Disaster Services: Unsung Heroes

Disaster Services Vehicle On Site

Disaster Services Vehicle On Site

As a communications volunteer with the Red Cross, I have heard and written about several disaster responses and even had the oppurtunity to speak with several Disaster Service volunteers over the past month. While all these stories range in terms of size of the disaster and number of people affected, there is always one underlying fact that remains: the heroic commitment and service of our Disaster Service volunteers. These volunteers are men and women of our communitties who have dedicated time and effort to undergo training, so that when a call comes in for any type of emergency, they are willing and able to respond bringing material and emotional comfort to this undergoing truly horrific circumstances. It is one thing to read and write about how volunteers in Lawrence responded to 3 fires in one night, or how Cape Cod volunteers opened up and ran shelters to support large amounts of tourists stranded on Nantucket and Martha’s Vineyard during Hurricane Arthur, and another experience to actually speak to these dedicated, yet humble, citizens.

I have only had the chance to physically speak to these amazing people twice in my time with the Red Cross, as when they are not either physically responding to a disaster, or running the gears of the behind the scenes to ensure continued Disaster Service support, they are also committed members of their respective communities. My first experience speaking with a Disaster Service volunteer happened at a volunteer management training sesssion. We split into small groups and were asked to go around and share an experience; this volunteer chose to share a story about one of his responses. While the details of the story were interesting, it was clear from the way he spoke that this volunteer truly cared about helping those displaced during a disaster, and he even went above and beyond to help talk down a person who was undergoing a panic attack due to the trauma that often accompanies such unfortunate tragedies. From this man’s story it became clear that not only does he have to be a skilled tactitian in planning out who will need what aid in the form of basic living supplies, food, and emergency money, but also has to be a shoulder to cry on and provide strength and surety in order to help their fellow man. The effort this takes is truly herculian, yet all disaster volunteers are more than willing.

My second oppurtunity to speak with a Disaster Services volunteer occured when I was attempting to write up her story for our website and social media. She and I ended up speaking on the phone concerning the details of her response, and yet I learned so much more than the simple facts of this particular disaster. I learned the depths to which our volunteers are willing to go in order to ensure comfort and support to those whom we serve. After an unfortunate event left almost a score of people homeless, this volunteer spent hours calling hotels going so far as to call hotels from miles away in order to try and find housing for all the people affected. When even reaching out to hotels almost 50 miles away didn’t work, instead of admitting defeat, this volunteer helped work with each of the people in order to find friends and family that could finally host them. It was clear from this volunteers tone of voice that this level of effort is no less than those who suffer from disasters deserve.

What amazes me most about these two, and all other disaster volunteers like them, is that they are volunteers. They do not recieve monetary compensation for their efforts, nor do they often recieve widespread praise. Yet every hour of every day there are disaster volunteers prepared to drop their lives in order to come to the aid of their fellow citizens. Trying to help get the stories of these heroes’ efforts out to the public has truly been a privilage, and when I have the time and the training I hope to be able to provide this type of support to my community as well.




Celebrate your Independence Safely this July 4th

It’s that time of year again, grilles are prepped with new propane tanks, stores sell out of charcoal, ice, and cook out food, people clean there pools and set up various firework viewing plans. Every Independence Day seems remarkably similar to the last in style, yet each new year brings countless new memories spent with family and loved ones. This year the Red Cross advizes communities on how to keep those memories positive and avoid potential disasters by spreading safety tips for all of peoples favorite 4th of July activities.

For those who wish to celebrate their independence at the beach:

1.If someone plans to swim in the ocean, they should always check weather conditions before going in the water.
2.Swim only at a lifeguard protected beach, within the designated swimming area and listen to all lifeguard instructions.
3.Always swim with a buddy and always swim sober.
4.Young children and inexperienced swimmers should wear a Coast Guard-approved life jacket.
5.Everyone should enter the water feet first if they can’t see the bottom or don’t know how deep the water is.
6.Be aware of the danger of rip currents. If caught in one, swim parallel to the shore until out of the current. When free, turn and swim toward shore. If unable to swim to the shore, call out for help, float or tread water until free of the rip current and then head toward shore.
7.Limit the amount of direct sunlight received between 10:00 a.m. and 4:00 p.m., and wear a broad-spectrum sunscreen with a protection factor of at least 15. Reapply often.
8.Stay hydrated. Drink plenty of water regularly, even if not thirsty. Avoid drinks with alcohol or caffeine in them.
9.Protect the eyes by wearing sunglasses that will absorb 100 percent of UV sunlight.
10.Wear beach shoes. The sand is hot and can burn someone’s feet and glass and other sharp objects can cut them.

To the celebrators who prefer to spend their time poolside:

1.Learn to swim and only swim in designated areas supervised by lifeguards.
2.Always swim with a buddy; do not allow anyone to swim alone.
3.Have young children or inexperienced swimmers wear U.S. Coast Guard-approved life jackets around water, but do not rely on life jackets alone.
4.Provide close and constant attention to children and inexperienced swimmers you are supervising in or near the water. Avoid distractions while supervising.
5.Limit the amount of direct sunlight received between 10:00 a.m. and 4:00 p.m., and wear a broad-spectrum sunscreen with a protection factor of at least 15. Reapply often.
6.Stay hydrated. Drink plenty of water regularly, even if not thirsty. Avoid drinks with alcohol or caffeine.
7.For a backyard pool, have appropriate equipment, such as reaching or throwing equipment, a cell phone, life jackets and a first aid kit.
8.Secure the backyard pool with appropriate barriers including four-sided fencing.
9.Know how and when to call 9-1-1 or the local emergency number.
10.Never leave a young child unattended near water, and do not trust a child’s life to another child. Teach children to always ask permission to go near water. If a child is missing, check the water first.

For those who are traveling to their favorite Independence Day destinations:

HIGHWAY SAFETY Millions of people will be on the highways over the Fourth of July weekend. The Red Cross offers these five things everyone should do to stay safe while traveling:

1.Buckle seat belts, observe speed limits.
2.Do not drink and drive.
3.Pay full attention to the road – don’t use a cell phone to call or text.
4.Use caution in work zones.
5.Clean the vehicle’s lights and windows to help the driver see, especially at night. Turn the headlights on as dusk approaches, or during inclement weather.

FIREWORKS SAFETY The best way to enjoy fireworks is to attend a public fireworks show put on by professionals. Here are five safety steps for people setting fireworks off at home:

1.Never give fireworks to small children, and always follow the instructions on the packaging.
2.Keep a supply of water close by as a precaution.
3.Make sure the person lighting fireworks always wears eye protection.
4.Light only one firework at a time and never attempt to relight “a dud.”
5.Never throw or point a firework toward people, animals, vehicles, structures or flammable materials.

GRILLING SAFETY Every year people are injured while using charcoal or gas grills. Here are several steps to safely cook up treats for the backyard barbecue:

1.Always supervise a barbecue grill when in use.
2.Never grill indoors – not in the house, camper, tent, or any enclosed area.
3.Make sure everyone, including the pets, stays away from the grill.
4.Keep the grill out in the open, away from the house, the deck, tree branches, or anything that could catch fire.
5.Use the long-handled tools especially made for cooking on the grill to keep the chef safe.

Aside from these tips, the Red Cross also now has several apps for all occasions, visit http://www.redcross.org/prepare/mobile-apps for more information.

Have a blast this Independence Day, and stay safe!

“100 Days of Summer. 100 Days of Hope.” Campaign

The Red Cross is launching a new campaign this summer “100 Days of Summer. 100 Days of Hope.” reminds everyone the need for blood is constant, even during the summer. There are about two fewer donors at every blood drive between the Memorial Day and Labor Day holidays.

All blood types are needed. A blood donor card or driver’s license or two other forms of identification are required at check-in. Individuals who are 17 years of age (16 with parental consent in some states), weigh at least 110 pounds and are in general good health may be eligible to donate blood. High school students and other donors 18 years of age and younger also have to meet certain height and weight requirements.  People can call 1-800-RED CROSS (1-800-733-2767) or visit redcrossblood.org for more information or to make a donation appointment.

People can also help those in need by making a financial donation this summer to help the Red Cross respond when disaster threatens.  Every eight minutes, the Red Cross responds to a disaster somewhere in this country.  During the summer, the Red Cross responds to hurricanes, floods, and wildfires.

The Red Cross also holds classes in CPR and First Aid so that people have the knowledge and confidence when an emergency occurs.

There is a way for everyone to get involved in 100 Days of Summer.  100 Days of Hope.  Find your way to get involved at redcross.org!

Response to Balkans Flooding

The American Red Cross has contributed a total of $400,000 towards the relief efforts of the Balkans. Humanitarian needs in the Balkans include provision of emergency shelter, food, relief items, safe drinking water, and hygiene items, emotional support, as well as reconnecting family members.

In May, three months’ worth of rainfall poured over the Balkans region in just three days.  This affected Serbia, Bosnia, and Croatia.  About 40 percent of Bosnia and Herzegovina was under water.  As of May 27, nearly 3.1 million people were affected by the floods and landslides including 60 people who lost their lives.  Almost 100,000 people have been evacuated.

Youth Programs is wicked serious

Club Coordinators TrainingYouth Programs is wicked serious.

JK. It’s probably more fun than you can handle.

Youth Programs volunteers on May 31 spent their weekend learning how to recruit new clubs and oversee established ones. Pioneer Valley Board Chairwoman Sarah Corrigan kicked off the day with an inspirational speech, and was followed by an Ambassador training session by Communications Director Dawn Laks.

The day ended just like any other: with dress up and dancing to Pharrell’s “Happy”. Thanks to all who participated!




Opening of the Lawrence Office

On May 28, the American Red Cross of Massachusetts celebrated the grand opening of the Lawrence Office with a ribbon cutting ceremony. Many people from the community were there to celebrate the event including Lawrence Mayor Dan Rivera who spoke. Also in attendance were Chief Disaster Officer Leighton Jones, Fire Chief John Marsh, and Disaster Program Manager Deb Duxbury.

Duxbury and her team, who were based out of Haverhill, had been working since March 31 to make the move to the 60 Island Street location in Lawrence.  During this time volunteers have been running CPR classes, volunteer training courses, and limited programming.  Now that the official opening has occured, the team can proceed with the programs which require state licensing such as Certified Nurse Assistance training.  One of the goals of the new location is to increase the volunteer base since it is easy to walk to and accessible by train. 


Thunderstorm Awareness

Now that the summer has finally arrived, and thunderstorms tend to occur, the Red Cross wants to make you aware of what you should do to keep yourself safe.

  • If thunder roars, go indoors.  Chances are if you hear thunder, you are close enough to lightning.
  • Be aware of storm signs – darkening skies, lightning, and strong winds.
  • Postpone outdoor activities.
  • Take shelter inside a secure building or car.
  • Do not take a bath or use plumbing.
If your community has experienced a disaster, register on the American Red Cross Safe and Well web site to let your family and friends know you are safe. You may also call 1-866-GET-INFO to register yourself and your family.



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