5 years after Katrina volunteers, Red Cross reflect on what happened

It’s been almost 5 years since Hurricane Katrina and many of us are reflecting on what those days after the storm were like – both here in our own chapters and in Mississippi and Louisiana.  

 The Red Cross helped 1.4 million people in 2005, served 68 million meals and saw more than 3.8 million overnight stays in shelters.  In Central Florida, volunteers and staff opened almost 3,000 client cases, helped more than 7,000 people and deployed 43 volunteers to the Gulf Coast.  Ray Gray, an Orlando based volunteer, was one of them.  This week, he shared his story of what it was like in Gulfport.  Please take a minute and a half to watch and listen.


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After 911, Facebook Is Top Choice for Disaster Response

By Eric Sass

If anyone out there thinks social networks are a transient phenomenon, those doubts should be put to rest by the results of a survey of 1,058 U.S. adults conducted July 22-23 by Infogroup on behalf of the American Red Cross about where they would go for to contact emergency responders during a disaster if they couldn’t call 911. While the findings should be viewed with caution (as an online survey, it obviously skews towards the Web savvy) they provide more evidence that social networks have become an integral — and trusted — part of everyday life, like telephones and emails before them.

Almost half (44%) of the respondents said they would ask other people on their social networks to contact emergency responders on their behalf if they couldn’t call 911 themselves; 35% said they’d post a request for help directly on a response agency’s Facebook page; 28% would send a direct Twitter message to responders. A full 70% said emergency responders should monitor social media sites, and half said emergency responders are probably already doing so. One-fifth said they post eyewitness accounts during emergencies.

Social networks are great for all the reasons that made them popular — keeping in touch with friends and family, finding old acquaintances, etc. — but the real proof of their utility, and durability, is how willing people are to rely on them for “serious” stuff. And turning to Facebook for information in an emergency isn’t as silly as it might seem at first glance, as officials at all levels of government are hurrying to establish a social media presence.

At the state level, the Maryland National Guard has been using social networks to communicate with its members and civilians, via Facebook, Twitter and Flickr accounts. According to MNG Lt. Col. Charles Kohler, over 300 people became Facebook “fans” of the MNG during Maryland’s crippling ice storms last winter.

Meanwhile, according to an April report from the Fels Institute of Government at the University of Pennsylvania, roughly half of American municipalities are using social media to communicate with their citizens. The Fels Institute based this estimate on a survey of 79 towns and cities ranging from under 70,000 inhabitants to over one million, which found that 50% of city governments are on Facebook, while 56% are on Twitter.

Finally, at the federal level, in April the Office of Management and Budget waived cumbersome paperwork requirements for government communications that enable “unstructured” responses or feedback from private citizens — which includes official communications via social networks like Facebook — in accord with the Open Government Directive issued by the White House on December 8, 2009, according to OMBWatch. And in February the Department of Defense embraced the possibilities of social media for communicating with DoD employees and the civilian population. Pentagon officials issued a memo outlining new rules for Internet use by employees, which directed that non-classified networks should henceforth allow access to social network sites — with provisions, of course, for a shutdown in case social network activity threatens a security breach.

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Space Coast Chapter Weekend Training Blitz

When Melissa Perez,  the Mid-Florida Region Space Coast Deputy Disaster, realized there was a shortage of trained disaster volunteers at the  Chapter, she organized a “Blitz Training weekend.”  The concentrated three day training event, the first of its kind to be held in Brevard, took place on July 23, 24 and 25th and attracted more than 50 participants.

The courses included Mass Care which covered feeding, sheltering and distribution. On day two, there was Shelter Management which included how to deliver the basic needs of shelter residents and learning about strategies to handle difficult situations so that the security and privacy of the people who seek a safe haven in a Red Cross shelter can be protected. Then in the afternoon a simulated shelter was set up at the Red Cross Space Coast Chapter based in Rockledge. It was filmed by News Channel 13 reporter Margaret Kavanagh and her presence made the training all the more realistic because the media often do turn up at Red Cross shelters. Florida Today also ran a picture and short article. Kavanagh interviewed one of the trainees, Diana Owen, who told her that images of Katrina and the 2004 hurricanes had inspired her to sign up. She said, “We have been learning about how to get a shelter set up, managing the registration system, getting food in and handling sleeping arrangements.”

 On Sunday Client Casework participants were taught how to interview the victims of disasters. They qualified as Client Caseworkers after learning about how to initiate the necessary paperwork to be able to give short term financial help to the people who have suffered losses in a disaster. All services provided to people affected by disasters, both large and small, are paid for from money donated to the Red Cross.

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Mid-Florida Region Volunteer Heads to Texas

Mid-Florida Region Sends First Volunteer to Texas Ahead of Alex

More volunteers could be deployed in the coming days.

 (Winter Haven) June 30, 2010 – As Hurricane Alex churns through the Gulf of Mexico toward south Texas and Mexico, the American Red Cross is positioning workers, shelter and feeding equipment and emergency vehicles in Texas. One of the volunteers who will be there to assist with disaster needs is from the Mid-Florida Region.

 David Caporali of Winter Haven will leave from Orlando International Airport Thursday afternoon (7/2/2010) for a three week deployment.  He’s been assigned to Harlingen, Texas. Caporali is a nurse and also volunteers as a mental health worker.  It’s possible more volunteers from the Mid-Florida Region could be deployed in the coming days.

The American Red Cross is supporting 20 shelters for those who may have to evacuate and has sent in 2,000 cots, blankets, and kits containing personal hygiene items such as deodorant, toothbrushes and toothpaste, wash cloths, shampoo, razors and shaving cream. As many as 17 Emergency Response Vehicles have been deployed to the area, and eight additional vehicles and crews are on stand-by. Kitchen equipment is also on the way from the Red Cross warehouse in San Antonio. 

 If you would like to help people affected by Hurricane Alex, and thousands of disasters across the country and around the world, you can donate to Red Cross Disaster Response by visiting www.redcross.org or calling 1-800-RedCross. People can also text “RedCross” to 90999 to make a $10 donation. Your gift enables the Red Cross to prepare for disasters and provide shelter, food, emotional support and other assistance to victims of all disasters. Contributions may also be sent to your local American Red Cross chapter.

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Preps Underway for Hurricane Alex

In anticipation of landfall of Hurricane Alex, the American Red Cross has deployed workers, prepared shelters, and moved Emergency Response Vehicles (ERVs) into the south of Texas.

The storm is expected to make landfall in Mexico early Thursday morning south of Brownsville, Texas. The National Hurricane Center reports storm winds could reach 92 mph, with the possibility of significant flooding to the area.

The American Red Cross has deployed 17 ERVs to south Texas, with eight additional vehicles and crews on stand-by. Kitchen equipment is also on the way from the Red Cross warehouse in San Antonio and shelter workers are prepared for those who may have to evacuate to Red Cross shelters in the region. Twenty shelters are set to open, including three that will provide medical care with doctors, nurses and emergency medical technicians (EMTs) on staff.

“This storm could cause significant flooding, forcing people to stay in our shelters for longer periods,” said Joe Becker, senior vice president for Red Cross Disaster Services. “People should listen to local officials and evacuate when told to do so.”

So far no volunteers have been activated from the Mid-Florida Region but if they do – our volunteers will be ready to share their expertise and experience.

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It’s so much better when you are calm before the storm.

Every year when hurricane season arrives I begin to look in my pantry and consider – do I have everything I need for hurricane season?  I usually have some items which means yes, I have to hit up my local grocery store (the bottled water from last season exploded in the Florida heat in my garage).  So I will put together a list and make my husband hit up the local grocery store  – why carry all that  myself?

Why do I (uh-hem, my honey) go through all this?  Well, honestly, it’s not because I buy into all of the hurricane hype.  It’s because I prefer to be calm before the storm.  

So here’s what my grocery list looks like (feel free to copy!):

  • 6 gallons of bottled water  – 1 gallon per person per day, for up to 3 days. (thank you honey, consider the heavy lifting bicep curls)
  • 36 cans of food – (sounds like a lot but I can be a hungry girl and I don’t want to go without food if I couldn’t get to the store) I like tuna fish, peanut butter, green beans, corn, beets (yum!), spaghetti – o’s, mixed fruit (light syrup please!), yams, soup.
  • can opener  (our old one broke)
  • 2 flashlights (the cool LED’s last longer and are brighter)
  • Radio – scratch that, we have one
  • Batteries!!

After that’s taken care of  I like to make sure I resupply all of the band-aids I’ve stolen from my first aid kit in the course of a year.  And we should get copies of our updated important papers (insurance information, birth certificates, SS cards, driver’s licenses) in a nifty zip lock bag, and some cash.   We don’t take any prescription drugs but if anyone in your family does – include a supply. I need to get the cat’s meds and make a plan for him on what I would do if I had to evacuate my home.  Map so I can plan a route – check!

That should take care of the basics.  Aaaahhh, I already  feel calm just thinking that I’m thinking about how to prepare.

You should try it – you’ll like it!

For more information on how you can be calm before the storm, visit www.midfloridaredcross.org.

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Are you ready for hurricanes? You still have time.

It’s hurricane season again. Do you know how many storms we’ll have?

Me neither.

Forecasters have predicted 15 named storms and eight hurricanes, at least four of them major.

Some people say it sounds like 2004. Some say it sounds like every year.

I say it sounds like hurricane season. If only one storm strikes your town, it will be a busy year.

It’s a busy year for the Red Cross no matter where a hurricane hits.

Most disasters give very little warning, but hurricanes are one of the few we can track. Right now, you have time to prepare, and preparation will help keep you calm before the storm.

Make sure you have supplies – things to eat, drink (water), wear, and to make you comfortable for at least three days.

If you want supplies to last a week or more, stock up.

You will want to make a plan. Map out an evacuation route. Arrange to stay at home, with family or friends, or at shelters or motels. Have your car ready to go and train pets to get in a carrier and come with you.

Most of all: Keep informed.

If you are under a hurricane watch, bring in lawn furniture and decorations, trash cans, hanging plants, and anything wind can pick up. Prepare to cover windows with shutters or plywood. Fill your gas tank and get cash.

If you live in a manufactured home, recheck your tie downs.

If you are under a hurricane warning, be ready to evacuate. If local officials don’t order that, stay indoors, away from windows, at the center of the house as protection from hurricane winds and tornadoes.

Storms can still be deadly for anyone caught in them. Stay away from flood waters. Stay inside especially if the eye passes over. It’s deceptive.

After the storm, check your home for damage, or return home only when it is safe to do so. Keep listening to radio or TV to get information. Use flashlights instead of fire-starting candles.

That’s it – Be supplied. Make plans. Keep informed.

And you’ll be calm before the storm.

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Get In and Get Ready with Community Disaster Assessment Classes

Barbara Muller with Ed and Virginia Small

Ed (center) and Virginia Small (right) of Winter Haven, took a Community Disaster Assessment class with Red Cross volunteer Barbara Muller. As year-round Florida residents, they will help gather damage information in their mobile home park after a disaster, and will help prepare residents before a storm.

If you had just moved to Florida, would you know about what kinds of disasters affect residents here? Would you know how to prepare your home and your neighborhood?

Would you be ready to help by responding to the needs of neighbors in your immediate community as well as helping your local Red Cross.

That’s the idea behind Community Disaster Assessment classes at the Polk County Chapter, 147 Avenue A, NW,  in Winter Haven.

Ed and Virginia Small just completed the course this week.  The couple moved to a mobile home park in Winter Haven two years ago and says the course was an eye-opening experience.

“You always think, ‘It will never happen to me,’” Virgina Small said, “but it could happen to me and anyone I know.”

The Smalls have come away from the classes a bit wiser about the disasters that affect central Florida, and how to prepare against them.

The Community Disaster Assessment program trains communities on how to assess damage by Red Cross guidelines.  That allows residents to give the Red Cross an accurate picture of damage in their area, which helps the Red Cross bring aid more quickly. These same community representatives also learn to make disaster plans for their communities and include residents in efforts to prepare for and prevent damage, as well as take part in clean-up and response.

The American Red Cross Polk County Chapter has added two new dates for this award-winning program — May 10 and 17 from 10 a.m. until noon.  Bring four people who are year-round residents in your community and are capable of going out as soon as it is safe after a storm to assess damage and report back to the Red Cross.

Call (863) 294-5941 or e-mail linda@midfloridaredcross.org to sign up and be ready for disasters.

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So Fly and So Flip

New Flip Cameras Will Help Connect to and Educate the Public on the Red Cross

A new set of Flip cameras, thanks to some generous donors, will help us connect with you and give you more information about the Red Cross here as well as through our channels on YouTube and Facebook.

Thanks for supporting your Red Cross!

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Use Spring Cleaning to Turn Clothes into Cash for the Red Cross

American Red Cross Clothing Program Drop Boxes

These two clothing drop boxes now stand in front of the Polk County Chapter in Winter Haven. Three other locations are available in Polk County, with more to come soon.

So you’re doing spring cleaning and you have some clothes you want to donate to charity.
Where do you want to take them?

Well, if you want to help your American Red Cross Mid-Florida Region get ready for hurricane season, you can support the local chapter’s disaster responses and health & safety programs by dropping off your still wearable clothes at a local clothing donation drop box.

The American Red Cross Mid-Florida Region has a partnership with Charity Clothing Pickup Florida Inc. to raise funds for Emergency Services, Health & Safety classes, and other programs through clothing drop boxes. Charity Clothing Pickup collects the clothing, sells it to thrift stores, and donates a portion of the proceeds to the American Red Cross.

Click here to find a box near you. Put your old clothing to use and support your Red Cross.

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