Full-scale exercise readies Red Cross and its partners for disaster response

Story by Dan Williams, Executive Director, American Red Cross serving Northern Minnesota

Vigilant Guard disaster response exercise, Duluth, MN, 2015. Photo credit: Jon Snyder.
Vigilant Guard disaster response exercise, Duluth, MN, 2015. Photo credit: Dan Williams.

Disaster response training is serious business for a wide range of players. Government, military, hospitals, schools, and non-profit organizations, such as the American Red Cross, are among them. On August 24 and 25 in Duluth, Minnesota, the Red Cross and several partners got deep-in-the-weeds serious for Vigilant Guard 2015, a full-scale disaster response 4 years in the making.

According to the Minnesota National Guard, “Vigilant Guard is a United States Northern Command and National Guard Bureau sponsored exercise program. The program provides an opportunity for the State of Minnesota to improve emergency coordination, response and recovery management with federal, regional, local, civilian and military partners. The citizens of Minnesota depend on state and federal agencies to work together to prevent, protect, respond and recover from disasters. Together, we provide the capabilities to save lives, protect property and the environment, and meet basic human needs after an incident has occurred. Vigilant Guard is a rare training opportunity that greatly supports everyone–both participants and the citizens we serve.”

The mock disasters for Vigilant Guard were straight line winds causing severe damage to Hermantown, Proctor and the Duluth Hillside; a railway chemical spill; and a ship destroying the Blatnik Bridge spanning the bay between Duluth and Superior. The Red Cross role in the exercise was to establish a shelter at the Duluth Entertainment and Convention Center (DECC), which is a designated Red Cross shelter location for a real, large-scale disaster response.

Red Cross volunteers set-up a mock shelter during the Vigilant Guard at the convention center in Duluth, Minn., August 24, 2015. Photo credit: Jonathan Snyder.
Red Cross volunteers off load supplies for a mock shelter during the Vigilant Guard at the convention center in Duluth, Minn., August 24, 2015. Photo credit: Jonathan Snyder.

On Monday at the Red Cross chapter office in Duluth, 35 public health nurses from 7 Counties, one Native American tribe, the Medical Reserve Corps and the Minnesota Department of Health took training on how to provide nursing services in a disaster shelter. At the same time, more than 35 Red Cross volunteers and others from partner organizations conducted a training on how to stand-up a disaster shelter. The training ranged from setting up cots and doing registration to ensuring client safety and securing shelter resources. Red Cross volunteers from across Minnesota were represented.

That evening, Red Cross volunteers had the mock shelter up and running. Their effort added to individual expertise as well as response capacity state-wide. At the end of the day, more than 25 participants stayed at the shelter as if they were people displaced by disaster. They needed their sleep, as the next day they would operate the shelter for community members who were invited to come to the shelter as evacuees and register as if they would be staying there, which was an important part of the exercise. One FOX21 story put it this way:

It will offer an opportunity for Red Cross volunteers, new and old, to test their skills when disaster strikes. “Tomorrow is the day to make mistakes. I always tell people the key word is disaster…We take care of people in the time of disaster small or big,” said Red Cross Disaster Program Manager Tony Guerra.

Red Cross volunteers operated a mock shelter to support the Vigilant Guard disaster response exercise, August 2015. Photo credit: Dan Williams.
Red Cross volunteers operated a mock shelter to support the Vigilant Guard disaster response exercise, August 2015. Photo credit: Dan Williams.

On Tuesday, day two, starting at 7:00 a.m., the Salvation Army began serving breakfast, just as they might during a disaster response in the area. Then, at 8:30 a.m., community members began arriving to register for staying at the shelter. More than 130 community members gave their time to test the newly trained shelter staff! Some went through the registration line multiple times to simulate an even larger group of evacuees. As an important part of the training, community members with functional needs were invited to participate and we were grateful for their participation. People with hearing and sight impairment, as well as those with service animals, put the participants in a great position to use their training. A Duluth News Tribune story put it this way:

Red Cross volunteer Karen Campion oversees the sign-in process prior to setting up a mock shelter at the convention center in Duluth, Minn., during the Vigilant Guard disaster training exercise, August. 24, 2015. Photo credit: Jonathan Snyder.
Red Cross volunteer Karen Campion oversees the sign-in process prior to setting up a mock shelter at the convention center in Duluth, Minn., during the Vigilant Guard disaster training exercise, August. 24, 2015. Photo credit: Jonathan Snyder.

Other volunteers provided different training opportunities. Jack Bender, who is hearing impaired and communicated through an interpreter, said his participation in the event allowed workers to learn how to help deaf people. “I have to say that they did a really good job handling our communication needs,” Bender said. “There were a few Red Cross workers that knew some basic sign language and finger-spelling, and they were able to help start triaging … until the interpreter arrived.”

We’re also grateful for three new University of Wisconsin-Superior international students who came to the shelter as well and gave the volunteers a chance to use language translation materials the Red Cross uses in shelters.

As a part of the military component of Vigilant Guard 2015, a group of distinguished visitors toured Camp Ripley in Little Falls and the convention center in Duluth where full-scale exercise was taking place. As part of that visit, Phil Hansen, CEO of the American Red Cross Minnesota Region, as well as Regional Board Chair Lori McDougal and Vice Chair Joan Thompson, were able to visit the mock shelter exercise in Duluth. They met many of the volunteers who set up the shelter and several of the Red Cross nurses who trained during the exercise.  Phil, Lori and Joan were impressed with the commitment of the volunteers as well as the close working relationship between the Red Cross and our military partners.

The Minnesota National Guard presented a certificate following the Vigilant Guard disaster response exercise in Duluth, Minn., August 2015. Photo credit: Joan Thompson.
The Minnesota National Guard presented an award of service to the Red Cross following the Vigilant Guard disaster response exercise, Duluth, Minn., August 2015. Photo credit: Joan Thompson.

For all of the hard work, the Minnesota National Guard surprised the Red Cross volunteers and staff with a special public service award. Phil Hansen accepted the award on behalf of the Red Cross relief workers participating in the exercise. About the two-day exercise Phil said, “Vigilant Guard was a terrific opportunity to work as a team with our volunteers and key partners to test our readiness before a disaster strikes. Many thanks to all who organized this exceptional exercise.”

To learn more about getting involved with the Red Cross, click here. To access Red Cross disaster and safety tools and resources, click here. For everyday, handy preparedness, download a free Red Cross mobile app.

How to find a shelter location 101

Story by Rick Graft, Debra Brooks and Khue Tran, American Red Cross Northern Minnesota Region Disaster Relief Volunteers

A Red Cross logistics truck, or "LIRV", that responds to disasters. Photo credit: Lynette Nyman/American Red Cross
A Red Cross logistics truck, or “LIRV”, that responds to disasters. Photo credit: Lynette Nyman/American Red Cross

During recent flooding in Minnesota, Jordan High School was approved as a shelter site in case of human or natural disaster.  We want to share the story with you about how the site was selected and about some unplanned and terrific community outreach.

We wanted to show that the Red Cross was there to support the community, so we took the logistics truck rather than a regular car to Jordan High School. We parked the truck outside the main doors of the school. Once there, parents and students saw the Red Cross presence while we were in the high school doing the shelter evaluation work with school officials.  At the end of our visit, the principal kindly asked us if we could show her the truck contents.

Sample shelter kit supplies carried on a Red Cross logistics truck. Photo credit: Lynette Nyman/American Red Cross
Shelter supplies carried on a Red Cross logistics truck. Photo credit: Lynette Nyman/American Red Cross

As we walked to the truck, Debra saw some students and parents and invited them to join us. When I opened the back door of the truck, they were impressed with what and how many supplies and kits we carried. This became a teaching moment to affirm our commitment to the community and how the Red Cross handles disaster responses.

One young teenage girl went from worrying about an unknown terrible thing happening in her school to a double-thumbs up because we were ready with disaster supplies. All the students and parents were pleased to help the Red Cross and they appreciated how the Red Cross would help them in return. They were grateful we wanted to help their community, and so this ended up being a public relations success.

Our visit gave us the opportunity to survey the site, to build trust and a partnership, and to learn from the local community of what they were experiencing and anticipating. As we do on all of our survey calls, we spent a little time explaining the bigger picture of how we would set up a shelter and how to use it. The benefit of sharing our story is that the community started to think with us, and came up with creative solutions and additional spaces that we would never think of by just looking at a floor plan.

Red Cross volunteer Rick Graft during recent flood damage assessment in Blakely Township, MN.
Red Cross volunteer Rick Graft assessing flood damage in Blakeley Township, MN, June 24, 2014. Photo credit: Lynette Nyman/American Red Cross

The school district superintendent signed the agreement as we completed the opening inspection.  The superintendent, principal, and custodian all brainstormed with us to find space and solutions to our anticipated needs, so we set up the expectation that they could be contacted 24/7 during an actual need for opening a shelter.

At the end of the day, we came away with a shelter partner who feels comfortable working with us and can tell others an important part of the Red Cross story.  And on a slightly humorous note, we did not have to do this at two in the morning during disaster response!

Click here to learn more about American Red Cross disaster relief.

A couple portraits from the flooding disaster

You’ve heard the news or seen the images of the dramatic and traumatic events that continue to unfold in northeast Minnesota. We want you to know that the Red Cross is going full force–ramping up each moment–to help the people who are affected by this disaster. Last night we supported 185 people in shelters across the region. We offer, here, a couple portraits of people who are affected by this disaster.

Portraits and Photos from Judy Hanne-Gonzalez, Executive Director, American Red Cross Northland and North Star Chapters.

Michael Ray Marchand

When Michael Ray Marchand looked out his trailer door early morning on June 20, he could not believe his eyes. The twice-homeless veteran, who lost his leg and wears a vibrantly-colored prosthesis in a design based on the American Flag, saw pouring rain, downed power lines, and a home teetering as the soil beneath it washed away. Marchand was evacuated by his landlords and called 911 for help.  He was rescued by a fire truck and taken with sirens blaring to the Red Cross shelter at the First United Methodist Church (aka Coppertop church) in Duluth.  “Red Cross has given me food and a place to stay,” Marchand says. “I can’t believe it. This is the third time I’ve been homeless.”

 

 

Charles, Koda, Michelle, and Jayden

Michelle Henry, Charles Goggleye, and their children Koda Duane, five years old, and Jayden, two years, were staying with a sister in the Fond du Lac neighborhood when they were evacuated mid-morning on Wednesday by police as flood waters quickly rose. They escaped in their car, but it quickly broke down leaving them stranded again. They called Charles’ mother only to find that his brother and five children had also been evacuated and were staying there. So they found transportation to the Copper Top Church, where Red Cross workers were providing food, blankets, and a warm dry place to stay.  Red Cross volunteers entertained the children with movies. “We love the Red Cross,” says Koda. “They’re really nice!” Jayden and Koda loved the Red Cross comfort kits they were given, which included crayons, coloring books and toothbrushes.  The kids rushed to open the new toothbrushes and practiced brushing their teeth.

The Red Cross will soon begin mobile feeding as impacted areas become accessible; damage assessment volunteers are gathering and will deploy within 24 hours. Perhaps you’re already helping in some way, but if you’re wondering about HOW YOU CAN HELP, you can make a donation to support American Red Cross Disaster Relief. This gift enables the Red Cross to prepare for and provide shelter, food, emotional support and other assistance in response to this and other disasters here and abroad. Visit www.redcross.org or call 1-800-RED-CROSS. Contributions may also be sent to local American Red Cross chapters or to the American Red Cross, P.O. Box 37243, Washington, DC 20013.

Wildfire Risk High For Much of Minnesota

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Samantha Schmidt, 9, spent the night at a Red Cross shelter for wildfire evacuees in Colorado. (Photo credit: RJ Sangosti / The Denver Post).

The American Red Cross is providing food and shelter in Colorado where a fast-moving wildfire has already forced hundreds of people from their homes with thousands more put on notice that they may also have to evacuate.

Wildfires in Minnesota are unlikely to occur in high density population areas, but state officials say that much of Minnesota is at increased risk of wildfires because of continued snow melt, warming weather, and dry vegetation. The risk will remain high, state officials say, until green vegetation emerges. (Source: Minnesota Department of Natural Resources)

The Red Cross encourages everyone who might be at risk or in a path of possible evacuation because of wildfires to prepare now.

IF A WILDFIRE THREATENS your neighborhood, back your car into the garage or park it in an open space facing the direction of escape. Wildfires can spread quickly, igniting brush, trees and homes. The Red Cross has important steps people can follow to lessen the threat of a wildfire. Confine your pets to one room so you can find them if you need to get out quickly. Listen to local radio and television stations for updated information, and be ready to leave at a moment’s notice. These steps will help limit exposure to smoke:

  • Keep indoor air clean by closing windows and doors to prevent outside smoke from getting in.
  • Use the recycle or re-­circulate mode on the air conditioner in your home or car. If you do not have air conditioning and it is too hot to stay inside with closed windows, seek shelter elsewhere.
  • When smoke levels are high, do not use anything that burns and adds to indoor air pollution, such as candles, fireplaces and gas stoves. Do not vacuum because it stirs up particles that are already inside your home.
  • If you have asthma or another lung disease, follow your health care provider’s advice and seek medical care if your symptoms worsen.

BEING PREPARED can be your best offense when it comes to wildfires. You should plan two ways out of your neighborhood in case one is blocked. Set up a place for family members to meet outside your neighborhood in case you can’t get home or need to evacuate. Arrange for temporary housing at a friend or relative’s home outside the area. Post emergency phone numbers by every phone in your home and in everyone’s cellphone.

Other steps you can take include:

  • Make sure driveway entrances and your house number or address are clearly marked.
  • Identify and maintain an adequate water source outside your home, such as a small pond, cistern, well or swimming pool.
  • Set aside household items that can be used as fire tools: a rake, ax, hand saw or chain saw, bucket and shovel. You may need to fight small fires before emergency responders arrive.
  • Select building materials and plants that resist fire.
  • Regularly clean roofs and gutters.

More wildfire steps and tips are available. Check out The Denver Post for more on the ongoing wildfire and response in Colorado. You can text REDCROSS to 90999 to give $10 and support Red Cross disaster relief.

West Liberty Relying on Red Cross After Tornado

West Liberty, Kentucky
A devastating tornado wiped out much of West Liberty, Kentucky, a mountain town of around 3200 people. Dozens are now relying on Red Cross disaster services. Photo credit: Lynette Nyman/American Red Cross

For some, the Red Cross shelter in West Liberty, Kentucky, is the only home they have. “Without the Red Cross,” says Stacy LeMaster, 26, “we would be on the street.”

Since the March 2 tornado hugged the ground, wiping out dozens of homes and businesses in West Liberty, Stacy, her husband, and their three children have sought refuge at the shelter where everybody knows everybody. “This is just like home,” says Daniel.

Daniel LeMaster and his son, West Liberty, Kentucky
Daniel LeMaster and his son Daniel 3, are relying on the Red Cross shelter for safe and warm refuge after a tornado hit West Liberty, Kentucky, on March 2. Photo credit: Lynette Nyman/American Red Cross

Disaster relief workers from around the region are providing essential services to more than 50 people seeking refuge in the shelter. The shelter is also an assistance station for dozens more staying with family and friends, but who are otherwise homeless.

Shelter operations manager Brad Powell says Red Cross relief teams are also in the community. “We have relief workers doing damage assessment and mass feeding,” says Powell.

Some of the relief workers at the shelter have had little sleep, including Breck Hensley, 16, who has friends affected by the tornado. He says being a Red Cross volunteer is a good experience. “I’m just trying to help all those people who need it because if I were them, I would want it,” says Hensley.

Breck Hensley, Red Cross Disaster Volunteer
Breck Hensley, 16, who has friends affected by the March 2 tornado that hit West Liberty, Kentucky, says being a Red Cross disaster relief worker is a good experience. Photo credit: Lynette Nyman/American Red Cross

People in West Liberty are likely to rely on the Red Cross shelter for many more days as the slow process of tornado recovery takes its turn.

Red Cross Trains Mille Lacs Band on How to Set Up a Shelter

Last fall the American Red Cross trained members of the Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe in emergency sheltering. Below is the article about the training published in the Mille Lacs Band newspaper Ojibwe Inaajimowin and written by Jamie Edwards, public information
officer of the Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe Tribal Emergency Response Committee.

A baby on a Red Cross cot during the Minneapolis tornado response May 2011. Photo credit: Lynette Nyman/American Red Cross

Red Cross officials were on the Mille Lacs Reservation on November 17 [2011] to train the Band’s Tribal Emergency Response Committee (TERC) on how to set up a temporary shelter. This training session helped TERC members understand the Band’s role and each of their roles in setting up an emergency shelter in partnership with the Red Cross.

After the storm in District III this past summer, committee members requested training on how to set up temporary shelters at each District’s Community Center. If any future disasters should leave Band members temporarily homeless or without basic necessities, a shelter would be the most efficient way to respond.

“Setting up a temporary shelter takes a lot of teamwork since an emergency shelter can be needed any time during the year and at all hours of the day,” said Monte Fronk, Mille Lacs Band emergency management coordinator. “TERC requested this additional training because we want to be prepared in the event that we need to set up a temporary shelter.”

In general, the process would involve the Band preparing a shelter site (such as one of the community centers) for the Red Cross to bring cots, blankets and meals. Since government entities do not normally keep these supplies in their inventories, the Duluth Red Cross [American Red Cross Northern Minnesota Region] would provide these resources under the direction of TERC. The Band would also be responsible for operating the shelter as well as services such as transportation, medical care, and mental health services.

Mii gwech to the Red Cross’s Duluth office for providing the training session…

Click here to learn more about the Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe.

Emergency Sheltering Under One Roof

When a devastating EF-5 tornado slammed into Joplin, Missouri on May 22, 2011, St. John’s Mercy Regional Medical Center stood directly in its path. Over 180 patients – including some in operating rooms, intensive care, or the emergency room – were being treated. Dennis Manley, Director of Quality and Risk Management, returned to the hospital to help lead the evacuation of patients and staff that afternoon.

“Because of the dirt and debris blown by 200 mile per hour winds, we had difficulty identifying some of the people we treated. One doctor, in fact, treated his assistant – but didn’t realize it until much later,” Manley says.

The complete destruction of the hospital and surrounding buildings required evacuation of everyone in the facility. It took over 90 minutes, because virtually every window was shattered, corridors were blocked with debris, and doors were jammed. Fortunately, Manley observed, previous emergency drills had helped to prepare the hospital staff for many of the situations they faced that day. Advance preparation and close working partnerships with a wide variety of governmental and non-governmental organizations helped deal with the need for swift and effective emergency response.

Attending the conference were (L-R) Glen Olson, Minnesota Department of Public Health, Carlos Garcia-Valez, Red Cross Northland Chapter volunteer and keynote speaker, Ruth Talford, Red Cross Readiness Manager, and Eric Nikolai, Red Cross St. Croix Valley Chapter volunteer.

Building partnerships continued when more than 275 representatives from local, state and national government public health, human services, health care, and emergency response organizations, along with community volunteer emergency responders, shared updates, networked, and heard experts at the second annual “Emergency Sheltering: Under One Roof “ Conference. Participants came from five states and Canada.

“We are focusing on mass care events such as major wildfires, tornadoes, floods, or winter storms that could displace hundreds of people,” says Tony Guerra, a Red Cross Readiness Manager based in Duluth, Minnesota.  “The goal is to strengthen and create local, regional, and national networks which help people increase collaboration.”

The American Red Cross Northern Minnesota Region and the Community Health Information Collaborative (CHIC) hosted the conference, which was held January 31-February 2 at the Black Bear Otter Creek Convention Center in Carlton, MN, and was funded by the Fred C. and Katherine B. Andersen Foundation in Bayport, MN.

During 2011 the Red Cross responded to hundreds of disasters, including the May 22 tornado that swept through north Minneapolis and left hundreds homeless. Photo credit: Jason Viana/American Red Cross

Janice Springer of St. Cloud, Red Cross Disaster Health Services Advisor for Minnesota, discussed meeting the access and functional needs of people in shelters.

”In 2011, the Red Cross opened 978 shelters in the U.S., serving more than 41,000 people with over 125,000 overnight stays,” says Springer.

Red Cross volunteer Carlos Garcia-Velez was among those who responded to disasters last year. Garcia-Velez has served as an American Red Cross volunteer in multiple roles since 1992, including leading the Partner Services and Government Operations activities through many disaster relief operations. Most recently Garcia-Velez responded in North Carolina following Hurricane Irene. Garcia-Velez challenged the sheltering conference participants to work more closely together and collaborate on all levels.

“We have to approach disasters as a whole community,” says Garcia-Velez. “Experience has taught us that we must do a better job of providing services for the entire community, regardless of their background, demographics, or challenges,” says Garcia-Velez. “This means planning for the actual makeup of a community, making sure we meet the needs of every disaster survivor regardless of age, economics, or accessibility requirements.”

Story by David Schoeneck, Red Cross Volunteer