Tag Archives: disaster relief

I didn’t really start using Twitter until being deployed with the Red Cross to the Boston Marathon disaster a year ago. I was never a fan. Now, it’s not only part of my day but a large part of my response to disasters.

rco_blog_img_PETEWINE This weekend I was a #DigiVol (Digitally Deployed Volunteer) for the @Redcross (American Red Cross). We were 1,200 miles away from the disaster zone, but still helping to make a difference. It was a short but wild adventure.

As tornadoes and thunderstorms bore down on the Midwest, our job was to take to social media and promote preparedness and safety. Our intention was to engage people to help calm and guide them.

For my shift, I was handed the keys to @RedcrossNETexas (The Official Twitter of NE Texas and SW Arkansas) and sent out on my mission. Watching weather radar, media outlets, and other posts from tornado chasers, I promoted the Red Cross Tornado App and gave tips on how to prepare and respond to the storm. My partners for the day, @Telesara (Sara Smith) and @Mindy_Hart (Mindy Hart) were also from Philadelphia.

I went for quite a spin around the block with the account. Hashtags — symbols placed in front of a word to help Twitter organize different topics — were flying. Some were obvious… #helpme, #scared, #missing, #disaster, and some were not. For example, #NoRotation came to designate clouds not moving in a twisting funnel.

We engaged scared people by telling them it was alright to be scared and guiding them on what to do next. All the while, we watched the destruction start to hit national news. It’s a very scary, hopeless feeling. You just want to do more. At the end of the shift, Sara and I guided a young middle school student on how to find her uncle amidst a destroyed town using #safeandwell, the Red Cross database to help let loved ones know you are okay.

Later, I was listening to a storm chaser on a radio feed talking to the National Weather Service (NWS) in RDCC Terminal (1280x721)Little Rock, AR. He was with a pastor from the Antioch Baptist Church in Conway, AR. They were opening a shelter there to provide immediate cover for victims who had just lost their homes. Another round of bad weather was on the way. The phones were down and they couldn’t get in touch with the Red Cross. They needed our help. The NWS wasn’t able to get in touch with Red Cross yet either.

I told Sara what I’d heard. She said she saw the Red Cross communicator near Conway online. I gave her all the information, and we relayed it to Arkansas from Philly. A few minutes later, a Handheld Amateur Radio Operator (HAM) with our team in Arkansas was on the air advising people in Conway that they’d gotten the message and were sending them Red Cross teams and supplies. We had made a difference to immediate disaster victims from 1,200 miles away.

Now, a day later, the Digital Volunteers of @RedCrossPhilly are still watching over the people of the Midwest. We stand ready, waiting to respond, to help them recover, using the best communications methods at our disposal.

In person, at the scene of the disaster, or in the virtual world of cyberspace, our mission remains the same: Help alleviate the suffering of victims of disaster.

Posted by Volunteer @PWine_1_1 (Peter Wine)

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.

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 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.

north philly fire

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

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.

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

Being superstitious is part of human nature. I think we’re all born somewhat superstitious – some far more than others. If you walk on sidewalks with your head down so as not to step on a crack or you never take the elevator to the 13th floor, in my book, you qualify as someone who is really superstitious.

Baseball players are more superstitious than most. My favorite baseball superstition is when a pitcher is working on a no-hitter late in the game and the announcers are not permitted to say the phrase “no-hitter” while broadcasting for fear that saying it will lead to a player getting a hit. Now that’s hardcore superstition. As silly as it may seem for a broadcaster to ignore the biggest story line of a game, I totally get it and support it.

I don’t have that many superstitions overall. But probably my craziest and most ridiculous is my superstition about Foursquare, the social network where you “check-in” at places so others can see where you are. Well guess what, I always check-in as I’m leaving because, granted it’s VERY UNLIKELY, in case there’s someone looking to assassinate me, they’ll always be one step behind me.

If you defy a superstition, people worry you could “jinx” something.  Basically, cause something bad to happen.  With that in mind, it probably doesn’t surprise you to learn that people at the Red Cross have lots of superstitions. But there’s one in particular I want to highlight. It comes to mind because of what the last few days have been like for us here at the American Red Cross Southeastern Pennsylvania.

Wednesday morning 7/24 I recall being in the elevator at our headquarters in Center City with two other people. In the normal routine of asking “How’s it going,” someone used the Q word. Let me tell you, that is a major NO-NO around here.  I’m afraid to even use the word in this blog. (Think Shhh! And you’ll know what the word is.) Almost everyone knows not to use that word. And anyone who doesn’t and mistakenly does use it, is quickly wrapped in gauze and tape from head to toe and made to watch Red Cross training videos from the 1950s on a loop for hours in a small room. (Trust me, I speak from experience, after that, people never make that mistake again.) The damage, however, was already done. It was now only a matter of time.

Just hours after that conversation in the elevator, a fire ripped through a home in Chester, Delaware County. Three children were killed. All fires are horrible, but when three children die, it takes the horror to a new level.  The Red Cross has been at the scene multiple times and meeting with family and members of the community ever since to help as well as promoting fire safety. Incidents like that really take not only a physical toll, but an emotional one as well.

LevittownARCPhillyarrivesonscene_073013Two days later, a massive 4-alarm fire broke out at an apartment complex in Levittown, Bucks County.  More than two dozen Red Cross volunteers and staffers worked most of the night and into the wee hours of the morning helping dozens of people displaced. We were out there again the entire following day helping people with food, clothing, lodging, prescriptions, and other essentials. It was a long and busy 18 hours.

Back of Collapsed houseThen on Monday 7/29, as the Red Cross was participating in an event related to the Levittown fire, a house exploded in South Philly. Several surrounding homes collapsed and an entire neighborhood had to be evacuated. The Red Cross once again had to mobilize quickly to assist dozens of people. We set up an evacuation center, met with more than 50 displaced residents, and helped any way we could. Many of the people that helped in Levittown and Chester also helped in South Philly.

Outside of a hurricane or major weather incident, we don’t see this many high-level disasters during an entire summer, much less over 4 days. It was almost an entire summer’s worth of disasters in less than a week.

Can I blame the use of the Q word during that elevator ride? Yes, I can. I have no factual basis for that conclusion. But this is superstition we’re talking about. It’s bigger than facts. It’s bigger than reason.

In a way the Red Cross is its own worst superstition enemy. That’s because in addition to responding to disasters, we help people prepare for them. We hold workshops, we create mobile phone apps, and we hand out preparedness information every chance we get. We cover you before and after. So if you really think about, if you believe in superstition, preparing for disasters is akin to “asking for it.” Maybe, but that’s the chance we’re willing to take.

All kidding aside, we know unfortunately disasters happen. They are never convenient. They’re rarely ever predictable. We cannot control when they strike, but we can control what we do to get ready. Superstitious or not, you must take the threat of disaster seriously.

Of course, it doesn’t hurt to also knock on wood.

Dave Schrader visits a memorial to the 19 lost fire fighters in Prescott, AZ.

Dave Schrader visits a memorial to the 19 lost firefighters in Prescott, AZ.

Follow along as American Red Cross Southeastern Pennsylvania Chief Communications Officer, Dave Schrader documents his deployment to Arizona to assist with the national response to the wildfire and firefighter tragedy there. Click on the links to watch Dave’s VLOGs from Arizona.

July 6 – Farewell Prescott

July 6 – Signing off the Job

July 6 – Branding Disaster Response

Emergency Response Vehicles from all over support the response in Arizona.

July 5 – Hello Mr. Senator

Dave with Senator John McCain at Prescott High School

July 5- Animal Therapy for Red Crossers

Dave’s new friends

July 4 – Independence Day in Prescott

July 4 – Inside to the fire Line

Fire crew from Minnesota performs a show and tell for media tour.

July 4 – Close to the fire Line

July 4 – Brainstorming

July 4 – Striving for the Big Time

July 3 – Hail Storm in Prescott

July 3 – Stopping to Edit

July 3 – Inside the Disaster Operation Center

July 2 – Attending a vigil

Vigil at Prescott Highschool


We are very proud of the work the Red Cross does here in Southeastern Pennsylvania, but also across the country. But we already know we do great work. We are grateful when that work is recognized in the media locally and nationally. Below are links to just some of the many news stories about Southeastern Pennsylvania’s response to the Oklahoma tornado. We will add more as we deem appropriate.

6ABC is at the airport as American Red Cross Southeastern Pennsylvania volunteer Joe Cirillo leaves for Oklahoma City (05/26/13)

Fox 29 profiles the American Red Cross tornado app

6ABC summarizes the American Red Cross Southeastern Pennsylvania’s initial response to Oklahoma tornado

NBC 10 profiles the two SEPA workers leaving to help with Red Cross Oklahoma relief efforts

CEO appears on Fox 29’s Good Day Philadelphia.

Extensive story about Red Cross response on national news outlet Ebru TV that features Southeastern Pennsylvania Red Cross

NBC 10 story on Southeastern PA Red Cross volunteers on their way to help out

6ABC story on Southeastern PA overall response, including tornado app explanation

CBSPhilly story about volunteer leaving from the airport.

Philly Daily News article about volunteer deploying to Oklahoma

WJLA TV in Washington, DC did a feature on the national American Red Cross disaster operations center. But one of our staff members and frequent blogger here, is helping with Oklahoma relief there. You’ll see her a few times in this clip. She’s the one wearing the hat

OK tornado 2Today, the two mile wide tornado that touched down for 45 minutes in the suburb of Moore, just south of Oklahoma City, is on everyone’s mind. Here, at the Southeastern, Pennsylvania offices of the Red Cross (SEPA), the phones will ring all day with questions about our response to this horrific event.

Here’s what the American Red Cross is doing:

Employees and volunteers are being deployed to the area from chapters all over the country to help with the relief efforts. Some employees, my supervisor Sara Smith included, will go to the American Red Cross National headquarters in DC to assist with the enormous task of disseminating information about relief efforts through traditional and social media outlets. SEPA expects requests for people with expertise in mental health and other health services. We may also get a request for equipment.

On the ground, emergency responders are working hard to assess the needs of the Moore, Oklahoma community. While crews continue to search for survivors, decisions are being made about the number of shelters to open and the needs of the people in the path of the storm.

OK Tornado 1Here’s what will happen next:

The American Red Cross will assist in opening the necessary shelters. This will allow us to shelter homeless individuals, serve tens of thousands of meals, distribute thousands of personal care comfort kits, and provide hundreds of thousands of materials needed for cleanup efforts such as tarps, ice chests, rakes and cleaning supplies.

We will provide basic first aid and mental health support services to thousands of people injured by the storm.

We will stay for as long as necessary, even if it takes a year or more for the community to get back on its feet.

This is what we do. We are experts at the following:

  • Mass Care – Services are offered to communities or groups of people including sheltering, mass feeding and direct distribution of relief supplies.
  • Family Services – Red Cross caseworkers provide free disaster assistance to individuals and families on a case-by-case basis such as debit cards, used for purchasing clothing, groceries, medication, and other needs.
  • Disaster Health Services Trained nurses and paraprofessional personnel provide emergency and preventative health services to disaster victims and workers. 
  • Disaster Mental Health Services – Trained and licensed workers provide emotional and mental health assessment, supportive counseling, and referrals to those affected by disaster.
  • Welfare Inquiries – The Red Cross acts as a liaison to connect those affected by a disaster with their family members both in and out of the affected area.
  • Spiritual Care –To help heal emotional wounds, trained counselors and clergy are available to meet with victims at disaster scenes and throughout the recovery process.

I know I speak for all Red Cross workers when I say we feel enormously fortunate to be able to help. All our services are free of charge and made possible by the generosity of our donors. Our hearts go out to people of Moore, Oklahoma  and all other communities affected by extreme weather this month. We will do everything possible to ease their burden.

– By Sarah Peterson, volunteer

RCH Sign-31

One can’t help but be moved by the quiet and unassuming miracle that is Red Cross House – the one-of-a-kind short term disaster recovery center that graces University City, on the corner of 40th Street and Powelton Avenue. Although I’ve been volunteering in the Public Affairs Department for more than a year, Tuesday was my first visit to the House. Our group of employees and volunteers was there to help serve lunch to the residents.

After a tour, my co-workers and I quickly got into the spirit of things and, with the help of the kitchen staff, washed hands, donned aprons and positioned hairnets. (Hairnets are a purely utilitarian device – meant to keep one’s pesky hairs from floating down into food. Sadly, they are not for the fashion forward.) However, once “hairnetted” in solidarity, we began welcoming current Red Cross House residents to a satisfying luncheon of lasagna, salad, macaroni and cheese and Salisbury steak. Our chef, Darryl Cook, serves three meals a day to an average of 30 clients. He’s had a very busy late winter as the House had over 100 residents for several weeks at a time. Our luncheon service was quiet by comparison; we served a handful of adults and three beautiful children.  After a short time, we were able to sit down and sample Chef Cook’s food for ourselves. FYI – he makes a mean lasagna.

I’ve heard a lot about Red Cross House in the year I’ve been volunteering, and I’ve written countless blogs and articles that mention its 26 private hotel-style suites, its casework offices, training rooms and counseling services, its outdoor playground and laundry facilities, and its heartbreakingly empty storage lockers. I already knew it was a special place, but I was amazed at the feeling of warmth evident during our visit. The foyer is surrounded by a colorful mural of happy and hopeful Philadelphians and there is cheerful artwork throughout the facility. The rooms are immaculate and private, with separate bathrooms. There is a children’s room, a den with a large television, a comfortable library and an up to date computer center.

RCH Pink Room-21

These amenities make Red Cross House a model facility, not just because it is bright and orderly, but because it communicates tremendous respect for its clientele. The message to people in our area who have suffered a house fire or other disaster is – you matter. You are worthy of our care and concern. You deserve the assistance of your community to get back on your feet and recover. Red Cross House’s recognition of its clients’  humanity and agency, despite their state of desperate need, is why it is successful. I, for one, feel enormously proud that it was built here, in Philadelphia.

Submitted by Communications Volunteer Sarah Peterson

Below is what our volunteer Emery Graham wrote for while deployed with public affairs to Illinois for 10 days helping with flooding there. He’ll post some personal observations in the days ahead.



American Red Cross Southeastern Pennsylvania public affairs volunteer Emery Graham, on deployment, working on an article and his photos at the Illinois flooding Disaster Operations Center

The American Red Cross helps families during the first days after a disaster and continues helping families and communities develop long term recovery plans. In the first few days after the flood waters receded from the Millpoint trailer park, in Sprayland, IL,  debris was everywhere and the Red Cross provided rakes, shovels, and clean up kits to help the families begin to bring order to their surroundings.

Suzanne Neal and Ricardo Colon, Red Cross volunteers, have brought shovels and rakes to Jenny Sarver’s home. Jenny offered her home as  the central pick up point for other families in the area. Jenny’s son Shaun, and his dog Angel, watched as Ricardo brought equipment onto the front porch. Shaun thought the flooded river was fun because he caught lots of fish and his first leopard frog. Jenny showed her appreciation with a big hug for Suzanne.

To date, in the Illinois flood areas, Red Cross volunteers have provided more than 39,000 bulk items  and over 64,000 meals and snacks to affected families and individuals. Your support is vital in this effort and words of appreciation and gratitude are constantly voiced by the many individuals and families helped by your donations.

Illinois flooding couple

Valarie Trigg: ” Thank God for good neighbors. It has been a great help to have a warm meal. It really means a lot that the Red Cross is here.”
Millpoint, Spring Bay, IL

Here’s link to more Illinois flooding photos, including several by Emery.