Wildfire season is upon us: What volunteers can expect if they deploy to help

By Doug Bardwell – American Red Cross volunteer

According to the National Interagency Fire Center, there have already been 31,000 wildfires across the country, with more than 1.5 acres affected. As of July 4th, people have had to evacuate their homes for the Tennant, Salt and Lava wildfires in California. That means there will be a need to shelter and feed residents impacted, and more opportunities for American Red Cross volunteers. 

Volunteers often talk about how appreciative people are when offered water or buckets and rakes to assist their cleanup. Many I’ve spoken with mentioned that Red Cross trucks brought the first and only assistance they had encountered since the fire. It’s a privilege to serve those who’ve just lost most of their material possessions.

What can you expect if deployed to volunteer?

First, you won’t be anywhere near the flames. Shelters are selected in safe zone areas, so you can feel safe wherever they are located. Even if you are part of a Red Cross mobile feeding operation, you won’t be dispatched to burnt areas until the fire has been totally contained for a safe period of time.

There are three types of work most volunteers experience: sheltering, feeding or supply distribution.

Sheltering volunteers work to set up and maintain the sleeping/living areas for those displaced by the fire. After the setup and registering of incoming victims, just letting people tell their stories is very cathartic for those affected.

While deployed to the Camp Fire in California, I noticed most people just wanted someone to talk to. Not that they expected any earthshaking solutions, they just needed to verbalize their plight to a caring set of ears. Sometimes, just playing cards or a board game was a great distraction from their worries. 

November 17, 2018. Chico, California. At the Neighborhood Church shelter in Chico, California, Daniel Nieves grieves the loss of his friends, who perished in the Camp Fire. Red Cross volunteers Pamela Harris and Vicki Eichstaedt listen and offer comfort as Daniel remembers a special friendship. Photo by Daniel Cima/American Red Cross

Feeding volunteers help serve meals that are usually supplied by one of our Red Cross partners. Three meals a day are served to those affected. You might also be serving meals to first responders, cleaners and other service personnel involved around the shelter operation. 

In all the sheltering operations I’ve been involved with, there is always a 24/7 snack area for the shelter residents. Chips, cookies and snack bars are always available, along with coffee, tea, soft drinks and water.

Distribution volunteers are those who take cleanup tools and supplies out to the victims at the site of the fire after the “all clear” notice has been issued. 

Deploying on a national disaster usually requires a two-week commitment. However, local/regional events can be staffed on more flexible schedules. A limited amount of pretraining is necessary for either, but there are plenty of people ready to get you up to speed quickly. For more information on volunteer opportunities, visit redcross.org/volunteer and select DCS – Disaster Cycle Services – Responder, or contact Emily Probst, Disaster Workforce Engagement Manager, at emily.probst@redcross.org.

Edited by Glenda Bogar, American Red Cross volunteer


Red Cross adapts sheltering strategies to maintain safety as hurricane season begins, pandemic continues

By Tim Poe, American Red Cross volunteer

July 31, 2020- Providing shelter and care after a major disaster—such as a hurricane or tropical storm—is especially challenging during a pandemic.

Hurricane Hanna 2020

July 28, 2020. Edcouch, Texas Marc Lazerow of the American Red Cross welcomes the Cantu family to their cots at a Red Cross shelter for people displaced by Hurricane Hanna in Edcouch, TX on Tuesday July 28, 2020. Family units are grouped closer together while other cots are spaced further apart for social distance from others. Photo by Scott Dalton/American Red Cross

As the 2020 hurricane season begins, Mike Arthur, the Red Cross’ regional mass care and logistics manager for Northern Ohio, updated area volunteers and staff on sheltering methods during the pandemic. Here is an overview of initiatives:

The Red Cross’ mission is to assist everyone, regardless of background or illness status. Several steps are being taken to ensure safety and provide assistance for all in need following a disaster. These include following CDC guidance to identify those with COVID-19 symptoms and adhering to public health guidelines for quarantines. In addition, each shelter will have an Isolation Care Area. Those who have been diagnosed with COVID-19 or show signs of illness will be separated from the general shelter population.

When possible, the Red Cross will employ non-congregate sheltering. Red Cross representatives will work with partners and communities to find non-congregate options, such as hotels, dormitories and campgrounds.

Hurricane Hanna 2020

July 28, 2020. Edcouch, Texas The Cantu’s family get their temperatures checked as part of a COVID-19 screening precaution before entering a Red Cross emergency shelter for people displaced by Hurricane Hanna in Edcouch, TX on Tuesday July 28, 2020. Photo by Scott Dalton/American Red Cross

When a congregate shelter is needed, ensure safety. In some cases, a congregate shelter may be the only option. In this event, the Red Cross will work to reduce the risk of infection, including:

  • Ensuring resources are available for Isolation Care Areas.
  • Requiring everyone to be screened before entering a shelter.
  • Increasing health and security staff.
  • Following social distancing practices inside the shelter.
  • Maintaining a safe environment through increased cleaning and disinfection of facilities.
  • Following safe practices when providing food and supplies and handling waste removal.
  • Providing virtual support services where possible.
  • Moving to smaller shelters and finding non-congregate housing as soon as possible.

While Northern Ohio is not prone to hurricanes, the region does experience disasters that require mass care and sheltering, such as apartment building and condominium fires. And wherever hurricanes, wildfires, earthquakes and other national disasters occur, many local Red Cross volunteers and staff deploy to affected areas.

Hurricane Hanna 2020

July 28, 2020. Edcouch, Texas Diana Buckley of the American Red Cross checks on Jose and his wife Maria Elvia, who needs hospice care, at a Red Cross emergency shelter for people displaced by Hurricane Hanna in Edcouch, TX on Tuesday July 28, 2020. Photo by Scott Dalton/American Red Cross

Additionally, every day in Northern Ohio, Red Cross staff and volunteers help people recover after a home fire. The organization is reducing COVID-19 risk in these cases as well, particularly by using virtual support as much as possible.

Hurricane Hanna 2020

July 28, 2020. La Feria, Texas Siblings, from left to right, Yakelin, 10 years old, Reyes Jr., 11 years old and Edwin, 16 years old, play with their smart phones while resting in their cots at a Red Cross emergency shelter for families displaced by Hurricane Hanna, in La Feria, TX on Tuesday July 28, 2020. Photo by Scott Dalton/American Red Cross

With these and other adaptations, the Red Cross is doing all it can to reduce the risk of COVID-19 exposure while effectively continuing its mission. Help is needed to sustain this important work. If you are interested in becoming a Red Cross volunteer, information is available here. If you are able to provide financial support, please visit this page.

Edited by Glenda Bogar, American Red Cross volunteer

Recovery Continues on East Coast

Twelve days have passed since Hurricane Matthew made landfall in the United States.  Many areas remain flooded. 26 Red Cross shelters remain open, with over 1,400 individuals seeking lodging there on Monday night.

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As waters begin to recede, the second stage of the Red Cross recovery efforts will begin. We will start to work with those affected to provide navigation through the web of assistance available to them, not just through the Red Cross, but through other organizations such as FEMA.

 

Some of our img_2537volunteers are out in communities – as conditions permit – across North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia and Florida to provide warm meals and relief supplies. Some are on the ground accessing the damages to homes (a step necessary for a family to obtain financial assistance), while others begin to meet with families and individuals to help them map out their own recovery process.

img_2526All told, the Red Cross has mobilized almost 5,000 disaster workers, 235 response vehicles, 19 partner-supported kitchens as well as truckloads of water, ready-to-eat meals, cots, blankets, kitchen items, cleaning supplies and comfort kits, insect repellant, gloves, masks, shovels, rakes, coolers and more.

Overall, Red Cross and community partners have served more than 931,000 meals and snacks, distributed more than 187,000 relief items, supported more than 19,000 health and mental health services, and provided 93,000 overnight stays in shelters.

How can you help?

MAKE A DONATION – The Red Cross depends on donations to provide immediate relief. Help people affected by Hurricane Matthew by visiting redcross.org, calling 1-800-RED CROSS or texting the word MATTHEW to 90999 to make a $10 donation. Donations enable the Red Cross to prepare for, respond to and help people recover from this disaster.

GIVE BLOOD – We’d also like to ask public to remember the blood needs of the Red Cross. Hurricane Matthew has already forced the cancellation of many blood drives along the East Coast, and more could be cancelled. If you’re in an unaffected area, please give blood or platelets now, so we can continue to help patients in need. Go to redcrossblood.org or call 1-800-RED CROSS.

BECOME A VOLUNTEER – People can make a difference in someone’s life by becoming a Red Cross volunteer. To join us, visit redcross.org/neo and click on VOLUNTEER today to learn more about volunteer opportunities and how to submit a volunteer application. To learn more about national deployment, read this story.