Red Cross response in 2021: Families face emergency needs

Bring hope to the holidays by donating on Giving Tuesday or giving blood to help overcome the nation’s emergency blood shortage

In 2021, people in Northern Ohio and across the country faced great emergency needs as the ongoing pandemic exacerbated the challenges related to severe disasters, blood shortages and global conflict.

“Our most vulnerable neighbors are facing unique and pressing struggles when crisis strikes on top of COVID-19,” Mike Parks, Regional CEO said. “This holiday season, join us to provide help and hope in these difficult moments by making a financial donation or by giving blood or platelets.”

Watch Mike’s Thanksgiving video message here.

Visit redcross.org to make a financial donation or an appointment to give blood or platelets. Individuals can also learn about volunteer opportunities in their area and give back in honor of American Red Cross founder Clara Barton, whose 200th birthday will be commemorated on December 25.

RELENTLESS DISASTERS COMPOUND COVID-19 STRUGGLES 2021 marked one of the country’s most active years for severe weather — which battered many communities still reeling from last year’s disasters. For thousands of people in need, the Red Cross launched a new major relief effort every 11 days to provide refuge, food and care.

August 10, 2021. Chicago Park, California. Red Cross volunteer Dave Wagner surveys damage from the River Fire on Meyer Drive in Chicago Park, California. Photo by Scott Dalton/American Red Cross

This year, a family displaced by a disaster in the U.S. spent an average of nearly 30 days in a Red Cross-supported emergency shelter. These extended stays were largely due to a lack of savings and community housing shortages — signs that climate-driven disasters are compounding the financial hardships of the pandemic.

Tom Revolinsky and Tracy Endress travelled to the hurricane-ravaged gulf coast

65 disaster workers from Northern Ohio, most of them volunteers, helped people across the country who were impacted by disasters, including western wildfires, Hurricane Ida, Tropical Storms Fred and Henri, flooding in middle Tennessee, and the repatriation of refugees from Afghanistan in Maryland, Virginia and Wisconsin.

In Northern Ohio, Red Cross workers responded to nearly 1,200 disasters – the vast majority of them home fires. More than 1,800 families received assistance in the immediate hours and days after experiencing their darkest hours.

GLOBAL CONFLICT CREATES MASS NEEDS FOR DISPLACED FAMILIES Around the world, massive humanitarian needs emerged in 2021 for a growing number of families displaced by the overlapping challenges of conflict, COVID-19 and climate change. This year, at the request of federal government partners, Red Cross workers from Northern Ohio and across the country distributed more than 2.1 million essential items — like blankets, diapers, medicine and toys — for Afghan evacuees arriving on U.S. military bases and unaccompanied children seeking asylum at the U.S.-Mexico border.

September 1, 2021. Ramstein Air Base, Ramstein-Miesenbach, Germany. The American Red Cross is welcoming evacuees from Afghanistan at Ramstein Air Base in Germany, at the request of the Department of Defense. Red Cross team members are offering hygiene supplies, baby items, and other necessities. Photo by Emily Osment / American Red Cross

COVID-19 STRAINS BLOOD SUPPLY FOR PATIENTS To meet the increasing needs of hospital patients, the Red Cross distributed 250,000 more blood products in 2021 than last year, until the delta variant began to spread in August. The pandemic also resulted in fewer blood drives at schools and colleges, contributing to a 34% drop in new blood donors from last year — one of the largest year-to-year decreases and one that could threaten essential medical care for patients. Locally, the Northern Ohio Red Cross Region has experienced a 32% decrease in new blood donors this year.

Blood donor Ed Lewis gives at the WNCX Rock and Roll blood drive in April, 2021

As a result of low blood donor turnout in recent months, the Red Cross is heading into the holidays with its lowest blood supply in more than a decade at this time of year. Blood donations are desperately needed now to meet the needs of accident and burn victims, heart surgery and organ transplant patients, and those receiving treatment for leukemia, cancer or sickle cell disease.

All those who come to give Nov. 29-Dec.16 will automatically be entered for the chance to win a private screening for the winner and 50 of their guests of the epic new film The Matrix Resurrections. Plus, those who come to give Nov. 29-Dec. 16 will also get a $10 Amazon.com Gift Card by email, thanks to Amazon.*

During Suicide Prevention Awareness Month, Red Cross reminds public of available mental health resources

By: Chris Chmura, Red Cross volunteer

As with mental health, our society has been improving with the taboo subject of suicide, but we still have a long way to go to help more people. The American Red Cross wants to remind everyone that there are resources available to assist those struggling with mental health concerns.

A sweeping new examination of suicide in Ohio in the past decade finds that 37 of the 88 counties now surpass the national rate, and the coronavirus pandemic likely is triggering a “staggering” increase in such deaths. Our Ohio neighbors of all ages from children to aging veterans are affected by suicide.

https://www.cincinnati.com/story/news/2020/07/06/suicide-ohio-death-gender-sex-race-county-ohio-university-mental-health/5364576002/

The Red Cross is committed to assisting the physical needs of those affected by disaster but we also understand these events can take an emotional toll.  The Red Cross has licensed Disaster Mental Health professionals who volunteer to assist people after disasters and connect them with resources to help in their long-term recovery. We currently have an urgent need for mental health disaster volunteers. If you are an RN, LPN, LVN, APRN, NP, EMT, paramedic, MD/DO or PA with a current and unencumbered license, please consider volunteering. Learn more and sign up today.

Aiding our men and women in uniform has always been integral to the Red Cross mission. One way we assist with the emotional issues military members face is through Reconnection Workshops. This free, confidential Red Cross program offers effective ways to work through challenges, improve wellbeing and build skills through small-group discussion and hands-on activities. Workshops help improve connections at home, at work and within communities. Members of the military, veterans and their families can also download the Hero Care App which can connect you to important resources that can help you through both emergency and nonemergency situations.

For emergency mental health care, you can also go directly to your local VA medical center 24/7, regardless of your discharge status or enrollment in other VA health care. The VA also has local Vet Centers in your community to help discuss how you feel with other veterans in these community-based counseling centers — some 70% of Vet Center staff are veterans. Call 1-877-927-8387 or find one near you.

If you are in crisis, get immediate help. Call 911. For additional help and resources, below are a variety of organizations trained to help.

The COVID-19 pandemic has had a major effect on our lives. Many of us are facing challenges that can be stressful, overwhelming and cause strong emotions. It’s important to learn how you and your loved ones can cope with stress. The information below has been adapted from resources published by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Healthy Ways to Cope with Stress

  • Take breaks from watching, reading or listening to news stories, including those on social media. Consider limiting news to just a couple times a day and disconnecting from phone, television and computer screens for a while.
  • Take care of your body.
    • Take deep breaths, stretch, or meditate.
    • Try to eat healthy, well-balanced meals.
    • Exercise regularly.
    • Get plenty of sleep.
    • Avoid excessive alcohol, tobacco and substance use.
    • Continue with routine preventive measures (such as vaccinations, cancer screenings, etc.) as recommended by your healthcare provider.
  • Make time to unwind. Try to do some other activities you enjoy.
  • Connect with others. Talk with people you trust about your concerns and how you are feeling.
  • Connect with your community or faith-based organizations. While social distancing measures are in place, try connecting online, through social media, or by phone or mail.

First day of Fall brings heavy rain, a good time to brush up on flood safety

Red Cross offers important tips to prepare for and stay safe in a flood

In case you couldn’t tell by the gray skies and falling temperatures, today is the first day of Fall! And, in typical Northeast Ohio fashion, Fall is kicking off with predictions of heavy rainfall and damaging winds over the next few days. While our area is often protected from some of the most severe natural disasters, such as hurricanes and wildfires, flooding is a disaster everyone should be aware of and prepare for. Many people don’t realize, floods are among the most frequent and costly natural disasters.

As with any emergency, being prepared before disaster strikes is the most important step.  Assemble an emergency preparedness kit, create a household evacuation plan that includes your pets, stay informed about your community’s risk and response plans and ensure your family members know how to get back in touch if you are separated during an emergency. We also recommend downloading the American Red Cross emergency app which lets you monitor more than 35 different severe weather and emergency alerts.

When it comes to flooding, it’s also important to make sure you have access to a NOAA radio broadcast. These are available online or through apps you can access in the Apple Store or Google Play. You can also purchase a battery-powered or hand-crank NOAA radio in the Red Cross Store. It’s also important to find out about the area you live in and how it can be affected by flooding, specifically related to flood insurance. If where you live is prone to flooding, there are also steps you can take to protect your physical home.

When flooding is predicted, it’s also important to understand the warnings that officials share. A flood/flash flood WATCH means a flood or flash flood is possible. A flood/flash flood WARNING means flooding or flash flooding is already occurring or will occur soon and you should take immediate precautions. Once flooding has begun, the Red Cross recommends the following steps to ensure you and your family stay safe.

  • Even a small amount of water is enough to sweep you off your feet or your vehicle off the road. If you come across a flooded area, turn around and go another way.
  • Identify at least two safe ways out of your neighborhood, should you need to evacuate. When a flood or flash flood warning is issued for your area, head for higher ground and stay there.
  • Return home only when officials have declared the area safe. Do not use water that could be contaminated to wash dishes, brush teeth, prepare food, wash hands, make ice or make baby formula.
  • Never use a generator, grill, camp stove or other gasoline, propane, natural gas or charcoal-burning devices inside a home, garage, basement, crawlspace or any partially enclosed area. Locate unit away from doors, windows and vents that could allow carbon monoxide to come indoors.

When a flood occurs, the Red Cross is there to help with shelter, food and comfort. If you would like to help those affected by floods and other disasters, consider becoming a volunteer or making a financial donation.

Multiple weekend home fires keep Red Cross volunteers busy

Need for volunteers continues amidst busy disaster season

Disaster action team members from the American Red Cross Northern Ohio Region responded to nine local events over the weekend, all of them home fires. Several individuals were affected, including 30 adults and 7 children. The Red Cross provided more than $10,400 in immediate assistance.

Home fires continue to be the main disaster affecting people in our area. In Northern Ohio, the Red Cross responds to an average of 3 home fires every day. And, tragically, recent home fires in the area have resulted in fatalities. The need for home fire safety doesn’t end during a pandemic. We urge everyone to take steps to keep their household safe by installing and maintaining smoke alarms, talking with loved ones about fire safety and creating and practicing a home fire escape plan. Learn more and download resources now to help your family prepare.

The Red Cross also has a need for volunteers to assist families who have been affected by local disasters, often a home fire. From offering a caring and compassionate ear, to meeting the disaster-caused needs of individuals and households, such as lodging and clothing, and connecting them with long term recovery services, our volunteers ensure that families don’t have to face tough times alone. During the pandemic, for the safety of you and those impacted by disaster, you will mostly respond virtually to provide compassionate and immediate care and assistance to those impacted. On occasion, a larger response may require some on-scene presence and coordination with your Disaster Action Team. To sign up, visit RedCross.org/volunteer.

The Red Cross is responding to local disasters and continues to assist those affected by natural disasters across the country, including the western wildfires and Hurricane Ida. The Northern Ohio Region currently has 13 individuals from our area deployed across the country. We expect to see the need for volunteers to deploy to continue in the coming months, as hurricane season continues.

The Red Cross could not continue to fulfill its humanitarian mission without the generous support of the American public. If you are not able to volunteer at this time, consider making a financial donation to help us provide the necessary resources for those facing disaster. Visit redcross.org, call 1-800-RED CROSS or text REDCROSS to 90999 to make a $10 gift. The Red Cross also has an ongoing need for blood and platelet donors. To schedule an appointment, visit RedCrossBlood.org.

Something that will never go away: Two Red Cross responders on the 20th anniversary of 9-11

By Tim Poe, American Red Cross volunteer

For those of us old enough to remember, the September 11 terrorist attacks have left a lasting impression. This is especially true for two American Red Cross staff members deployed following the attacks: Debbie Chitester, disaster program manager for Greater Akron and Mahoning Valley, and John Gareis, regional manager, Disaster Preparedness, Northern Ohio Region. Debbie was in New York placing volunteers where they were needed, mostly to respite centers near Ground Zero. John was across the river in New Jersey assisting those impacted. I spoke with both about their experiences.

During our discussions, clear memories vividly emerged. John recalled photographs of those missing posted everywhere as loved ones searched. Smoke rising from the rubble when the wind was still. A woman, covered in soot after escaping one of the towers, using a magazine cover photo taken of her as identification. Hearing Ray Charles perform “America the Beautiful.”

September 12, 2001. New York City, New York. The day after the World Trade Center collapse, an American Red Cross disaster worker joins rescuers at Ground Zero. Photo by Daniel Cima/American Red Cross

Debbie remembered people from all walks of life volunteering to help. Being able to see and hear people with flags and signs thanking the Red Cross and others as she traveled to the volunteer processing center each day.

Both recalled the concern of their families, as at the time much was unknown, including whether there would be further attacks. But they focused on their jobs. How nearly everyone had either been deeply affected or was close to someone who was (not more than “two degrees of separation,” as Debbie put it).

Both also recalled how many sought to help any way they could, including here in Northern Ohio. While they saw the effects of a terrorist attack firsthand, they mostly spoke of the resilience and good they witnessed.

After news of the attacks, Debbie and John immediately responded. Debbie, then a disaster specialist, returned to the Cleveland office. While John, then the Wayne County chapter executive, was at a first aid station at the Wayne County Fair.

They saw Ohioans quickly respond. At the fair, 4-H children donated proceeds from animal auctions, over $30,000, to the Red Cross. Blood donors also responded. The Wooster office alone processed about 300 pints of blood the Saturday following the attacks. People in Akron donated a fire engine, The J.M. Smucker Company sent trucks filled with sandwiches, and several Red Cross volunteers and staff members deployed.

When commercial flights resumed, both Debbie and John deployed to New York for three weeks.

At the volunteer processing center, Debbie met people from the world over coming to help. They included chefs, teams from Microsoft and IBM, businesspeople, cabbies, stagehands, celebrities who did not publicize their involvement, and two French men who had been on a backpacking trip, all doing whatever was needed. So many, in fact, that the volunteer processing center operated 24 hours a day.

Across the river, John assisted those directly impacted and recalled different ways they dealt with the events. Some were methodical, others clearly traumatized. He worked with each, listening, caring, helping. The Red Cross also learned lessons still in use today, such as providing more flexible financial assistance.

Both emphasized the need to remember those we do not talk about enough. While those in the World Trade Center and firefighters are rightly remembered, we mustn’t forget those in the Pentagon, those who sacrificed themselves to save others on Flight 93, nor those in surrounding areas.

Even with their decades of Red Cross experience, Debbie’s and John’s post-9/11 experience remains with them. Both are grateful they were able to help and remarked that, while the scale may be different, the core mission, to alleviate human suffering, remains the same.

As Debbie put it, the post 9/11 deployment will always be a part of her life. “The Red Cross was there,” she said. “We did the job, and it is something that will never go away.”

Volunteers and blood donors are currently needed. If you would like to volunteer, visit this link. To give blood, click here.

Edited by Glenda Bogar, American Rd Cross volunteer

To learn more about the Red Cross’ response following September 11, please read the following previous blog articles of reflection and remembrance:

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Mike Parks recalls Red Cross response to 9/11 attacks

By Mike Parks, Rear Admiral, US Coast Guard (Retired)
Regional CEO, American Red Cross of Northern Ohio

Family and Friends of the Northern Ohio Red Cross:  This Saturday, we commemorate the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks on our nation.  Now known as Patriot Day, it’s a time to remember the victims and honor the brave responders.  Literally within minutes of Flight 11 crashing into the north tower of the World Trade Center, the Red Cross began mobilizing to provide immediate aid—aid that continued for years.

September 12, 2001. New York City, New York. American Red Cross volunteers receive a briefing at the site of an assistance center near the scene of the World Trade Center collapse. Photo by Daniel Cima/American Red Cross

Our massive relief and recovery efforts were funded by nearly $1.1 billion in generous donations, which were used to help more than 59,000 families affected by the terrorist attacks.  The Red Cross provided hundreds of millions of dollars in financial assistance to families that lost loved ones, injured survivors, first responders, residents of lower Manhattan who couldn’t return home, and workers who lost their jobs.  More than 57,000 Red Crossers from across the country (including several from Northern Ohio) served more than 14 million meals and snacks, opened dozens of shelters for people who were left stranded, and connected some 374,000 times with people to provide emotional support and health services.  Hundreds of thousands of individuals lined up to give blood as people from all walks of life showed up to help in any way they could.

As we remember the terrible tragedy of September 11, 2001, we come together as members and supporters of the American Red Cross to mark this day in solemn remembrance and with a renewed commitment to serve those in the face of disasters.  Large scale disasters often bring a nation together—9/11 certainly did.  Here is a short video clip that helps make that point with its stark contrast.  My sincere hope and prayer is that our nation does not have to experience another tragedy like 9/11 to unite us in the pursuit of our precious freedom as Americans.  Thank you for your tireless support of our American Red Cross—the world’s premier humanitarian organization—as we honor those that perished and salute those who preceded us in service. 

Godspeed…Mike

Reflections from two Northern Ohio Red Cross responders will be posted here tomorrow, on the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks.

Back-to-back disasters require nationwide Red Cross response

More than a thousand volunteers deploy to help those affected by wildfires, Hurricane Ida and flooding

Back-to-back massive disasters have more than 1,200 American Red Cross volunteers, including 32 from Northern Ohio, working tirelessly from coast to coast right now providing food, shelter and comfort to thousands of people in need. We are working around the clock with our partners to provide help to people struggling with the heartbreaking damage left behind by Hurricane Ida.

The Red Cross is working to provide help to people struggling with the massive flooding caused by the remnants of Hurricane Ida. Wednesday night, some 430 people sought refuge in 13 Red Cross and community shelters across Virginia, Maryland, Pennsylvania, New Jersey and New York. Some 130 trained Red Cross workers are on the ground now to support relief efforts. The Red Cross and its partners have already provided some 1,300 meals and snacks and distributed more than 100 relief items. Trained Red Cross volunteers have already made nearly 100 contacts providing emotional support, health services and spiritual care for people who’ve been evacuated.

Wendy Halsey of the American Red Cross hands boxes of Meals Ready to Eat (MRE) to Cassandra Simon in LaPace, LA, one of the areas of Louisiana which suffered extreme damage from Hurricane Ida. Photo by Scott Dalton/American Red Cross

While massive flooding affected many states in the northern U.S., many southern states continue to deal with the aftermath Ida. Nearly 900 trained Red Cross workers are on the ground now to support relief efforts. The Red Cross and our partners have provided nearly 51,000 meals and snacks and distributed more than 16,000 relief items to people in need.

And, in the midst of responding to Hurricane Ida, the Red Cross continues to help people in California where tens of thousands of people are under evacuation orders as massive wildfires continue to spread. Red Cross workers have been on the ground since June helping evacuees find a safe place to stay, food to eat and emotional support during this heartbreaking time.

Red Cross volunteer Dave Wagner looks over damage from the Dixie Fire in Greenville, CA, a small town that was devastated by the fire on Saturday, August 7, 2021. Photo by Scott Dalton/American Red Cross

The Red Cross expects to respond to more disasters in the coming months, as the season is only beginning. Financial donations enable the Red Cross to prepare for, respond to and help people recover from disasters. To give, visit redcross.org or call 1-800-RED CROSS.

Individuals in unaffected areas of the country are urged to make an appointment to give blood to ensure a sufficient blood supply remains available for patients. Schedule a blood or platelet donation appointment by using the Red Cross Blood Donor app, visiting RedCrossBlood.org or calling 1-800-RED CROSS (800-733- 2767).

The Red Cross needs more volunteers now. If you have the time, you can make a significant impact. Review our most urgently needed volunteer positions at redcross.org/volunteertoday.

Northern Ohio volunteers respond to disasters at home and across the country

Busy weekend highlights need for additional volunteers

Over the weekend, disaster action team members from the American Red Cross Northern Ohio Region responded to local events and traveled across the country to assist those affected by national disasters. Locally, nine incidents occurred, affecting more than two dozen individuals. The Red Cross provided more than $7,000 in immediate assistance.

Fire damaged home in East Cleveland – Photo credit: David Huey, American Red Cross volunteer

As of today, 12 Red Cross workers from Northern Ohio have been deployed to a variety of national disaster responses, with a majority in California for the ongoing wildfire response. As tropical depressions like Grace and Henri are expected to continue in the coming weeks and wildfires continue to burn, the need for more volunteers is urgent.

Brigit Jackson is a nurse from Wooster who deployed to Portola, California to assist those affected by the Dixie Fire. She’s a nurse serving as a disaster health volunteer. In a message this morning, Brigit notes the winds have shifted southwest and more evacuations are expected.

Portola, California – Photo Credit: Brigit Jackson, American Red Cross Volunteer

“Just a little update! The smoke is dense today and it smells like burning wood/fire. Air quality is terrible. The Red Cross shelter in Quincy is probably being evacuated today as the fire is getting too close. We only have 3 nurses in this section of the disaster response operation. There are so many fires and not enough nurses. Most of the roads are closed, so travel is not easy.”

The Red Cross needs new volunteers to support disaster shelters. Volunteers will help with reception, registration, food distribution, dormitory, information collection and other vital tasks inside disaster shelters. And, like Brigit, the Red Cross also needs volunteers who can work in disaster shelters to address people’s health needs and provide hands-on care in alignment with their professional licensure (registered nurse and licensed practical nurse/licensed vocational nurse). Daily observation and health screening for COVID-19-like illness among shelter residents may also be required. If you are an RN, LPN, LVN, APRN, NP, EMT, paramedic, MD/DO or PA with a current and unencumbered license, this position could be right for you.

To learn more, please visit RedCross.org/volunteer.

Local volunteers and blood donors needed for busy disaster season

Many weather experts predict a destructive wildfire and hurricane season this year. The American Red Cross needs volunteers to help people who are affected by these disasters.

“We’re preparing for another extremely busy disaster season, and it’s critical to have a trained, ready volunteer workforce to make sure we can provide relief at a moment’s notice,” said Mike Parks, Regional CEO, American Red Cross of Northern Ohio. “This year’s wildfire season is already very active and dangerous because of the severe drought and dry woodlands across the west. And experts are predicting we could see 10 or more hurricanes in the upcoming weeks.”

“We’re preparing for another extremely busy disaster season, and it’s critical to have a trained, ready volunteer workforce to make sure we can provide relief at a moment’s notice.”

Mike Parks, Regional CEO, American Red Cross of Northern Ohio

SHELTER VOLUNTEERS AND HEALTH PROFESSIONALS NEEDED

The Red Cross needs new volunteers to support disaster shelters. Volunteers will help with reception, registration, food distribution, dormitory, information collection and other vital tasks inside disaster shelters. Both entry and supervisory-level opportunities are available.

The Red Cross also needs volunteers who can work in disaster shelters to address people’s health needs and provide hands-on care in alignment with their professional licensure (registered nurse and licensed practical nurse/licensed vocational nurse). Daily observation and health screening for COVID-19-like illness among shelter residents may also be required. If you are an RN, LPN, LVN, APRN, NP, EMT, paramedic, MD/DO or PA with a current and unencumbered license, this position could be right for you.

Red Cross volunteer Dave Wagner looks out damage from the Dixie Fire on the outskirts of Greenville, CA, a small town that was devastated by the fire on Saturday, August 7, 2021. Many of the evacuated residents found shelter with the Red Cross in nearby Quincy and Susanville, CA.
Photo by Scott Dalton/American Red Cross

DISASTER ACTION TEAM MEMBER

Local Disaster Action Teams provide 24-hour emergency response to local disasters, particularly home fires, ensuring that those affected have access to resources for basic necessities such as food, shelter and clothing. If you are team-oriented and want to help your neighbor, the DAT responder may be just the thing for you.

Disaster Action Team members from Northern Ohio respond to a fire in Lakewood on Aug. 4, 2021.

At 1 p.m. today, the Red Cross will host a Facebook Live event where our experts will discuss the various volunteer roles and how you can get involved in helping families after disasters here locally and across the country. Tune in to learn more and get your volunteer questions answered.

Last year, the Northern Ohio Region provided immediate emergency assistance to more than 5,100 people after nearly 1,200 home fires and other disasters.

If you can’t join us this afternoon but are interested in helping your community when disasters occur, you can sign up online or contact our area offices at 216-431-3328 or neovolunteer@redcross.org.

BLOOD AND PLATELET DONORS NEEDED

Wildfires, record-breaking heat and a busy hurricane season can also impact the nation’s blood supply. On top of the toll extreme weather events take on the lives of millions, disasters can cause blood drive closures or prevent donors from being able to give safely. Eligible donors can help overcome the critical need for blood and ensure blood is readily available by making an appointment to give by using the Red Cross Blood Donor App, visiting RedCrossBlood.org, calling 1-800-RED CROSS (1-800-733-2767) or enabling the Blood Donor Skill on any Alexa Echo device.

The power of personal connections: Transitioning back to in-person disaster response

By Tim Poe, American Red Cross volunteer

As we emerge from the COVID-19 pandemic, many American Red Cross services are transitioning back to being in-person, especially in Disaster Response and Sheltering. While virtual response and other safety measures helped the Red Cross effectively respond to disasters during the height of the pandemic, in-person assistance was missed. As Mike Arthur, regional mass care and logistics manager for Northern Ohio, explained, the ability to provide hot coffee and a hug can mean a great deal.

In addition to Mike, I spoke with Tom Revolinsky, Red Cross disaster program manager for Northeast Ohio, and volunteer Mark Cline, whose many responsibilities include serving as lead for Disaster Action Team (DAT) and Sheltering Applications in Northern Ohio. Each spoke about how effective an in-person connection is for Red Cross responders and clients recovering from a disaster.

Red Cross volunteers respond to an apartment fire

Tom said the transition began a month ago and is going very well. The DAT team is ensuring volunteers are comfortable with the change, and it is safe. As we learn more, he said, we will adapt to ensure everyone’s safety.

Currently, 80% of disaster responses in our region are in-person. For the other 20%, virtual response remains the best option. Northern Ohio DAT has been highly active. Over the past two weekends they responded to 14 home fires, assisting 73 people.

Mark said an in-person meeting gives a chance to better connect with those in need of assistance, as it is much more personal. Similarly, Tom spoke of how meeting in-person better provides the opportunity to give hope, show someone cares and help with recovery. 

Tom recalled how after an exceptionally busy day, he received a late-night call to respond following a home fire. Upon arrival, he met a woman, in tears, sitting in front of her burned-out house. His being there greatly helped, provided comfort, and she soon moved from tears to smiles. Tom said it was empowering for him.

Disaster responder Jan Cooper assists resident Gabriella Asseff after a condo fire in Westlake

I had similar experiences during my time with DAT. The instances when I could see a person begin to recover, to smile and hope again, remain with me.

As for sheltering following a large disaster—fortunately not common in our region—Mike and Tom said congregate housing is now the first option. This will ensure enough space is available, as many hotels are currently near capacity. Safety protocols will be in place. Both Tom and Mike said the Red Cross remains flexible and adapts to each situation, and non-congregate housing remains an option.

Such adaptability has been a hallmark of the Red Cross. When the pandemic necessitated virtual responses to disasters, the DAT team responded. Additionally, technology implemented during the pandemic is also helping with in-person responses.

For many of us, the pandemic underscored the importance of personal connections, especially following a disaster. Thankfully, Northern Ohio DAT responders can provide that again, offering financial assistance along with comfort, hugs and hope.