Hurricane Harvey – Close Up

By David Schoeneck, American Red Cross Volunteer

As the winds, rain, and flooding caused by Hurricane Harvey last week pummeled Southeast Texas, first hundreds, then thousands of residents sought refuge at the George R. Brown Convention Center in downtown Houston. By Tuesday night, August 29, more than 9,400 people had sought shelter at the center, a mammoth 5-block long structure with five large halls covering over half a million square feet.

They came as individuals, as families, as extended families, as neighbors. Often with only the wet clothes on their back, they needed a safe, secure place to stay, dry clothes, a hot meal, and most of all, hope. And the Red Cross was there for them. Working closely with government partners such as the city, the county and the state, Red Cross shelter workers welcomed them in, helped them dry off, fed them a hot meal, and saw to their health needs and concerns.

Dave Schoeneck, Red Cross Volunteer

Where only a few days before, there was an empty cement floor, within 48 hours a village, then a town, then a city of over 10,000 residents sprang up. Neighborhoods developed. One hall was reserved for people with pets, another for families. People of many different heritages and backgrounds from all over Texas were united as survivors of a terrible natural tragedy. All entered this giant “lifeboat” mega-shelter knowing that they would now be safe and cared for.

The Red Cross rushed workers from across the nation to Houston, even before Harvey struck. By the end of the week, more than 2,700 trained disaster workers were on the ground, and another 800 were on the way, along with more than Red Cross 200 emergency relief vehicles. Over 37,000 people stayed in 270 Red Cross and partner shelters across Texas on Saturday.

At the George Brown Shelter, hundreds of local Houstonians reached out to help their neighbors. They sorted donated clothes, provided meals and food service, and rendered medical assistance. Boy Scout troops served up an oatmeal breakfast, and were introduced to folks who live outside of their middle-class neighborhoods.

Stories were shared of rescues by strangers from rising flood waters, as neighborhoods were suddenly inundated. Travel around the area was difficult, as major freeways were under water for several days. Sad stories were also shared of relatives who had tried to drive to safety, but were swept away by the floods. Red Cross Mental health and health services professionals have provided over 11,000 contacts to provide support and care for the evacuees.

Shelter for Hurricane Harvey evacuees

Journalists from all over the world rushed to cover the story, with TV crews based here sending stories and pictures back to networks in countries such as Germany, France, Belgium, Czech Republic, United Kingdom, and Denmark. In addition, all of the national networks, the local and regional television and radio stations, were well represented, as well as many Texas and national newspapers.

While squeezing nearly 10,000 people into one shelter isn’t optimal, everyone there was safe, out of the weather, and had access to hot food and medical assistance. Additional shelters opened up the next day and relieved pressure on the George R. Brown Convention Center shelter.

One survivor summed it all up. When told to make sure she held on to a certain document, as she slide it back into a large manila envelope, she simply said, “Don’t worry. My entire life is in this envelope.”

Back-to-school: 6 Pro Tips for Teachers and Students

Glenna Housman and her family. Photo courtesy of Housman family.

It’s officially that time of year again: back-to-school. We know many of you may be getting your little ones ready for their first day, or settling into the groove of things with classes back in session. It’s a chaotic week for families, students and staff. In an effort to help get your kids prepared and to help prepare teachers, we talked to some experts in education, namely Glenna Housman, a middle school nurse in Virginia.

“We know that when it’s time to get kids ready to come back to school, parents’ lives get a little hectic,” says Glenna. “Staff members tend to rely on parents to share a lot of information about their students, but I think it’s also very important for teachers and school administrators to take certain prep steps, too.”

Here are 6 tips for teachers and students alike to be Red Cross Ready as they embark on the new school year:

Get a Kit

  • Think about emergency preparedness items you don’t already have in your classroom. Some good supplies to have on hand are a flashlight and cell phone charger in case the power goes out. We tend to rely on our technology in times of crisis, especially to communicate.
  • Talk to your school nurse and ask for an extra batch of first aid items like gauze pads and bandages without latex (in case of allergies), for emergencies or if you can’t get to the nurse’s station right away.
  • Know which students have allergies and which ones do not. If you’re a parent, we suggest putting a supply kit together in your student’s backpack. If they have allergies or certain medical needs, be sure to have those things noted for the teacher. If you’re a teacher, have some snacks in your classroom that can be used for kids with allergies or diabetes. Some examples include non-peanut snacks, non-perishables, hard candy. Also be aware of allergies to things like grass or wood chips often found on playgrounds, in case a student has an allergic reaction at recess.

Make a Plan

  • Know where to go for emergencies like a tornado or fire in the cafeteria. Most schools have policies in place and practice drills regularly. If your school doesn’t have these policies already in play, talk to your administrators and staff about how to protect your students.
  • Don’t forget to update your child’s school health records. These records should be updated at the beginning of every school year. Any health care plans signed by the doctors are needed each fall for food allergies, inhalers, diabetics, sickle cell anemia, etc. so teachers and nurses are well-equipped to treat your kids.
  • Talk with your class about what to do in emergencies. Keeping the steps simple and easy to follow will help them remember when you practice.

Be Informed

  • While we hope your school year goes off without a hitch, we know it’s always best to be prepared for whatever may happen.
  • If you’re on top of emergency preparedness, then you’ll be teaching your students a good life skill and making their parents feel better while they’re under your care.
  • If it’s not already, your school could be a Red Cross shelter if disaster strikes. Learn more about how to make your facility a safe space with Red Cross Ready Rating.

This post was originally published on Red Cross Chat and is published on this blog with permission. 

My 35W Bridge Collapse Story – August 1, 2007

David Dahl looks out from a bench where his mother, Kimmy, talks with Red Cross volunteers. Kimmy was driving a school bus with 20 children in it on the I-35W bridge, including David, when it collapsed in 2007. Everyone in the bus survived and no children were injured. Minnesota Red Cross volunteers responded to the I-35W bridge collapse, providing emotional support during the tragedy. Talia Frenkel/American Red Cross

Story by Kathryn Schmidt, Red Cross Volunteer

I was out running errands when I heard of the bridge collapse on the car radio. It had to have been only minutes after it happened. I pulled over and called in to the Red Cross chapter to see if I was needed and was told, “Yes. Come right away.”

I arrived fairly quickly, but I think I was the last vehicle to drive right to the chapter, then the roads were closed off. The Red Cross chapter, being just a couple blocks away from the bridge was already set up as the staging area for all emergency responders, so the parking lot and surrounding roads were filled with police and fire vehicles, including a large mobile office which became their command center.

I went directly into the chapter to a meeting that was just starting, which assigned volunteers to various duties. I was assigned to open a Family Assistance Center, which was to be located in the nearby hotel on Washington Ave, a Holiday Inn at the time. Because of this assignment, I didn’t see more of what took place at the chapter that evening.

A Family Assistance Center is a place of comfort, a place to wait for information, a place to worry until your questions are answered. We had snacks and beverages available, which can help with stress. But mostly we had counselors: both the Red Cross stress team made up of Minnesota licensed psychologists, psychiatrists, social workers, etc. who are specially trained to work with folks stressed by the shock and uncertainty of disasters, and whether their loved ones are okay. Also we had a team of faith-based counselors such as pastors, priests, rabbis, chaplains, for those who find comfort in faith-based support.

My thoughts of this event continue to include: appreciation for the preparedness and actions of first responders and the opportunity to help through the American Red Cross; encouragement for the survivors who continue to struggle with physical and emotional after effects of such a traumatic experience; and hope that our infrastructure is being updated and maintained so this doesn’t happen again.

As family members arrived at the scene looking for loved ones, they were escorted to the hotel to share their story and concerns with a counselor and wait for information. Mostly these were people who knew their loved ones crossed the bridge about that time, generally their usual commute. Or if someone didn’t come home when expected, their family was worried thinking they had been on the bridge.

One by one news arrived that a loved one was safe. Often it was by chance, they stayed at work late, stopped for a beer with a friend, took a different route either hearing the news or by chance. Some who were on the bridge were rescued safely, some taken in ambulances to hospitals, some bodies recovered. People were escorted out of the Family Assistance Center by their counselor, some greatly relieved, some in tears or grief. Over the course of the evening our clients became fewer until there was just one woman left. The divers finally located her husband, at the bottom of the river, a large piece of the bridge on top of him.

It still affects me to think of what she and others went through that night. It was not possible to save every life, but our emergency responders found every single person. The Red Cross continued to support families and first responders for many weeks after the bridge collapse.

Thinking of becoming a Red Cross volunteer? These three opportunities support disaster relief.

Icon Disaster ServicesThis year, are you thinking of becoming a Red Cross volunteer? Right now in Minnesota, we’re recruiting for three opportunities supporting disaster relief. Each position ensures disaster workers can deliver humanitarian aid at home and around the corner. 

Icon DisasterSupport daily operations for disaster relief services
The American Red Cross serving Twin Cities Area seeks a volunteer to support instructor-led training by scheduling in-person classes and performing other administrative tasks, as needed. This is a flexible-schedule position that can be performed remotely during daytime hours. If interested, please contact Angela Antony (angela.antony@redcross.org).

Icon DisasterPrepare new volunteers for Red Cross disaster relief service
The American Red Cross serving Twin Cities Area seeks volunteers to assist Workforce Engagement with bringing on-board new disaster volunteers. This role guides new volunteers through the first steps of joining the Red Cross, from turning in the right paperwork and signing up for training, to helping them feel prepared for their roles. On-boarding volunteers enjoy working with people, being flexible, and serving on a team. If interested, please contact Hannah Linsk (hannah.linsk@redcross.org).

Icon DisasterHelp volunteers get out the door to disaster relief responses
The Minnesota Region needs volunteers to help deploy volunteers to both regional and national disasters. Deployment team members will assign volunteers to Disaster Relief Operations (DROs), give the proper information regarding deployment procedures, distribute mission cards, and perform other duties as necessary. The best candidates will be comfortable working with online platforms and on the telephone. Help us volunteers get out the door! If interested, please contact Susan Waananen (susan.waananen@redcross.org).

rco_blog_img_centenniallogoIt’s a great year to join us! Click here to learn more about our Century of Service, year-long celebration during 2017. #mnredcross100

Post by Lynette Nyman/American Red Cross Minnesota Region

One New Year’s Resolution: Hug me like you know me

Story by Lynette Nyman/American Red Cross Minnesota Region

Some people are Natural Born Huggers. Take Jane. During a recent party, Jane came up to me. “You probably don’t remember me,” she said. I sort of did, but not really. It didn’t matter. She opened her arms wide and wrapped them around me. “Hug me like you know me,” she said.

“I want a hug,” said Fonda Buckley, a resident just beginning to recover from the historic flooding in southern Louisiana, who stopped to talk with Red Cross relief worker Lynette Nyman in Denham Springs, Louisiana, August 18, 2016. Photo credit: Marko Kokic/American Red Cross
“I want a hug,” said Fonda Buckley, a resident just beginning to recover from the historic flooding in southern Louisiana, who stopped to talk with Red Cross relief worker Lynette Nyman in Denham Springs, Louisiana, August 18, 2016. Photo credit: Marko Kokic/American Red Cross

After nearly eight years of responding to Red Cross disaster relief operations where I’ve hugged people of all types, and mostly strangers, Jane’s instruction registered deep in the reptilian part of my brain. My rigid self melted. My heart warmed. Conversation lifted. We became immediate friends. I left the party a different person. The cold winter air felt frosty only on the outside. Inside, I was delighted because people like Jane, people willing to risk closeness with the largely unfamiliar, exist.

In 2011, following a devastating tornado in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, Georgette Evans, who walked miles to find medical services and safe shelter following the devastating tornado, visits with to Lynette Nyman in Alberta City neighborhood. Photo credit: Dennis Drenner/American Red Cross
In 2011, following a devastating tornado in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, Georgette Evans, who walked miles to find medical services and safe shelter following the devastating tornado, visits with to Lynette Nyman in Alberta City neighborhood. Photo credit: Dennis Drenner/American Red Cross

So, this year I’m taking on one New Year’s resolution: to hug you like I know you. I encourage you to do the same. And if, like me, you need practice, serving with the Red Cross is a great way to get it.

Happy New Year!

2016 Year In Disasters — Helping People Near and Far

In November, Red Cross volunteer Mimi Bielinski met with Milton Vallejos after a multi-unit apartment fire in Burnsville, Minnesota.
In November, Red Cross volunteer Mimi Bielinski met with Milton Vallejos after a multi-unit apartment fire in Burnsville, Minnesota.

2016 was a busy year for Red Cross disaster services in Minnesota. Our relief workers did a great job making sure people near and far received Red Cross support during times of need and helping them rebuild their lives after disaster.

For example, in November, Red Cross volunteer Mimi Bielinski met with Milton Vallejos following a multi-unit apartment fire in Burnsville, a city just south of Minneapolis. Mimi worked with Milton to assess and support his family’s immediate disaster relief needs and to direct him to additional resources for long-term recovery. With Red Cross help said Milton, “All of our problems went away. We had a place to stay, money for food and clothes.” The Red Cross assisted more than 80 people affected by the fire. After four years into serving as a Red Cross volunteer Mimi said, “I feel good when people are being helped. And, I can tell when they’re being helped just by my interactions with them.”

During 2016, the Minnesota Region of the American Red Cross:

  • Responded to 470 disasters in the Minnesota Region, which includes part of western Wisconsin
  • Helped 1,011 families affected by local disasters, mostly single family home fires
  • Installed 3,720 smoke alarms in residences, making them safer from and more prepared for home fires as part of our Home Fire Campaign
  • Reached 5,245 youth with emergency preparedness education through The Pillowcase Project

In addition to helping at home, more than 150 Red Cross disaster relief workers from Minnesota responded (some not once, but multiple times) to national Red Cross relief efforts across the country, including flooding in Missouri, Texas, and Louisiana; water crisis in Flint, Michigan; wildfires in California; and hurricane relief across multiple states along the eastern seaboard. Their service provided shelter, food, and medical and emotional support to thousands of people experiencing some of their darkest moments.

Thank you to everyone for the great work done this past year, providing assistance to neighbors near and far.

Story and photo by Lynette Nyman, American Red Cross. Click here to learn more about the Red Cross in Minnesota.  

From Florida to the Carolinas

From Florida to the Carolinas, American Red Cross workers from Minnesota have supported Hurricane Matthew relief efforts. Assignments have ranged from working in a shelter and serving meals to coordinating with response partners and providing medical and mental health services. Others gathered stories and helped raise money for the response. Big picture number as of October 27: more than 50 Red Cross workers from Minnesota have deployed to areas impacted by the storm across the southeastern United States. Take a look.

14712963_10154611990962179_2000084266616440590_oCarole Madland visited people in shelters and neighborhoods in North Carolina. Sometimes she hitched a ride to reach isolated communities. Overall, the Red Cross mobilized 2,200 workers, 13 kitchens with partners, and 111 response vehicles for the state. Big picture number as of October 25: the Red Cross has mobilized more than 5,800 disaster workers since Hurricane Matthew first threatened communities in the southeast.

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Rachel Olmanson took meals to people in affected communities. Above is the view from Rachel’s truck while her team was next in line for food pick-up at a field kitchen in North Carolina. Big picture number as of October 25: the Red Cross and its partners have served more than 1.3 million meals and snacks in affected communities in Florida, Georgia, North Carolina and South Carolina.

 

matthew_daveschoeneckIn Florida, Dave Schoeneck (upper left) assisted with relief effort coordination. The Red Cross has worked closely with government officials and non-government organizations (NGOs), such as Southern Baptist Disaster Relief, AmeriCorps National Civilian Community Corps and others. Big picture number: around 13,000 homes are affected in Florida, Georgia, North Carolina and South Carolina.

 

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In South Carolina, Dave Snetsinger (second on right) was a shelter worker. Overall, the Red Cross has had nearly 1,200 workers, 5 kitchens with partners, and 53 response vehicles for relief efforts in the state. Big picture number as of October 25: the Red Cross has helped provide nearly 100,000 overnight shelter stays in Florida, Georgia, North Carolina and South Carolina.

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Mark and Gail Noren (right and center) are doing search and care, which means finding neighborhoods and people in need of meals and feeding them in North Carolina. Big picture number as of October 25: Red Cross and its partners have served 697,000 meals and snacks across hurricane affected areas in the state.

 

a9r13mhx5w_h375qp_a98-2In Georgia, Judy Hanne Gonzalez helped gather and share stories about the Red Cross and its Hurricane Matthew relief efforts. Judy also assisted with fundraising in Florida. Big picture number: as of October 25, the Red Cross has raised $8.1 million in designated donations and pledges for a relief response that’s estimated to cost $24-$28 million.

Thank you to everyone who has responded to the Hurricane Matthew relief efforts!