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Posts tagged ‘Red Cross’

red crossings

Lucy is proving to be a perfect commuter bike for me – functional, comfortable, versatile.  And appropriately red enough for my trips into the Red Cross office (I swear this never even crossed my mind when I was choosing her paint color).

On a national level, the Red Cross is making preparations for the possible landfall of Isaac.  It’s fascinating to see the process unfold, the planning, the deployment of material and human resources – and the ways that numerous local Chapters contribute to the response.   While I have chosen not to be available for deployment at this time due to some personal scheduling conflicts, I continue to stay busy locally with our DAT team and working with new volunteers – work that I enjoy very much.

The continuing reorganizational changes surrounding our local Chapter can be frustrating at times.  While many of the changes to our service model make sense, and should ultimately provide more efficient delivery, the plan for implementation (internally) has not always been so well thought out – and this can be very difficult for a workforce of volunteers.

At the end of the day, I often have to step back and ask myself:  are we helping to the people who need our assistance?  The answer, thankfully, is yes.  Ultimately, this is all that really matters – whether it involves responding to house and apartment fires here at home, or providing relief to our clients after a hurricane.  At the end of the day, I know we have helped.

I get on my bike and ride home, thankful for the chance to unwind and mentally re-evaluate the day to the soothing rhythm of my pedals strokes … and hope that storms, near and far, change course.

nightmare, revisited

It’s almost unfathomable that we could experience another nightmarish day of tornados again after last April – that catastrophic weather could be spawned across the country once again.  First Illinois, then Alabama, Kentucky, Indiana, and Tennessee again, and I don’t even know the continuing scope of today’s damage.  But locally, our fears have become reality.  Again.

A tornado (tornados?) tore through our county again today, hitting almost yards from some locations that had been devastated last spring.  Our home was spared, yet again other nearby neighbors not so lucky.  Again.  My friend Jenn’s neighborhood was hard hit, and my heart goes out to them.  A neighborhood next to our middle school sustained major damage, homes destroyed.  Injuries.  Reports of people pinned and trapped in collapsed buildings eastward in the county.  The news is heartbreaking – from here to surrounding states.  And the night is not yet over.

Our Red Cross disaster assessment team go out as quickly as we could, and before we could even get assessment numbers on one neighborhood, we were called back in because of a second round of tornado warnings being issued.  I’ve seen one very small neighborhood, a few streets, and I don’t even want to imagine what else lays out there, judging from reports I have heard.

When we got the call to come in, take shelter, we headed over to the local EOC, watching radar, listening to reports being radioed in from various sources.  We ran out of daylight, and now the only responders are emergency fire and rescue personell.  I know it will be an around-the-clock for these people, along with our Red Cross Disaster Director and the shelter staff.

The Red Cross has opened a shelter, the calls from local residents are coming in at a steady pace.  As I write this, we are under another tornado warning.  I am home with my family, and our hand-crank radio is at hand.

So, not unlike last spring, I am signing off for a period of time unknown.  I think it will be Utilitaire #fail … as there is work to be done, and not only locally.  I suspect I may be deployed within the coming days, weeks, depending on how we can manage locally.  We’ll see. But I am ready to go.

Please support your communities if they have been hit; please support your relief agencies who will be working to serve across the country.  Families are in need.  Donate your time, donate supplies, donate your dollars if possible – they will be greatly needed.

And please … have a plan, make a kit, be prepared.  Godspeed.

the Red Phone at the EOC … can’t help thinking we need a BatPhone

utilitaire 7.12: the good, the bad, & the windy

You know you’re battling a decent headwind when you have to pedal going downhill.  Such was the case for the day’s Utilitaire ride (which actually took place yesterday, but I was to lazy to post last night).

The destination was to be #1: Work.  And while I am not technically employed by the Red Cross, my volunteer “job” with them is about as close as I get to having to go “to work”.  Heading out today I knew there was rain in the forecast, so as most cyclists know, the best insurance against having it actually rain is to pack rain gear.  I also decided to just leave the “real” camera at home, as I didn’t want to mess with waterproofing measures  (and I apologize in advance for another series of iPhonography in this post, as well my lengthiness today … hit the delete button if you wish.)

I battled a nasty headwind all the way in.  Gusty, brutal and not so much fun.   Decided to stop for coffee and catch up on a little bit of reading before hitting the office.

From coffee stop to the office, the scenery is always fascinating to me.  I like riding through the old industrial district, passing by the old Hardwick Woolen Mill.  Last month, a fire destroyed the Cleveland Chair Company.  The reports have pointed to arson.  Demolition of the remnants of the building(s) have turned the scene into a huge and textured pile of ruins.  (And at this point I was hitting myself for not bringing along my other camera).

riding by the ruins of the Cleveland Chair Co. and the old Hardwick Woolen Mill

I spent the rest of the day at the office, scrubbing disaster response case files – making sure the paperwork is in order and that all of the information has been correctly entered into the computer system.  While I was at the office, I got some very sad and troubling news that had been announced the day before.  Restructuring and funding cuts from both the American Red Cross and United Way are eliminating key positions in our Chapter.  Our tiny paid staff has now been reduced to two.  Two.

 The Bradley County Emergency Aid (funded by United Way, closely connected with our Red Cross Chapter work) has been cut, along with the women who have worked so tirelessly helping people in crisis in our community.  Just as troubling, we are losing our ARC Volunteer Coordinator – the amazing woman who schedules our disaster team rotations, recruits and arranges for training of our volunteers, and holds our volunteer staff together at the seams.  It’s shocking, troubling, and I can’t even begin to envision what the future holds for our local Chapter.  It is difficult enough to recruit capable, willing and trained volunteers to fill all of the positions – from teaching CPR/First Air/AED to fundraising to disaster response – but if they expecting the volunteer coordination duties to be taken over by our stretched-too-thin volunteer staff, I can’t even begin to imagine what is to come.  I think it spells disaster, ironically.

Needless to say, it was a tough afternoon in the office.  It’s difficult to see anyone lose their job, even harder when it happens to friends and people I have so much respect for.

Left the office and headed back into town in fading light.  Decided to hook up with my son (on his way home from tennis practice) and my husband (on his way home from work) for a quick bite to eat.  No sooner did we sit down, I receive a weather-alert text on my phone:  hail-producing severe thunderstorm warning.  Yay.  Storms were already spawning hail, lightning and even a tornado warning directly west of us, and the fun was now heading our way.

So, do I attempt to beat the storms and head home as planned on my bike, or do I give up the night riding and toss the bike in the back of my husband’s car and hitch a ride home?  I had my rain gear.  I had insurance.  I decided to ride.

Now a quick word about night riding.  I won’t go into a full-blown review of bicycular (I like to make up words) lighting – we have a boxful of various lights in our household, but I will tell you a little bit about the lights that work very well for me.

On my helmet, I use a Light & Motion Vis 360, which I absolutely love.  As the name says, visible from all sides – front, rear, sides.  Spotlight in the front (with amber sidelights), and blinking rear light (also with amber sidelights).  On and off the helmet in a snap, long light life, USB rechargeable.

On my bike, I use a Niterider MiNewt 600 Cordless (which replaces an older corded MiNewt Mini that is still in our stash), along with a couple of PB SuperFlash Blinkies on my seatpost and messenger bag.  The MiNewt 600 is a big improvement on the corded Mini; although a little heavier, it is brighter, cordless, easier to mount on and off of the bike, also USB rechargeable.

My own philosophy on night riding is kind of two-fold:

  • In town, among streetlights, storefronts, traffic, it’s imperative to be seen.  Lots of lights front and rear, top and bottom, and my high-vis yellow jacket with reflective striping do a good job making me visible.
  • Outside of town, when I hit the rural two-lane backroads, sparsely populated with no streetlights, and effectively pitch-black under a cloudy sky with no moonlight, it’s not only a matter of being seen, but being able to see.  I find that the two-light system works best for me here – my headlamp to a point further in the forward distance, and my bike-mounted light giving me a bright pool just ahead to better see pavement conditions and road debris.

nightriding: in town and on pitch-black rural roads

Needless to say, the ride home was exhilarating.  The winds that were my foe on the way into town in the morning had now become my friend as a tailwind.  It was like flying home, without much effort.  Record time, I think.  Outside of town I flushed a couple of deer in the roadside woods – fortunately not onto the road in front of me.  The sky would momentarily light up with lighting in distant clouds, and the thunder would rumble a few moments later.  It was an exciting adventure.  But I arrived home before even a drop of rain fell.

Perfect timing; it’s what happens when you pack insurance.  😉

sixteen days

Binghamton, NY ... evidence of the floodline, reaching almost into 2nd story of this home.

I have a book by Clara Barton, and I so love her words – they are as true today as they were when she wrote them:

Since the foundation of the Red Cross in America, many direful calamities have afflicted the country.  In each of these visitations the Red Cross has acted in some degree as the Almoner – the distributer and organizer – of the boutiful measures of relief that have been poured out by the American people.

Its work has been accomplished quietly and without ostentation.  The wreckage has been cleared away, the stricken people have been wisely, tenderly, and calmly guided out of panic and despair on the road of self-help and cooperative effort to restore their shattered homes and broken fortunes; and then the Red Cross has retired as quietly as it came, and few, outside of the people immediately concerned, have realized the beneficent powers of help and healing that have fallen like a benediction upon the stricken wherever that sacred symbol of humanity has made its way.

– Clara Barton, May 15, 1904; Glen Echo, MD

September 10, 2011. Binghamton, New York. Rescuers on a flooded street in Vestal, New York. (Photo by Chuck Haupt /American Red Cross)

Binghamton, NY ... flood-condemned home

Sixteen days, no bicycle.  Sixteen days in New York and northeastern Pennsylvania with the American Red Cross, trying to help people recover from catastrophic flooding from the combined hit of Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee.  Sixteen days where time became a blur – unforgettable, exhausting, sometimes frustrating, but ultimately rewarding.

I got the call asking me to deploy on Sept. 6, and within 24 hours I was on a plane to Albany, NY.  My assignment was to be camera-less this time; I would be serving as an individual client case worker  – working with disaster-affected clients on a one-on-one basis, listening to their stories, identifying their immediate needs, and facilitating contact with a variety of other agencies (FEMA, housing assistance, local charitable agencies, etc.) to help them begin their recovery process.  The Red Cross Disaster Assessment teams had identified nearly 9,000 homes that had suffered major damage or had been destroyed … now it was our job to make contact with every one of those residents.

When I first heard those numbers, I confess it felt overwhelming.

On outreach: shoveling out mud-mess from a front porch; Buskirk, NY

Aftermath: when the mud became dusty on the streets (Binghamton, NY)

Outreach calls (when it became safe to do so) within the communities often had many physical challenges.  Consider the aftermath of a flood: mud and silt mixed with sewage as well as spilled heating oil.  When the film of “mud-mess” began to dry, it would become dusty in the streets, and often dangerous to inhale – requiring the use of dust masks.

Our client casework team at our morning meeting; Jennifer Jones, our lead supervisor, was one of the most amazing, skilled, inspiring people I have ever worked with. (Photo by Chuck Haupt /American Red Cross)

In addition to outreach within communities, our casework teams were involved in serving displaced clients within the 5 shelters that had been opened in the region.  The largest shelter, in the Binghamton University Event Center, intially held over 1,600 clients – including a separate section for functional/medical needs clients (at least one nursing home had to be evacuated).   I had never been in a disaster shelter before, so this was an incredible learning experience.

Binghamton University Event Center mass care shelter ... initial shelter population: 1600

Communal living can be extremely stressful, especially when you have just lost nearly everything you own – and are faced with starting all over again, often with limited financial resources.  The social demographic is very mixed.   Patience and tolerance often runs thin, emotions run high.  It is a never-ending effort to comfort and calm, and help make the situation a little more bearable – all while trying to facilitate necessary steps to find housing, replace clothing, obtain medical care and make application to FEMA and other agencies.

Initially, the Red Cross volunteer staff also resided in men’s and women’s staff shelters – located in the gyms of several of local churches.  We had 88 women in our shelter; all sleeping on cots, sharing bathroom facilities for 8.  It was a “symphony of snoring” when the lights went out, and I’m not sure everyone enjoyed the close quarters, but we all knew to expect this is a disaster relief operation.   I think it was a vitally important experience; it really gave us a better understanding of what our clients have to endure when they’ve been displaced from their homes, and it fosters cooperation, tolerance and understanding on a very necessary level.  I happened to have a white noise app on my phone, so I had no problems sleeping – and I had some really great cot-mates around me. 🙂

Red Cross women's staff shelter (and my temporary home) - Binghamton, NY

There are more stories from these sixteen days than I will ever be able to record … and even as I arrived home, the disaster relief efforts continue in the region.  As some of us leave to go home, others arrive to take our place.

My heart goes out to all of the residents in NY and PA who have had to experience such catastrophic devestation; we want to do everything we can to help, and thank you for letting us into your lives.  And to anyone out there who can help with financial donations to the American Red Cross, I assure you it is desperately needed and well-used.

Last night, I slept peacefully in my own bed, in my quiet room.  Today, I hope to take a ride on my bicycle.  I have so much to be grateful for.

A common sight along the streets in Binghamton & Johnson City, NY

(self-explanatory...)

An American Red Cross' Emergency Response Vehicle drives through a damage neighborhood in Vestal, NY passing out hot-meals on Friday. ( Photo by Chuck Haupt /American Red Cross)

disaster relief on two wheels

a hawk dropped into the frame

It is a very good thing that I completed #330daysofbiking when I did … I think I have just had the longest stretch of not being on a bicycle in several years.  Twelve days, no cycling; fourteen days of Red Cross Disaster Relief.   And not a moment of regret.  It has been one of the most meaningful experiences of my life.

Are things back to normal?  Hardly.  A funny thing about natural disasters  – from tornados, to hurricanes, earthquakes and floods – when cable news has moved on to the next breaking story, the communities that were effected will spend months, even years, recovering and rebuilding.   Healing –  on all levels –  takes a very, very long time.

I have to believe that almost everyone who lives here has been affected, either directly or indirectly.  Colleagues at work who have lost their homes, neighbors who have lost family members, friends at school who were severely injured … everyone is connected to the devastation to some degree.  Lives have changed.   At present, we are simply out of the immediate “crisis” mode.  Now begins the recovery.  And it will be a long ride.

My boys have all arrived home from college (for a few weeks, anyway), and on my first day “off” and away from the disaster efforts, I finally had a chance to take long and much-needed ride with my son Mason.

While too many familiar landscapes have been drastically altered and damaged, and it’s still nearly impossible to travel many of our local back roads without encountering various work crews still continuing the endless repairs and clean-up, I realized that I really needed a change of course.

I needed to leave the piles of rubble and the smell of burning pine behind me.   I needed some open space, green fields and fresh air.  I needed roadside daisies.  I needed to find beauty again.

And my heart lifted when I found that it was all still out there.

Getting out on my bicycle again, seeing green fields, being with my son, feeling the rhythm of  heartbeat, pedals and breath … it was my own personal disaster “relief”.

What lies ahead?  I am not entirely sure.  I have signed on with the Red Cross as a regular volunteer and have enrolled in their Disaster Services Human Resource System.  I’m continuing to help with follow-up work being coordinated through our local Chapter’s office, and am looking forward to continuing disaster response training and becoming an active responder.  I feel incredibly fortunate to have had the opportunity to work with experienced Red Cross Disaster Relief teams who came in from around the country; I learned so much from them, and made some very close friendships along the way.

I also want to extend an enormous and overdue thank you to all of my friends (both local and cyber) who extended so much help and support – from your personal notes, to finding much-needed material items (including a twin bed), monetary donations, offers of manpower, and even mailing a hand-crafted prayer shawl across the country for a woman in our community.  Your generosity and kindness is unparalleled, and has been appreciated more than I can express.

Mostly, I have been forever touched by the individuals and families I have been privileged to serve and have gotten to know over the past few weeks.  You are in my heart, and I will never forget you.

(Slideshow:  amazing friends from Red Cross Disaster Relief)

 

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beyond plight

I took this photo with permission from the incredible young woman standing beside the tree, with hope that it will get someone’s attention – and some desperately needed help for her.

This is the mobile home she had been renting, and what you are looking at is huge tree that had fallen right through the center of it – directly onto her young son’s bedroom – literally splitting the structure into two halves.  You are looking at the “inside” of the center of her home.  When the storm approached, she was alert enough and quick enough to snatch her son from his bed only moments before it fell, saving his life.  Miracle.

One half of the structure has no roof – and there is rain in the forecast.  She is living in the other half a good part of the time,  relying on the generosity of friends at other times, and working to find affordable new housing.   But like so many others, I know she is still functioning in a state of shock – shaken, upset, and often barely holding it together.  Most of what is left of her belongs are damaged beyond recovery, scattered across the hillside.

Here we are – almost 7 days later.  There is no power, no water, and her landlord is demanding that she vacate and remove her few remaining possessions from the property within the week  … and she has to climb over this damn tree every time she enters or exits.  It is just beyond ridiculous.  She cannot find anyone to help her get this behemoth removed.   We can bring her meals, batteries, diapers and bottled water – but we can’t get the stupid tree out of her way.

And this is only one desperate story of hundreds I have heard over the past few days.

We’re doing out best out in the RedCross vehicles from 10 and 13 hours a day, bringing hundreds of hot meals, emergency supplies (as we have them), and as much comfort and consolation as we possibly can.  And there is just not enough.   We start making friends, we learn the names of the family dogs, we hear and see the unbelievable; we hug, we laugh, we cry.

Yet I find myself becoming increasingly frustrated as the days pass –  mostly over the mind-boggling absence of coordination and horrible logistics planning among the gazillion number of churches, organizations, schools, relief agencies and everyone else who has the best of intentions (I truly believe this), but seem to be operating in nothing short of barely-organized chaos.  (And yes, I well-remember Katrina, and I know this is nothing compared to that mess).  I realize that no one is perfect, and the scope of this disaster is extraordinary for this area.  But unbelievably, there is almost possessive in-fighting among various groups, over who should/shouldn’t be handling this or that – and to me, that is completely unacceptable in a situation as dire as this one.  It helps no one, and it must change.

At the very, very least, we need to get this tree out of this poor woman’s way.  She doesn’t care who does it – it just needs to get done.  (Insert expletive).

love letters

Today I cried.

We returned to one of the houses from yesterday – the house with the little dogs.  Thankfully, they are now being well-cared for and waiting patiently for their injured owner to recover.

We were helping to clear a spot on the property for some heavy equipment to come in and do the big work – moving branches and pieces of lumber, sorting out scrap metal.

We also made an attempt to retrieve some salvageable items and personal belongings – somewhat unsuccessfully, as the debris pile was so incredibly broken.  It was literally like “trying to find a needle in a haystack”.   Yet here and there we would uncover a small porcelain figurine that was miraculously intact under a pile of cinderblocks and a steel door.  There was no pattern to what had survived and what had not.

found a quilt

My tears came when I found an old box of letters – postmarked from the late 1950’s, handwritten in beautiful scrolling penmanship on delicate paper – the kind that was once used for air mail.   They appeared to be love letters.  The salutation on one of the open pages began: “My Dearest Beloved …”  And I read no more, but gave them directly to the person collecting the personal possessions.

It’s difficult to handle the pieces of someone’s life – much more so than I ever could have expected.  We tried to save even the smallest items that were intact, because how can you possibly know what might have a special or sentimental meaning to the owner?  And to pick up something private and dear like an old letter … well, it can feel almost intrusive.

By mid-afternoon we had done as much as we could at the site, and left to help with a Red Cross van that was delivering hot meals to people in need.  The number of people who are able to stay in their homes but are without power (and often water) remains significant.  Eating cold sandwiches gets old pretty quickly.

our (empty) Red Cross van ... which was filled with boxes of hot meals prepared by the volunteers at Walker Valley High School

 While I am tired, and stinky, and a little bit sunburned  … I feel so incredibly fortunate.  The people I love are close and safe.  I can take a hot shower and drink a cold glass of water – with ice.  I have lights, and the little music box that was a gift from my boys is in its place on my bookshelf.  My bicycle is not wrapped around a tree.  I have clean clothes to change into, and a soft bed to sleep in.  I am truly blessed.