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By: Kathy Huston

It’s Black History Month and we wanted to celebrate an honored member, and leader within our Eastern Pennsylvania Region, Gregory L. Smith.  

Smith has a long history of dedication to the American Red Cross, which started in 1992 as a volunteer. Since then, Smith has worked his way to his current role as Regional Disaster Program Officer for the Eastern PA Region, headquartered in Philadelphia.  

“In this role, I am the lead employee responsible for preparedness, readiness, response and recovery activities for the 17 counties that comprise the region’s territory,” Smith said. 

Smith has held a number of titles during his years of service, including Disaster Cycle Service supervisor, manager and director in Northern California, Columbus, OH and Philadelphia, PA, and at the national headquarters, where he also served as the VP of Volunteers, Youth and Nursing Programs from 2000 through 2002.  

Over the past two decades, Smith has seen his fair share of major disasters. His wealth of information and knowledge come, in part, from deployments to support major disaster relief operations across the country, including the North Ridge earthquake, hurricanes Fran, Ike, Katrina, Sandy, Harvey, Matthew and Florence, and tornados in Moore, OK and Joplin, MO. He was also on the scene for the relief efforts that followed 9/11 in New York City.   

During the month of February, when we reflect on the contributions of African Americans and the cultural richness and diversity of our country, Smith explains why honoring diversity and inclusiveness ultimately helps the organization succeed in following through on its mission.  

“Diversity is vital for the American Red Cross, because we must reflect the diverse communities we serve, whether translating the care and concerns of our donors into actions, or engaging volunteers in the delivery of our services,” he said.  

In talking to him, it’s clear that Smith is motivated by the impacts he has made, and continues to make, on individuals, families and communities, as they prepare for, respond to and recover from disasters and emergencies.  

“My greatest motivation is that I can engage and support community volunteers in these efforts,” he notes. 

For Smith, black history is a year-round celebration, as is his determination to carry out his unwavering service to the American Red Cross. 

 “I do my best every single day to demonstrate that you can look like me and not only deliver the Red Cross mission, but be a leader in the movement as well,” he said. 

Smith’s dedication and commitment to making a positive impact on the communities he serves is certainly an example we can all look up to.  

September is National Preparedness Month, the perfect time to get your household ready for an emergency. The American Red Cross Eastern PA urges everyone to make sure they are prepared for a disaster and not wait until an emergency occurs and it’s too late.

“This is the time of year when hurricanes, floods, wildfires and other large disasters can happen,” said Guy Triano, CEO of Red Cross Eastern PA region “You should take steps now to be ready if an emergency occurs. It’s critical that all members of your household know what to do.”

BE READY TO EVACUATE Whether the emergency is a home fire or something bigger like a hurricane, the situation may force you to leave your home. There are ten steps you can take now to be prepared if the emergency makes it unsafe to remain at home:

  1. Follow the instructions of officials and evacuate if told to do so.
  2. Leave early enough to avoid being trapped by severe weather.
  3. Remember you may have to get out on foot depending on the type of disaster. If you don’t have a car, or can’t use your vehicle, plan on how you will leave the area.
  4. If you have a car, keep the gas tank full if an evacuation order is possible. Don’t let the tank go below half full in case gas stations are unable to pump gas.
  5. Decide where you would go and what route you would take to get there. This could be a motel, the home of a friend or relative a safe distance away, or an evacuation shelter. Download the free Red Cross Emergency App to find shelter information and weather and emergency alerts for more than 35 different situations.
  6. If you have time, let someone out of the region know you are evacuating and where you are going. Leave a note saying when you left and where you plan to go.
  7. Wear sturdy shoes and clothing that provides some protection.
  8. Be alert for road hazards such as downed trees, flooding, etc. Do not drive onto a flooded road.
  9. Practice evacuating your home twice a year. Grab your emergency kit and drive your planned evacuation route. Include an alternate route in a different direction in case one is impassible. Make sure you have locations and maps saved on devices such as cell phones and GPS units and on paper.
  10. Don’t forget your pets. If it’s not safe for you to stay home, it’s not safe for them either. Prepare a phone list of pet-friendly motels and animal shelters located along your evacuation route. Keep in mind only service animals are usually allowed in shelters

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THREE EASY STEPS Getting prepared is easier than it sounds. There are three basic steps:

  • GET A KIT. Pack the following items in an easy-to-carry container – a gallon of water per person, per day; non-perishable food; flashlight and hand-crank or battery-powered radio; extra batteries; sanitation and personal hygiene items; copies of important papers; extra cash and any medical or baby supplies family members may need. See full details here.
  • MAKE A PLAN. Have all members of your household help devise your emergency plan. Consider what emergencies could happen where you live; what to do if you are separated and how will you let loved ones know you are safe. Find full details and easy-to-use plan templates here.
  • BE INFORMED. Learn what disasters are common to your area. Find out how local authorities will let you know an emergency is happening. Make sure at least one household member is trained in first aid and CPR in case help is delayed during a disaster. You can also download the Red Cross First Aid App at redcross.org/apps to have instant access on how to handle common first aid emergencies. Learn how to get fully informed about emergencies here.

Written by Bryan Myers

Flooding has been a major concern throughout Pennsylvania this summer, especially in the Central and Eastern parts of the state. After several rounds of thunderstorm on August 13th, communities began to flood and houses became inundated with water. Montgomery County’s Department of Public Safety reported that the Pennsylvania Turnpike was closed between Valley Forge and Norristown. The Schuylkill Expressway and PA Turnpike were also shut down due to flooding in the county. Portions of Berks, Delaware, Lackawanna, Schuylkill, Susquehanna and Wyoming counties were particularly hard hit.

The Red Cross responded to the historic flooding in Delaware County by opening an evacuation center at the Darby Recreation Center for flood victims. Throughout the region, dozens of people fled the floodwaters into Red Cross shelters, which were opened in coordination with community partners.

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As water levels receded, the Red Cross focus shifted to distributing emergency supplies, serving meals and working one on one with affected families.  In the first week alone, Red Cross volunteers served more than 2,100 meals and snacks and distributed hundreds of clean up kits and other flood related supplies.

Five emergency response vehicles were deployed to the hardest-hit areas where volunteers could hand out food and emergency supplies door to door. Disaster Assessment teams were sent out to traverse neighborhoods while caseworkers went door to door to talk with affected families, providing more than 75 of them with assistance.

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To be prepared for flood emergencies, the Red Cross recommends assembling an emergency preparedness kit and creating a household evacuation plan. You should ensure that you have access to NOAA radio broadcasts and keep insurance policies in a safe-deposit box or with pictures on a flash drive. Remember to take precautionary measures for your pets by downloading the Red Cross Pet First Aid app.

Home protections might include raising your water heater or electric panels to higher floors, the addition of flood barriers around your house and waterproofing the walls in your basement. Check with your local municipality about the availability of sandbags prior to a flood watch or warning.

You can read more about flood safety from the Red Cross by visiting the Red Cross Flood Safety website. Stay up to date with the latest alerts with the Red Cross Emergency App for iPhone or Android.

Philadelphia’s Office of Emergency Management offers flood safety awareness with an outline of flooding hazards. At the state and federal level, a Pennsylvania Flooding Recovery Guide is also available.

Written by Marquee Brown

Many people do not know the proper procedures for managing a crisis, which can result in injuries or death. The Red Cross of Eastern Pennsylvania sponsors Camp Save-A-Life each summer to teach kids ages 10 to 14 the proper way to handle disasters. The camp runs for seven weeks with a new group of campers every week. Participants become certified in CPR and First Aid while having fun and making new friends.

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The children were shy upon arrival the first day. That was short lived once the counselors started group games to get the campers comfortable. By lunchtime, the kids were formed into groups and conversing as though they’ve known each other for years. The camp counselors were engaged and passionate as well. Many have been leading the camp for years. When asked why they kept returning, every answer was the same- for the children, they enjoy watching them develop skills and get involved in activities. Each counselor had a story about the emotional impact of seeing kids take on new responsibilities.

The camp creates a fun and competitive environment by dividing the kids into groups of six, with relevant names like lightning, hurricane, fire, tornado, flood and earthquake. They even have a student of the week who receives a disaster preparedness backpack full of emergency tools on the last day of the program.

IMG_1502On the first day, the children were introduced to firemen of the Philadelphia Fire Department and taught how to use the hose on a fire truck. They are reminded to have an escape plan in case of fire at home.

Over the course of the week, the children were taught different kinds of disaster preparedness. Lesson modules included Military 101, Conflict Resolution, CPR, Disaster Preparedness, and First Aid. According to a study by the US Department of Homeland Security, sixty percent of Americans have not practiced what to do in the event of a disaster. The American Heart Association found that less than twenty percent of Americans are equipped to perform CPR in emergency situations. One can only imagine the number of injuries and lives that could be saved if everyone was properly informed. Camp Save-a-Life spreads this knowledge to youth who can take the lead in informing their friends and families.

For the camper, their parents and the camp counselors, being a part of the Save-a-Life program is an experience that is both fun and practical.

Written by David Haas

For four days in June, volunteers and employees of Eastern Pennsylvania Red Cross received extensive training as part of the yearly Disaster Institute.  Held on the campus of Lehigh Carbon Community College (LCCC), more that 140 individuals participated in 45 classes ranging from Forklift Fundamentals to Mass Casualty Incident Response.

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The purpose of the Institute, according to Kate Crowley, Institute Director and Mass Care Regional Program Lead, is to provide Red Crossers with the opportunity to add Group Activity Position (GAP) skills to their disaster deployment capabilities. There are more than 50 GAP skills needed by the Red Cross to support large scale disaster response, including communications, financial support, mass feeding, shelter management, and spiritual care.

In the area of shelter management, for example, Robert Schmidt and Carol Aldridge took more than a dozen participants through a full day of training on the fundamentals of operating a shelter including resourcing, operation, and management of the housing, feeding and safety of shelter guests. This was followed by a second day of hands-on shelter simulation covering the management of guest registration, feeding, and sleeping.

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Other full-day training sessions covered the Red Cross Concept of Operations, Excel skills, and Supervising the Workforce.

Another purpose of the workshop, according to Janice Winston, leader of workshops on Collaboration and Government Operations, is to give Red Crossers a chance to get to know each other.  With more than 3,000 volunteers in the region working in very diverse areas, it can be difficult to connect with others. During events organized by staff and volunteers, the group participated in a BBQ cookout, softball game, and other events.

To see more pictures, visit http://bit.ly/2M3mzAc

By: Elizabeth McLaren

One phone call can determine the entire course of Red Cross DAT Responder Elizabeth Stinson’s day. As part of the Disaster Action Team (DAT) in Chester County, Pennsylvania, Stinson knows her circumstances can change in an instant, just as they did on November 16, 2017. News of a five-alarm fire with possible injuries and fatalities at the Barclay Friends Senior Center in West Chester jarred her awake.

“I had fallen asleep on my couch,” Stinson said. “I got the call, got myself together and went.”

Stinson was on the scene of the Barclay fire for over 12 hours, supporting other local emergency responders and Barclay facility staff who were transporting clients to nearby senior and assisted living centers, and reuniting clients with family members. The relief efforts on the ground involved many moving parts. Stinson saw first-hand how small details can matter the most. “It was all about compassionate care. One of the volunteers went out to buy applesauce so patients could take their medicine.”

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Of the experiences Stinson has witnessed during her 419 hours logged as a DAT Responder, and close to 1,300 hours on call, the Barclay fire continues to stick with her. “It was the most rewarding experience I had with the Red Cross. I had no idea going into it how large the fire was or the type of people impacted. When I saw the clientele, we wanted to just keep them warm.”

Stinson helps with Red Cross workforce engagement on the days when she’s not involved with disaster response. She coordinates with Volunteer Services to introduce interested Red Cross volunteers to the many responsibilities of DAT Responders. Stinson helps with Red Cross initiatives such as the Home Fire Campaign and the Pillow Case Project, working towards community engagement for volunteers. She is also part of the committee organizing the Red Cross Disaster Institute offering classes to train DAT Responders. With her many efforts, she keeps one main approach in mind, both for herself and for potential volunteers.

“There’s no typical day at the Red Cross. Every day is different. I think that’s what I like about it. Each day is a new and unique set of challenges. Sometimes it’s routine like updating data and records, but it’s always different.”

Stinson believes that this variety adds value not only to her role, but also to her daily life. “Every experience is something to add to your toolkit. They’re all learning experiences. It’s [about] being a better human being. You get out there and you realize not everyone’s as fortunate as you.”

Written by: David Haas

In 2017, the American Red Cross worked harder than ever in its mission “to prevent and alleviate human suffering in the face of emergencies by mobilizing the power of volunteers.’

This year Red Crossers delivered more food, relief supplies and shelter stays than the last four years combined. Eastern Pennsylvania volunteers supported many of these efforts, including volunteer deployments for back-to-back-to-back-to-back hurricanes — Harvey, Irma, Maria and Nate – the deadliest week of wildfires in California history, and the deadliest mass shooting in U.S. history in Las Vegas. Learn more about the value of your contribution to 2017 disaster work in this video.

As 2017 comes to a close, Eastern PA Red Cross leaders are preparing a response plan for the devastating and quick-moving wildfires in Southern California, ready to assist local Red Crossers who are opening shelters, and providing food, comfort, and a safe place for thousands of residents displaced from their homes.

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The 2017 National Red Cross statistics are staggering.  More than 56,000 disaster workers — 92 percent volunteers — provided help to people affected by 242 significant disasters in 45 states and three territories. This year, the need for emergency shelter soared, with the Red Cross providing twice as many overnight stays than it did during the past four years combined. The Red Cross:

  • Opened 1,100 emergency shelters to provide 658,000 overnight stays
  • Served 13.6 million meals and snacks
  • Distributed 7 million relief items
  • Provided 267,000 health and mental health contacts
  • Supported 624,000 households with recovery assistance

Altogether, Red Cross emergency response vehicles traveled 2.5 million miles to deliver food, relief supplies and support to communities affected by disasters. That’s the same as driving around Earth 103 times.

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“There was someone every step of the way with a red vest on letting us know everything was going to be okay,” said Houston-resident Tabitha Barnes, who received Red Cross services after Hurricane Harvey flooded her home.

As volunteers in this region know, the most common disaster is not a hurricane or flood, but rather a home fire. There were nearly 50,000 home fires in the US this year which required Red Cross assistance, and caseworkers helped 76,000 affected families to recover.  Eastern PA volunteers respond quickly to local fires, including multiple teams that responded to the November 17th fire at the Barclay Friends Senior Living Community in West Chester where 140 people were evacuated. Dozens of people wrapped in blankets and sitting in wheelchairs were seen in news reports and being served by the Red Cross at a shelter nearby. The Red Cross House in Philadelphia is another unique resource available to help families and individuals get back on their feet after a house fire with temporary stays.

Eastern PA volunteers also support the Red Cross Home Fire Campaign, working to help prevent home fires and save lives. Since the Campaign launched in 2014, 303 lives have been saved, more than 1 million smoke alarms have been installed, and 940,000 youth have been taught about the importance of fire safety. Hear from Rosie Saunders how having a working smoke alarm saved her daughter’s life: https://vimeo.com/229324955.

And if you have not done so yet, consider donating blood at year-end when donations decline because of the holidays. Also consider a year-end financial donation. An average of 91 cents of every donated dollar goes to providing food, shelter, relief supplies, emotional support and other assistance, as well as supporting the vehicles, warehouses, technology and people that make help possible.

Red Cross Volunteer Spotlight

Michael McCall Highlight

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1-Can you briefly describe your volunteer role as a Disaster Dispatch with Red Cross, and the primary responsibilities of that role?

I act as a communication link; my primary goal is to connect individuals impacted by fires, floods, and natural disasters with Red Cross First Responders. I gather pertinent details regarding each client’s unique situation, and then relay this information to the appropriate local Red Cross team members.

Unfortunately, there is disconnect with the public regarding our mission, and the specific services that we provide so I often receive calls that are out of our purview. That being said, my second responsibility is to act as a human services referral system. I recommend emergency shelters, food banks and utility assistance programs when needed. We endeavor to help all callers, no matter what their reason for calling.

2-How long have you been a disaster dispatcher?

I’ve been a volunteer for the Red Cross since August of 2012. I’m currently volunteering approximately 15-20 hours per week.

3-What made you volunteer for the Red Cross?

I’ve volunteered practically my entire life. First as a Special Olympics Basketball Coach and then as Firefighter. I believe it’s important to give back to your community. I prefer getting my hands dirty versus writing a check, it’s all about sweat equity in my opinion. I was originally attracted to Red Cross because I liked the idea of deployment during an emergency crisis. However, my volunteer path took me in a different direction. During an introductory tour of the building during orientation, I was exposed to our emergency communications department. I was impressed right away and thought that this is something that I good be good at. Its five years later and I haven’t looked back. I love what I do and making a difference in the lives of our clients and the community.

4-What are things you have learned since volunteering for the Red Cross which you didn’t know before?

I always held the ARC in high regard, but since volunteering, what blows me away every day is the passion and commitment of my fellow team members.

5-What is your favorite part of volunteering?

Helping people is the best part of volunteering. Being able to tell someone, don’t worry, we’re going to get you and your family the help you need is an amazing feeling.

6-What is your least favorite part of volunteering?

If you asked me a year ago, I would have told you our technology, specifically our hardware and software. However, in the last 12 months, we’ve gone through several upgrades starting with a new software program, RC View, to new computers. Though there is still room for improvement, we’ve come a long way just in just one year.

7-How would you encourage someone considering a volunteer position to get information on the position?

I often suggest potential volunteers request informational interviews with a current volunteer or manager. I also urge new volunteers to be patient. The Red Cross takes pride in ensuring all new volunteers are vetted and properly screened. The application process takes time. This is done to guarantee the safety of our clients. First start with the on-line application process is very easy to navigate.

8-Can you describe a particular dispatch situation which influenced you most and why?

I signed up to work Christmas Eve last year and I kept receiving calls from parents that didn’t have any money to buy their children gifts. Not wanting to turn them away empty handed, I searched on-line for any local toy drive giveaways. Unfortunately, in many cases I was coming up empty. The last call of the day, was no different, the mother told me that she was desperate to find a way to buy her little girl something to open the next day and it was at this point I realized that I had a $50 Visa Gift Card that I received for my birthday from my sister just a week before was in my wallet. I told the caller that if she could make to the office that she could have the gift card. 30 minutes later the mother and daughter were at our front door. The mother was so thankful and appreciative. The smile on their faces was the best gift I could ever have received.

 

Written by: Lisa Tomarelli

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By Caroline Hroncich, American Red Cross Volunteer and Villanova student

As a senior in college, I have come to think of this time in my life as a stepping-stone between childhood and adulthood. You are given freedom, but are not yet required to be completely independent. We often don’t realize how much we rely on our universities to provide us with essentials. Personally, I did not realize how much I relied on my school until Superstorm Sandy hit.

Until Sandy, I had never thought about what I would do in the face of a disaster at college. I have distinct memories of my 19-year-old self, perched atop my bunk bed, listening to rain pound the window. The lights flickered frequently, threatening to die; all I had to eat was a bag of tortilla chips. I was completely unprepared. The school lost power, the dining hall could not be kept open, and my friends and I found ourselves confined to our dorm rooms while the storm raged around us. After talking to my friends who attend other universities, I realized this was not an uncommon experience.

While universities are equipped to deal with disasters, it is equally as important for students to prepare. During my junior year, a major snowstorm hit, leaving me (I was now living in an on-campus apartment) without power. Being without light meant there was a mad rush to purchase battery-powered lamps, leaving many students without alternative options to light their apartments. I lost most of my refrigerated food. The school urged everyone to go home, but since I did not live a convenient distance, that was not an option. A few of my friends considered going to a nearby hotel for the night.

rco_blog_img_CollegePrepAs a freshman, I laughed at my parents when they insisted I keep things like a flashlight in my dorm room. Now I realize how truly important those things are. Keeping items like a flashlight, extra batteries and a small portable lamp in your dorm are essential when it comes to emergency preparedness. Even food is important to keep in your room, just in case the dining halls are unable to serve you. My experience has definitely taught me that as we go about our busy college lives it’s important to stop for a second and think about if we are truly prepared.

— Cross-posted from the American Red Cross of Greater New York’s Blog

 

 

 

I am currently serving as an AmeriCorps member at the American Red Cross Southeastern Pennsylvania.  Our year of service is quickly coming to a close and we are already in our last rotations. I will be finishing out my year with the communications department, but I would like to use this blog post to reflect on my rotation at Red Cross House.  Going in I knew very little about what my days would look like.  I knew the statistics, but what I didn't know was all the work that goes on over there. The caseworkers spend many hours helping residents who are staying at Red Cross House following a disaster find assistance and residents spend many hours searching for a new place to live. Anyone who has looked for an apartment or house knows how stressful the process is, but imagine adding that to the stress of just having lost your home and belongings. When families first enter Red Cross House it is not uncommon for them to be overwhelmed. They have a daunting journey ahead of them. Soon, typically the day after they enter, they will sit down with their caseworker.  The trained caseworkers go over what the family lost, what their recovery plans are, and what the next steps should be.  After this first meeting you often can see that the family is visibly more relaxed, because they now at least have an idea of what to do to get back into a home.  The road ahead is still difficult, but they have a sense of control again.

Residents also take classes while staying at Red Cross House.  Some classes offer practical knowledge, such as fire safety and financial literacy, while other activities are ways for the residents to have fun and decompress, such as yoga class or getting a free haircut. None of these classes would happen without our volunteers and financial supporters. In fact, Red Cross House would not run smoothly without the many volunteers who help at the front desk, serve lunch, teach classes, and offer counseling services, or the financial support to help keep the place looking nice.

One of the things about Red Cross House that stands out to me the most is how quickly residents form bonds with each other. After all, no one understands what you're going through better than the people staying down the hall. It was not uncommon to see people sit down at lunch together and start talking about what had brought them to the house.  Soon you would see them checking in on each other, and sometimes even helping each other look for a new place to live. I believe that the sense of community is one of the first things that helps people on their road to recovery, because they are reminded that they are not alone, and they see others who were in the same place as them moving back into a home.

Working at Red Cross House showed me how resilient the people of Philadelphia are.  All of the residents staying there were going through a very challenging period, but they all continued to move forward and do what needed to be done to get them back into a forever home. ​In the meantime, Red Cross House stands ready to act as home whenever needed. Learn more about Red Cross House. - Submitted by Megan Wood, AmeriCorps NPRC Member