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We were so saddened to hear this morning of the death of Chester County Department of Emergency Services Director Colonel Ed Atkins. We send our deepest condolences to his family and the entire Chester County community.

The Red Cross and Colonel Atkins were great partners and worked closely to not only respond to disasters large and small in Chester County, but also to prevent disasters from happening in the first place. Atkins’ leadership during the recent flooding and the February ice storm was instrumental to keeping citizens safe and informed.

Col. Ed Atkins. keynote speaker at the Red Cross Chester County Heroes breakfast in April, 2014, recognizes military members at the back of the room (not shown). credit: Alex Greenblatt

It wasn’t that long ago that Colonel Atkins was delivering the keynote address at our Chester County Heroes Breakfast. His deep concern for the county and his deep appreciation for the Red Cross was powerful and clear.

Col. Ed Atkins delivering the keynote address during the American Red Cross Chester County Heroes Breakfast, April, 2014. credit: Alex Greenblatt

Col. Ed Atkins delivering the keynote address during the American Red Cross Chester County Heroes Breakfast, April, 2014. credit: Alex Greenblatt

 

Our CEO, Judge Renee Cardwell Hughes called Ed Atkins a “great man and a great friend to the American Red Cross,” adding, “Every single day he committed himself to making Chester County a better place to live and ensuring the citizens of Chester County were safe. We will miss him dearly.”

 

That was a sentiment echoed by everyone around the office today and in the field. One person who worked very closely with Ed and his team is our volunteer Chester County disaster action team captain, Denise Graf. She is the one making sure the needs of the county and the requests of the emergency services team are met during disasters.

Denise sums up our feelings really well. “As a volunteer disaster responder for the American Red Cross in Chester County, I’ve worked with Ed Atkins on many occasions,” Graf said. “He has always shown me and all Red Cross volunteers the highest respect and appreciation. This truly is a sad day.”

 

As of 5/1/14, 2:00pm

All American Red Cross Southeastern Pennsylvania flood shelters are now closed. In all, seven shelters were open at one time or another, with a maximum of four open at once. More than 110 people came through the shelters, with more than 50 spending the night.

The Red Cross continues to urge residents to remain vigilant about flood waters. They shouldcontinue to heed warnings and emergency officials’ advice. Drivers should never attempt to drive through high water. Below is a link to more flooding safety info.

http://www.redcross.org/prepare/disaster/flood

The recent flooding is an important reminder how unpredictable Mother Nature can be and the importance of being prepared. The Red Cross encourages people to download the Red Cross free flooding app iPhone and Android. It will alert people when there are watches and warnings. It also provides info on what to do before, during, and after flooding hits. The app can be found at redcross.org/mobileapps or by searching Red Cross on Apple app and Google play stores.

 

The current spring cold snap is proving to be far more than just a nuisance. It’s proving to be downright dangerous. The cold temperatures reinforces the direct correlation between cold temperatures and the rate of home fires.

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All that’s left of a fire on April 15th in the 2400 block or Arlington Street in North Philadelphia that displaced a family of seven. Credit: Bob Schmidt/Red Cross volunteer

After a record setting winter that saw the American Red Cross Southeastern Pennsylvania respond to more than 450 fires, those who work and volunteer for the Red Cross had hoped and expected the number of fires to decrease significantly. And after a few days of warmer weather, that is exactly what happened. But sadly, it didn’t last, in part to Mother Nature.

Over the last 72 hours (since 4/15/14), as temperatures dropped to winter like levels again, the number of fires once again rose. In those 72 hours, the Red Cross responded to 12 fires, more than triple the 24  hour average. In all, the Red Cross assisted 21 families, 52 people displaced by those fires. Nine of those families are now at Red Cross House – The Center for Disaster Recovery. The American Red Cross Southeastern Pennsylvania is on pace to exceed 750 fire responses this year, the most in more than four years.

In addition to being financially devastating to the families affected by the fires, the ongoing cold temperatures have had a huge impact on Red Cross resources, human and financial. Since the Red Cross is made up of 90% volunteers, it is mostly volunteers responding to the fires. And while the volunteers are dedicated and committed to serving the public, the relentlessness of the fires can take its toll on even the most seasoned volunteer. So if you’ve ever thought about being a Red Cross volunteer, now would be a great time to let us know. (click HERE for more information.)

 

N. 12th street fire

This early morning fire on April 17th on north 12th Street in Philadelphia, displaced five families, 16 people, and multiple pets. CREDIT: Jen Leary/Red Paw Emergency Relief

Because the Red Cross provides disaster survivors money for things like food, clothing, lodging, and other emergency needs, the ongoing cold and increase in fires has had a dramatic impact on our financial resources. We are significantly over our disaster response budget. Since the Red Cross will ALWAYS respond and provide the highest level of care, no matter the cost, the money must be found elsewhere. So if you’ve ever considered making a financial donation to the Red Cross, now would be a great time to do so. (click HERE for more information.)

But even if you don’t make a financial donation or volunteer, you can still help the Red Cross and more importantly the greater community. Even as the Red Cross is hopeful warmer temperatures will eventually arrive and the number of fires will decrease, the Red Cross urges residents to remain vigilant about fire safety. Residents should limit having more than two things plugged into one outlet and make sure dryer lint screens and heating system filters are cleaned regularly. Residents should also ensure they have working smoke alarms and have and practice at least twice a year a fire escape plan that includes pets.

For more fire safety information, including how to create a fire escape plan, visit redcross.org/homefires.


April 6th – April 12th, 2014 is National Volunteer Week. We asked some of our volunteers why they volunteer for the Red Cross. Below is just sampling of some of their answers.

 

Carol Aldridge

9 years of service

Emergency Services

“I had seen so much that had happened at Katrina that it really pulled at my heartstrings.”

 

Carol Barnett    

22 years of service

Emergency Services

“The best part about the Red Cross is the people you work with and all the diversity.”

 

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Stan Dunn accepting an award during the 2013 American Red Cross Southeastern Pennsylvania Celebration of Volunteers

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Stan Dunn

12 years of service

Emergency Services

“(During 9/11) We were so impressed by what the Red Cross was doing, when we came home we decided we would volunteer for the Red Cross.”

 

Heath Morris    

5 years of service

Red Cross House

“I wanted something to do after leaving the Treasury Department. It (Red Cross House) is a good facility and helps people in need.

 

Anthony Robinson, pictured with our CEO, receiving an award at the 2013 Celebration of Awards

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Anthony Robinson

2 years of service

Volunteer Administration

“Here I feel as though I can actually do some good and help people. I had some health issues and I decided I needed to get out of hte house. It’s really worked out for me.”

 

Tom Reithof

30+ years of service

Emergency Services

“I kind of thought it was fun. Before (volunteering for the Red Cross) I worked as an engineer and physicist that never dealt with human beings. I started learning about human beings.”

 

Alice Taylor, at a desk in Volunteer Administration

Alice Taylor, at a desk in Volunteer Administration

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Alice Taylor  

11 years of service

Blood Services and Volunteer Administration

“I enjoy doing it. It keeps me out of trouble.”

 

Jen Tso      

4 months of service

Financial Development

“Everyone is super excited about the work that they do, so it’s a great environment to be part of.”

 

 

From left to right; Carol Barnet, at the Regional Disaster Coordination Center, David Yu, at the 2014 Red Ball, Jen Tso at her desk

David Yu

1 year of service

Disaster Action Team and Disaster Services Technology

“I get to meet a lot of different people. I love the fact that we are so diverse and that we can actually coordinate as one. That also amazes me.

 

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Not this Ben Franklin…

In the era of digital cameras, smartphones with 13 megapixel cameras that fit into your pocket, and everything being done remotely with a few strokes of a keyboard, you wouldn’t think getting a picture of a huge bridge would be all that difficult.

Well, you’d be wrong.

I preface this by saying this is absolutely no one’s fault. Everyone who helped with this did everything they could to facilitate. Every request I made was granted. But sometimes for a variety of reasons, even the smallest, simplest tasks, can wind up being a challenge.

Every March for Red Cross Month, I request the Delaware River Port Authority to light the Ben Franklin Bridge red to honor the work of the thousands of Red Cross volunteers. And DRPA always happily obliges by setting aside most days for the bridge to be red. (excluding March 17th when the bridge is green and a few other days here and there.)

Ben Franklin Bridge lit up on a normal evening. (Courtesy Jingoli.com)

This year was no exception. But I hit snags at just about every turn. First, there was some sort of construction on the bridge involving PATCO which made programming the light display on the bridge hit and miss. Some nights, the lights would work. Some nights they wouldn’t. Sadly, on the nights I dispatched a photographer to snap a photo, were nights the bridge wasn’t red.

I also called on my friends in the media to take beauty shots of the bridge lit in red during their news and weather casts. But without hard and fast dates and times, it’s difficult to ensure the bridge would ever make air.

Which brings me to last night (3/31), the last night of Red Cross Month and the last opportunity to get a photo of the bridge lit red.

I’m a lucky person. I work for the Red Cross so when I ask for a favor, people will go out of their way to try and help. The folks at DRPA exchanged emails with me and made phone calls off hours and over the weekend to make sure the bridge was red Monday night, March 31st, so I could get that photo, raise awareness about the great work the Red Cross does, and in a very real way, generate an extra sense of pride among our thousands of volunteers.

So I sent out the call one last time for volunteers to head to the bridge at dark to take pictures. (Not easy to do after 3 or 4 wild goose chases.) But as I mentioned earlier, people want to help the Red Cross. And bless their hearts, several people grabbed their iPhones and cameras to get the perfect shot. They even drove to Camden to get different angles.

At first, only a small part of the bridge was red and I began to get a huge sense of dread. Did I really do all this and ask others to do this AGAIN, for a few lights? I was feverishly texting back and forth with the volunteers in the area, asking who had the best angle. Could they see the red?

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Ben Franklin Bridge at 8:15pm on 3/31/14. Credit: Janice Winston

I’m sure I came off sounding like a crazed lunatic, obsessed with getting a photo of a bridge. But the volunteers didn’t complain. They have an overwhelming ability to be understanding. They have compassion, even for a guy who just wants a photo. They wanted to come through not for me, but for the Red Cross and their fellow volunteers.

And come through they did. It wasn’t until 11:30pm that all the volunteers were making their way home after chasing red lights on a bridge for four hours.  But the day after, I have plenty of great shots of the bridge lit in all its glorious red.

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Credit: Bob Schmidt

 

And because DRPA came through for us, 6ABC’s Cecily Tynan gave the Red Cross a very nice shoutout during her weather cast.

 

It wasn’t easy, but mission accomplished, much like a disaster response. Rarely are they ever easy or go exactly according to plan. But Red Cross volunteers are adaptable, flexible, and understanding. They are compassionate. So even though in this case, Red Cross volunteers weren’t helping a family burned out their home by a fire or feeding a child at a shelter because a massive ice storm knocked out power to their home (although at the same time, other volunteers were responding to two fires in Philadelphia), they helped make a difference. They helped share their pride in the Red Cross with others as the photos are placed on Facebook, Twitter, newsletters, etc. They may have prompted someone to donate $25 to the Red Cross or better yet, volunteer.

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Credit: Michelle Alton

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Ben Franklin Bridge with Red Cross vehicle. Credit: Michelle Alton

 

The willingness of volunteers to help is what makes the Red Cross run. So when you look at these photos, think of the volunteers who made them possible and be confident that when disaster strikes, the dedication and care volunteers give to getting a photo pales in comparison to the dedication and care they give to people in their moment of greatest need.

Want to see MORE photos of Ben Franklin decked in Red? Click here for the full set on Flickr.

 

UPDATED 5:30 pm 2/13/14:
The American Red Cross Southeastern Pennsylvania has its volunteers on standby and has established shelter team in the event sheltering is needed due to the ongoing snow storm.  But as of 5:30 pm 2/13, that has NOT been necessary.

Staff and volunteers are staffing any open county and city Emergency Operation Centers and equipment has been prepositioned throughout the area to respond to any requests for assistance or sheltering.

If shelters do open, they will be listed below by county. Information will also include an address and if the shelter is pet friendly.

You can also follow updates on twitter, by following @redcrossphilly @telesara and @dcschrader.

And if you need your sidewalk or driveway shoveled Friday morning, let Uber Philly do the work. And all proceeds will benefit Red Cross disaster relief.

Visit here for info and details. http://blog.uber.com/ubershovel

Please keep these safety tips in mind if you do lose power during the storm.

Here are some tips to be safe during a winter storm.
Don’t forget about your pets, here are safety tips for your pets during a winter storm.
And, here are tips about preventing and thawing frozen pipes.

Thank you and keep warm.

The Red Cross

Cots set up last week at the shelter at West Chester University for residents affected by power outage. February 5, 2014

Cots set up last week at the shelter at West Chester University for residents affected by power outage. February 5, 2014

RCH and volunteers at Hatboro shelter

Red Cross Southeastern PA CEO Judge Renee Hughes visits a shelter in Montgomery County during the ice storm and power outage. February 7th, 2014

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A tree knocks down power lines in Chester County, February 5th, 2014.

After any major disaster and the recent ice storm is no different, one of the most common questions I get is “How much did the disaster cost?” It’s a natural and fair question to ask. After all, the American Red Cross accepts only financial donations and people want to know where their donations are going.

RCH and volunteers at Hatboro shelter

American Red Cross Southeastern PA CEO Judge Renee Hughes (center) meets with volunteers and takes a tour of the Hatboro Horsham shelter on February 7th, 2014

In the case of the recent ice storm to hit Southeastern Pennsylvania, calculating the true cost is complicated, if not impossible. You see, most of the expenses the Red Cross is incurring during the ice storm response were incurred during the course of the last year. The Red Cross must be prepared to act immediately whenever there’s a disaster. The Red Cross does not have the luxury of waiting until donations roll-in to respond.

So the Red Cross spends much of its resources preparing. That means buying things like blankets, cots, pillows, soap, and shampoo in advance. That means paying to store those items at warehouses. That means replacing items that wear out or go bad because they have a limited shelf life. That means paying to recruit and train volunteers, who make up more than 90% of the Red Cross workforce. That means paying for technology to ensure workers can communicate more easily and can respond more effectively. That means providing its limited staff decent wages and benefits to get and retain quality employees.  This doesn’t even factor the amount of TIME spent responding to a disaster or travel costs like gas, tolls, and in some cases, airfare and hotels for outside help.  (VERY minimal in the case of this ice storm.)

(VIDEO below is a recap of Red Cross response after first 24 hours)

The Red Cross spends a lot of time going into the community and sharing safety and preparedness advice vital to reducing recovery time after a disaster, which ultimately reduces costs for everyone. But how do you calculate that?  The work of the Red Cross goes on year round. Costs are incurred year round, not just when we open a shelter or pay for food. The Red Cross is able to respond to disasters so efficiently and effectively because it puts a lot of its resources into making sure we are all ready when disaster strikes.

So what’s my point? The point is, the Red Cross relies on donations from the public year round, not just during and after disasters. The Red Cross isn’t funded by the government or your tax dollars. The generosity of individuals, corporations, civic groups, and foundations are solely what make it possible for the Red Cross to do what it does.

Wednesday, February 5th, nearly 400 cots were set up at West Chester University to help an expected influx of people who lost power.

Without donations, the Red Cross can’t be ready with 1,500 cots and blankets when an ice storm hits and 700,000 people don’t have power and may need a warm place to go. Without donations, the Red Cross can’t provide fire victims money for immediate needs like food, clothing, and shelter. Without donations the Red Cross can’t train volunteers who provide the compassion and experience shelter residents need after a disaster. In short, donations make it so when the Red Cross gets the call for help, the Red Cross is able to answer.

To learn more or make a donation, please visit redcross.org.

A resident at the West Chester University shelter made this cake for the Red Cross staff and volunteers in appreciation of all they do. February 8th, 2014

A resident at the West Chester University shelter made this cake for the Red Cross staff and volunteers in appreciation of all they do. February 8th, 2014

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UPDATE
As of 2/11 at 12pm all Red Cross shelters in Southeastern Pennsylvania in response to the ice storm have closed.

Supplies and resources remain in place throughout the region and volunteers are on stand-by to respond if needed following the next storm.

rco_blog_img_LionvilleShelter

Follow @redcrossphilly@dcschrader@telesara for immediate updates for all Red Cross activities in Southeastern PA.

Always an option: If people don’t wish to go to a Red Cross shelter and prefer a hotel and they have pets, we encourage them to download the American Red Cross Pet First Aid app. It includes a feature that will locate the nearest pet friendly hotels to them.

They can find it at redcross.org/mobileapps or by searching Red Cross on the iPhone App and Google Play stores.

The Red Cross asks that you do NOT drop off supplies at the shelters. It creates major logistical problems. If folks wish to help, they can make a financial donation at redcrossphilly.org

As power is restored, please take a moment to read these tips, or print this handy sheet to make sure you know what food is safe and more about how to safely get back to normal following a power outage.

CLICK HERE to learn more about what you will find at a Red Cross Shelter.

CLICK HERE for VIDEO about the Red Cross response as of 5PM 2/5.

VOLUNTEER ICE STORM

An American Red Cross volunteer meets with two people at the Lionville Middle School shelter in Chester County. photo credit: Sara Smith/American Red Cross

Peticon

Today (January 16, 2014)  is a very exciting day for the American Red Cross. It launched its Pet First Aid App for iPhone and Android. It is particularly exciting for the American Red Cross Southeastern Pennsylvania because the content and information in the app was provided by Dr. Debbie Mandell, an emergency room veterinarian at the Ryan Veterinary Hospital at the University of Pennsylvania here in Philadelphia. Dr. Mandell also serves as a pet advisor to the American Red Cross.

In order to launch the app, the Red Cross held what’s called a Satellite Media Tour at a studio in Philadelphia, featuring Dr. Mandell, a Red Cross national spokesperson, two pet first-aid CPR manikins, and Mana, the best behaved dog ever known to attend a media event. Basically, TV and radio stations across the country did interviews with them, one after the other.

emergency pet app info

I got to work on this project because of my position with the Red Cross here in Philadelphia. We did site surveys at Penn Vet’s ER, but we couldn’t logistically work out a way to showcase pet emergency care; the unpredictability of a pet emergency room could make for great TV or awful TV. We couldn’t take the chance on the latter.

laura and dr. mandell

Dr. Debbie Mandell (L) of Penn Vet and Laura Howe of the American Red Cross, and Mana the dog, during media interviews about Red Cross Pet First-Aid app.

So for about six hours this morning, Dr. Mandell, the spokesperson, and Mana sat in a studio saying the same things over and over about the Pet First-Aid app. They explained for what seemed like a thousand times, the app’s many features, did pet CRP demonstrations, and showed what items should be in every family’s pet first-aid kit.

One thing in particular stands out to me from the series of interviews this morning. Dr. Mandell really did a geat job emphasizing the dangers in your home that you may not be aware of. She mentioned certain plants and flowers are toxic to cats and dogs. I had no idea. The Red Cross Pet First-Aid app identifies those plants for you and what to do if your pet eats or licks any of those plants.

My two dogs died a few years ago, so I don’t have any pets, but I can still use the app. It is useful for me to help potential Red Cross clients with pets, who need a place to go after a fire or flood, find nearby pet friendly hotels. Often, concern about what to do with their pets prevents people from evacuating. This app helps alleviate those concerns. Jen Leary, who runs the local pet disaster rescue organization Red Paw, downloaded the app and says the pet friendly hotel and vet locator portion of the Red Cross app is a “game changer” for her volunteers in the field.

But if you have a pet, you definitely need to consider downloading it. The 99 cents seems like a small price to pay for an app that has so many great, potentially lifesaving features. Plus the 99 cents goes to support all Red Cross services, including disaster relief. To do that go to redcross.org/mobileapps or search Red Cross on iTunes or Google Play. And help ensure you’re prepared to care for you pets like any other member of your family.

Cat CPRlean-know-what's-normal-dog

Welcome to Giving Tuesday. I’m not a big fan of made up stuff so people can have a cool hashtag, but you can’t really argue with a day to recognize and draw attention to wonderful charitable organizations doing amazing work.

In deciding to write about our Red Cross blankets in honor of Giving Tuesday, I was motivated by one thing, the airing last night of the beloved holiday special, “A Charlie Brown Christmas.”

CharlieBrownChristmas

Scene from A Charlie Brown Christmas

That episode is a timeless classic I watch every year. There are so many great moments, but what always sticks out to me is the part where Linus and Charlie Brown are joined by the rest of the gang to decorate the pathetic tree Charlie picked out. Who can’t relate to the symbolism of that scene?

Now that I work for the Red Cross, I am particularly struck by how they use the blanket to secure the base of the tree to keep it from falling over. I never really thought much of it before. That’s not the case anymore. Now I think about the impact blankets have, symbolically and more importantly, practically.

For the Red Cross, the care we give to people who have suffered a disaster almost always begins with the blanket. In its most basic and utilitarian form, the blanket keeps people (and sometimes pets) warm. Red Cross blankets provide warmth to an elderly woman forced from her home by a hurricane on a chilly October day, to families in the dead of night as they watch their home burn to the ground, to passengers floating on an airplane wing in the middle of a river on a Fall afternoon, and to commuters who suddenly find themselves standing by a mangled train that ran off the tracks in a tragic accident. Feeling warmer is a small but vital step to recovery.

PALISADES WOMAN

Woman enjoys a friendly moment at the Red Cross shelter at Palisades High School in Bucks County after Hurricane Sandy. Credit: American Red Cross Southeastern Pennsylvania

Yeadon Fire
Families gather after their apartment building in Yeadon, Delaware County, is destroyed by fire. Credit: American Red Cross Southeastern Pennsylvania

 

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11 year old Ahmet keeps warm after a fire destroyed his home in Upper Merion Twp., Montgomery County. Credit: American Red Cross Southeastern Pennsylvania

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Dozens of passengers wait to be rescued from downed jetliner in what is known as the Miracle on the Hudson Credit: AP

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A passenger is taken away on a stretcher after being rescued in the Miracle on the Hudson. Credit: American Red Cross New York

Passengers try to keep warm after their commuter train derailed in the Bronx. Credit: American Red Cross New York

Passengers try to keep warm after their commuter train derailed in the Bronx. Credit: American Red Cross New York

kitty blanket

A kitten rescued from a house that caught fire in Philadelphia. Credit: Red Paw Emergency Relief

As the person whose job it is to help protect and promote the image and reputation of the American Red Cross, I often comment that the blanket is the best PR the Red Cross could ever get. The sight of a person wrapped in a Red Cross blanket at a disaster scene pretty much sums up in as powerful a way as possible what the Red Cross does and what the Red Cross is all about.

While the Red Cross provides far more than blankets to those affected by disaster, the blanket is usually the most immediate physical and emotional need the Red Cross meets. Each blanket costs about $6. And PR aside, it’s the best $6 the Red Cross could ever spend. So on this Giving Tuesday, think about Charlie Brown and the blanket that helped make that sad tree beautiful. Then think about the Red Cross blanket and how much comfort, hope, and recovery $6 can buy.