Deployment Diary: Damage in the Old Neighborhood

I work for a disaster relief organization, but until today I had never seen a disaster in a place that I once considered home. Belmar, N.J. is a shore town about 90 minutes south of New York.  It’s wonderfully quiet in the winter and way too busy in the summer.  I used to live along Ocean Avenue, in the first apartment building across from the boardwalk.

Today, I was in a car surveying damage when I realized that we had driven into my old neighborhood.   There were more trees cut in half and uprooted than I could count. Roads were closed. Sand had worked its way off the

The boardwalk in Belmar, N.J. was destroyed by Superstorm Sandy and pieces of it were strewn about the neighborhood.

beach and covered the street like snow. Light poles were tilted over and bent at odd angles. A lake near the ocean had flooded and in some places there was still a few feet of water on the ground. It was very surreal and then it became even more so.

The driver unknowingly pulled to a stop in front of my old building.  The building itself is still standing, but sand from the beach across the street had formed a berm about five feet high on the front lawn. Debris was everywhere. Large planks from what used to be the boardwalk were strewn about. The boardwalk itself was completely gone. We saw pieces of it a few blocks inland.

I spoke with two people who live there – one of whom actually lives in my old apartment. He said they’re cold, uncomfortable and still have more than a foot of water in the basement. They’ve set up a grill in the parking lot and are sitting by it to cook and in an attempt to stay warm. I also met a lady who was in tears.  She said that they can’t get any information because they’ve been without power for so long that the batteries in their radios and flashlights are dead. She asked for help. When I told her it was on the way, she was so grateful that she almost cried again.

Some of my happiest memories are from that neighborhood. I still can’t quite believe what’s happened to it. And, as bad as the damage is, it’s nothing compared to some other areas.  But the Red Cross is helping, in New Jersey and across the east coast. We’ve deployed mobile kitchens that can cook nearly 200,000 meals each day, 230 response vehicles and 3,300 disaster workers.  Even more help is on the way, but we can’t do it alone.

The American Red Cross isn’t a government agency and we provide all of our disaster assistance free of charge. Superstorm Sandy was very large and our response to it will be quite costly.  Please consider helping our efforts by visiting, calling 1-800-RED-CROSS or texting REDCROSS to 90999 to make a one-time $10 contribution.


Deployment Diary: Seeking Shelter, Finding Inspiration

Last night, more than 9,000 people stayed in 171 Red Cross shelters across 13 states. The night before that number was 11,000… and I was one of them.

The most rewarding aspect of my job is that I get to assist on disaster relief operations.  On Monday night, I rode out the storm with some new friends at a high school in Pottstown, Penn.

One of those new friends came to the shelter with his wife, sons and dog (there was an area set up for pets) after the storm had blown out the windows in his home.  But he wasn’t your “average” shelter resident… he was also a Red Cross volunteer.

About 15 years ago, Charles Reith lost his home in a fire and the Red Cross helped.  Soon after, he and his daughter became volunteers – and they still volunteer today.  Even though a disaster was hitting home for the Reith family yet again, they were still concerned with helping others.

Charles sat at the registration desk almost all night, helping to welcome others who had also been affected by the storm.  His daughter spent the night working at a shelter nearby.

There’s something special about people who volunteer, but there’s something genuinely amazing about Red Cross volunteers.  It is honor to work alongside them.

American Red Cross Responding to Anaheim Apartment Complex Fire

The American Red Cross has opened an evacuation center at the West Anaheim Youth Center to provide information and assistance to those affected by the apartment complex fire in Anaheim today. It is located at 320 Beach Blvd., south of Lincoln Ave. You can also call (855) 891-7325 and mention you were affected by the Anaheim apartment fire.

US Olympic Committee Paralympics Warrior Games 2012

(note: the following was written by Mary Arteaga, a Red Cross volunteer in Orange County)

As soon as I learned there were going to be these Olympic style Warrior Games in Colorado Springs in the first week of May 2012, I knew I wanted to be a part of them.  I have been a Red Cross volunteer with Service to the Armed Forces (SAF) for the past 6 years and have come to think of these men and women as my true heroes.

First Lady Michelle Obama came to the Opening Ceremonies!  She is doing really great work to support our military and their families.  I drove down a day early to watch the cycling event.   Pedaling a bike for 18.3 miles is hard enough with two legs, astounding with only one or with a hand cycle.

I worked the Wednesday evening shift in the gym with the Wheelchair basketball games and was also able to watch a part of the Sitting Volleyball game between the US Marines and the team from the UK.  They really play all out.  Imagine playing volleyball with no legs!

These athletes are amazing to watch.  To have been injured so terribly – in some cases just a year or so ago – and now be able to participate in those sports plus Track and Field, Archery, Swimming, and Shooting takes determination beyond words.

Many of their families were there to cheer them on.  These families have made such tremendous sacrifices for our country.  They really are all heroes.  Hoo-ah!

April is Pet First Aid Awareness Month

Gosh, that’s a mouthful! But as a dog owner and general animal lover, this topic is very important to me (even if they slobber all over your keyboard while you’re trying to write a blog post). Though we’re nearing the end of April, it’s never too late to prepare for our four-legged family members.

Did you know that, along with our courses in CPR, First Aid, lifeguarding, and babysitting, the American Red Cross offers Pet First Aid? In fact, it’s one of the more popular classes in Orange County (I like to think it’s because we’re so pet-friendly). You can even order the companion book complete with DVD for cats or dogs.

It’s also very important to know how to help our pets during a disaster. Beforehand, while you’re putting together your emergency kit, make one for your pet as well. Include things like a pet first aid kit, medications and medical records (including vaccinations), and pet supplies (leashes, carriers, food, etc.). We even have this handy checklist to help you. And you can visit the Pet and Disaster Safety section of our website for more info.

But what about our other furry/feathered/scaly/shelled friends? I wouldn’t want to leave my horse/parrot/lizard/turtle out in the cold. Visit the Humane Society website for disaster preparedness resources for other animals and take their quiz to find out if you’re ready. While you’re at it, stop by our buddies at RedCrossDog or follow them on Twitter for great tips on how to prepare for and respond to pet emergencies.

When planning for disasters, remember: pets are people, too!

There’s an app for that!

I don’t know about you, but I’m addicted to my iPhone. Sometimes I think it’s glued to my hand. If you’re anything like me, then you love apps. I’m going to share some great apps for various smartphones that keep preparedness at your fingertips and can help you find information during an emergency. Best of all, they’re free to download!

Before I delve into the wonderful world of apps, I would like to stress cellular/data coverage will likely be limited (at best) during a disaster, so here are some great tips to get tech ready.

First up is the American Red Cross S.O.S. app for Android, which provides emergency care information, complete with videos featuring the voice of Dr. Oz. While there isn’t anything similar for other platforms, the British Red Cross has a first aid app for Android, Blackberry, and iPhone. It features instructions for administering first aid (many with videos), preparedness tips, and knowledge challenges. For the iPhone, the American Red Cross produced a shelter finder app that lists available shelters throughout the United States and shows them on a map – like a portable version of this site.

FEMA created an app for phones and tablets of the Android, Apple, and Blackberry persuasion, which gives safety tips for disasters and helps you build a kit and plan your emergency meeting locations. It also features maps of recovery centers and shelters, as well as links to FEMA social media sites. (Another low-tech way to stay in touch with FEMA is by signing up for their text alerts.)

These are only a few of the apps I’ve found helpful. I also have news and social media apps to get info and stay in touch during a disaster. Well, what are you waiting for? Go explore!

Red Cross Youth Volunteer Recognized with Community Award

(note: the following was written by Megan Pierce, an AmeriCorps member who is working as a youth adviser at our Orange County office this year)

Katherine Wu, 18, of Diamond Bar has been honored for her exemplary volunteer service with a state-level Certificate of Excellence from The 2012 Prudential Spirit of Community Awards program. Katherine was nominated for this award by the American Red Cross- Orange County Chapter where she is the Youth Advisory Council Chair.

When asked to reflect on her role as the Youth Advisory Council Chair, Katherine revealed the following. “As the YAC Chair, I feel that it is my responsibility to guide and inspire my peers to collaboratively make our mark upon the community. I hope that I can help guide my fellow volunteers and change their lives the same way that my life has changed throughout my unforgettable experiences with the American Red Cross.”

Presented annually by Prudential Financial in partnership with the National Association of Secondary School Principals (NASSP), The Prudential Spirit of Community Awards honor young people across America for outstanding community service activities. More than 345,000 young people have been considered for these awards since the program’s inception in 1995, making it the nation’s largest youth recognition program based exclusively on volunteer service.