donation to support American Red Cross Disaster Relief. This gift enables the Red Cross to prepare for and provide shelter, food, emotional support and other assistance in response to disasters. Visit www.redcrossggr.org or call 1-800-RED-CROSS, and people can also text the word “REDCROSS” to 90999 to make a $10 donation. Contributions may also be sent to local American Red Cross chapters or to the American Red Cross, P.O. Box 37243, Washington, DC 20013.

At the Belk Activity Center shelter in Tuscaloosa, Ala., Red Cross
nurse Muriel Minkler takes a pulse from James Herrington.
At the Belk Activity Center shelter in Tuscaloosa, Ala., Red Cross nurse Muriel Minkler takes a pulse from James Herrington.
American Red Cross

About the American Red Cross:
The American Red Cross shelters, feeds and provides emotional support to victims of disasters; supplies nearly half of the nation’s blood; teaches lifesaving skills; provides international humanitarian aid; and supports military members and their families. The Red Cross is a charitable organization — not a government agency — and depends on volunteers and the generosity of the American public to perform its mission. For more information, please visit www.redcrossggr.org or join our blog at https://redcrossggr.wordpress.com/

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