Tag Archives: tornado

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)

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


On Saturday June 2, 2012 I participated in a shelter drill in Chester County at the Avon Grove High School.  In addition to representatives from various partner agencies, I was surrounded by friends in red vests.  They were American Red Cross volunteers from the surrounding counties, all there to participate in a complex drill involving opening a shelter for theoretical tornado victims in Chester county.  They gave up a Saturday to start early in the day, preparing the high school, loading in supplies, establishing assignments and chains of command, and in theory, preparing for the worst.  They might have been preparing to welcome friends and neighbors, but most likely they were there to help people they had never even met.  Things got into gear once the pretend clients started arriving, lining up to be registered, triaged, assisted, and in many cases hugged and welcomed.

That’s the way it’s done.  People you have never met and don’t know become your temporary responsibility while they sort out their lives and take the next small steps towards recovery.  The volunteers were there to learn, practice and keep their skills sharpened for the unwelcome day when reality will turn the drill into a disaster with an official American Red Cross DR number.  Interestingly enough, Friday evening saw inclement weather blanket the area, there were tornado watches and warnings, and enough possible uncertainty to make some of us wonder if we might be called out a little earlier than the original 8:00AM start time.  But thankfully, it remained a drill, and I personally had the opportunity to both learn and teach, meet some old friends and acquaintances, and make some new ones.  Some of my best friends wear red vests.  Some of yours do too.

Submission by: Joseph Luczkowski

The Southeastern Pennsylvania Red Cross is holding a Tornado Readiness Drill in Chester County this weekend.

Wow. . . . really?!

When I was a kid growing up in the Philadelphia region we didn’t talk much about tornadoes. These strange, powerful, spiraling storms were something that happened to other people in some distant part of our land, or better yet, a magical force that dropped a house on a Wicked Witch in the Wizard of Oz.

I maintained this state of blissful ignorance until 2005, when a Microburst (an extreme weather event similar to a tornado), dropped about 35 ancient trees in our town in northern New Jersey. Trees came down on several houses, on almost every main road and on power lines. It took only five minutes of extreme summer weather to make an idyllic suburban landscape treacherous for everyone and impenetrable for emergency responders.

Tornadoes popped up in some unusual places in the summer of 2011. One roared down the main street of Springfield, Massachusetts in the first few days of June. You read that right, my friends – Massachusetts. It was one of 19 tornadoes in New England that day. Four people were killed in those storms. On May 19th, 2011, in Northeast Philadelphia, a tornado touched down in the mid-afternoon with 75 mile per hour winds and a 100 by 300 ft. path of destruction.

The Southeastern Pennsylvania Red Cross takes the increased threat of tornadoes in our region very seriously. We strive to prevent disasters, prepare for their aftermath and alleviate the suffering of victims. In order to succeed, we must practice. We do so by conducting Readiness Drills at locations in our vicinity that may need assistance in the event of a weather related emergency. To this end, we will conduct a Tornado Readiness Drill on Saturday, June 2 at Avon Grove High School in West Grove, Pa. between 8 a.m. and 3 p.m. The Chester County Department of Emergency Services, Chester County Animal Response Team, Medical Reserve Corps, and Chester County Food Bank, will take part in training volunteers to respond to a hypothetical severe tornado where homes and businesses are destroyed and hundreds of people need a safe place to go.

Last year, a hurricane readiness drill (pictures above) proved invaluable when Hurricane Irene hit our region in August. Participants who practiced critical disaster relief skills like sheltering, food distribution, providing basic medical and childcare needs, caring for pets, and overall disaster response decision making were better able to anticipate problems and meet the needs of those affected. Although these are weather based drills, they help us practice our response to any large scale disaster.

If you are one of our generous donors, you not only support our response to disasters, your donation also helps us prepare for events we don’t know about yet. We could not hold these practice drills without your contributions and we are so grateful for your support of our efforts to be better prepared in the event of an emergency.

If last year, and indeed the last 10 years are any indication, tornadoes are no longer something that Philadelphia area children wonder about in ignorance. They are now part of our world. The Southeastern Pennsylvania Red Cross will be there, and with the knowledge we gain from preparedness drills like the one in Chester County this weekend, we will be ready.


“Imagine a path of destruction a mile wide along City Avenue from  the Schuylkill Expressway to West Chester Pike.” (about a seven mile stretch)

That’s how I often characterized to Philadelphians what Joplin was like a day after an EF 5 tornado tore through the town. Even that though doesn’t truly do the destruction justice. If your home or business was in the path of the tornado, it got destroyed. Not just damaged, but destroyed. The tornado spared nothing. I wrote about my experience one year ago in a series of blog posts.

So today being the one year anniversary of that tornado, I wanted to share a few thoughts.

First, I am struck by the immense progress that has been made in such a short amount of time in Joplin. I’ve been following the progress via twitter and online. It’s remarkable how resilient people there are. Sure there is still plenty to do, but by most accounts 65-80% of businesses, homes, and government buildings have been rebuilt. Schools and playgrounds that were wiped out one year ago, once again are home to children.  (USAToday article about Joplin now)

Of course the physical wounds are sometimes much easier to fix than the emotional ones. No doubt, Joplin residents are still scarred by what happened and won’t ever forget it. But they aren’t dwelling on it. Even within hours after the tornado hit, people who lost homes, businesses, even loved ones, were helping others. Spending most of my life on the East Coast, the worst I’ve ever endured was a blizzard or mild hurricane. In general, we don’t live in fear of our entire city being blown off the map. Unfortunately I haven’t had the opportunity yet to return to Joplin, but based on what I’ve read and what  I’ve heard from the many people I’ve spoken to there, the people of Joplin are determined to rebuild a better city than the one nature destroyed. There is no manual on what to do. They have to figure it out as they go. But, they know it can’t be done alone. Joplin’s victims have to rely on family, friends, and total strangers. (CBS News story about anniversary in Joplin) For my own part, I will forever be changed by witnessing the human spirit’s ability to endure.

Professionally, Joplin was the most rewarding week I have ever been through. In my role with public affairs, it wasn’t my job to set up cots, hand out supplies, or provide grief counseling. The three other SEPA Chapter workers deployed to Joplin with me provided those other vital roles, along with hundreds of other Red Cross workers. I was there to help get the word out to the people of Joplin and to the country at large about where to get help and how to give help. It’s a role I was proud to serve. I apply what I saw and learned in Joplin to everything I do with the Red Cross now. The impact is that lasting and that meaningful. (click here to watch brief video about SEPA’s role in Joplin)

I met some amazing people. I met a woman in her 90s who narrowly escaped being swept up by the tornado as she made it to a basement just in time. I met a Red Cross volunteer who lost two loved ones in the tornado, but was still at the shelter every day to help others. I met countless of people who were lucky to be alive, but fearful of the future. I got to witness several families, separated by the tornado and fearing the worst, get reunited at the Red Cross shelter.

So as I look back at Joplin one year later, I am still heartbroken by what happened there. But I am also heartened by how a city and a country came together under horrific circumstances. I am especially proud of the Red Cross, the only agency able to care for so many people for so long.

I will continue to keep the people of Joplin in my thoughts and prayers. I ask that you do too.