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Special Thanks to Our Volunteers, Employees and Donors During Sandy

By: Trevor Riggen,
Vice President of Disaster Services Operations and Logistics,
American Red Cross

Next week marks the two-year anniversary of one of the largest responses in the long and proud history of this organization. It was a storm and challenge so unique that they had to come up with a new name just to describe it – Superstorm Sandy.  It was a massive, powerful storm that hit the most densely populated area of the country at the tail end of hurricane season followed by falling temperatures, snow, and enormous need throughout the region.

I want to begin by saying thank you to each and every one of you who donated money or raised your hand to join in serving those in need during the long weeks that followed landfall and to the thousands more who have served in our ongoing recovery efforts. So much great work was done by so many – the numbers are truly staggering.

  • More than 17 million meals and snacks were served
  • More than 7 million relief items were distributed
  • 74,000 over-night shelter stays were accommodated
  • More than 5,100 households have been provided over $32 million of move-in assistance
  • More than $91 million has been provided to dozens of nonprofits with specialized expertise and strong local ties

During the peak of the response and for weeks after Sandy’s landfall, we were providing 130,000 to 150,000 meals and snacks a day. Imagine handing a meal or snack to every person at a sold-out New York Giants or Jets game AND a sold-out Yankees game, every day, from Halloween until after Christmas. None of this would have been possible without the hearts of our volunteers and the generosity of our donors.

More than 17,000 of you put on a vest and put your lives on hold to serve others. Many of you stayed to serve past your 3 week commitment or returned to serve during the holidays. Your work has greatly benefited those affected by Sandy, not just in the initial response, but also through our recovery efforts, which continue to this day. Across New Jersey, New York and Connecticut the work goes on.  With our partners and the local regions we continue to serve those affected, through grant-funded home rebuilds, volunteer trainings and convening long-term recovery groups.  And our surveys show an overwhelming majority of those we served reported a positive experience with the Red Cross.

While we are proud of our response, we also know that we can always do better. “Good enough” is not the standard we seek to reach. We’re always striving to improve because we know the American public and the people we serve expect nothing less.

Throughout its 133-year history, the American Red Cross has continued to make changes and find new and more efficient ways to do things. In fact, this drive to learn and do better started with Clara Baron, the founder of the American Red Cross, who said, “I go for anything new that might improve the past.”

In that spirit, I want to close by sharing some of the improvements we’ve made based on what we learned from our work before, during and after Sandy.

Months before Sandy struck in October 2012, we began a process known as re-engineering. It began with a comprehensive and detailed examination of the way we approach disasters.

One of the main outcomes of that effort was a commitment to empower local Red Cross leaders on the ground, who know their communities best, to make more decisions locally. As a result of that commitment, we have moved nearly one-third of our disaster positions out of national headquarters and into the field, closer to the people we serve.

We are already seeing this new structure work. I’ve heard personally from those of you who served in Moore, Oklahoma after the tornadoes, Colorado after the floods, and Oso, Washington after the landslide.

If you look around at the major projects and work from the past year, you can see lessons from Sandy in many other places.

Preparedness: We saw during Sandy how critical preparedness is to response. Raising awareness of risks and preparedness actions at the community level can save lives in the first 48 to 72 hours after a storm.  Now we integrate preparedness into everything we do.

Response: The impact from Sandy was felt from Ohio and West Virginia to Vermont. This size of event allowed us to see where our systems could scale, as well as areas  where they couldn’t and we’ve made adjustments. Our new divisional structure and tools, such as our inventory management system, will allow us to streamline the movement of supplies and resources in a way we couldn’t before.

Recovery:  Perhaps the greatest lesson we learned was the value of having a standardized recovery program – one that is predictable and repeatable and that scales to meet the need.  You’ve probably seen the new Recovery Services program materials and resources; what’s currently available is just the start.

All this to say we’ve learned a great deal from Sandy and our many other operations over the past few years. We’re committed to taking the lessons we learn and applying them to the programs we create and the services we provide.

Last week, I was asked a very simple question by a reporter: “How would you characterize your response to Sandy?” My answer was equally simple – We couldn’t be prouder. We are proud of our efforts to help thousands of families move back into their homes. We are proud of the massive scale of feeding and distribution we provided. And, we are proud of the fact that we’ve spent or committed to spend 99 percent of the $311.5 million entrusted to us by our donors for our Sandy work.

Most importantly, we’re proud that when we put out the call for help, you answered, and it made a difference in the lives of others.

I am humbled to be a part of this amazing organization and to work each and every day alongside you to take care of those in need. We are committed to doing even better in the next disaster, and the one after that.


Debunking a Red Cross Ebola Myth

If you’re online regularly, you can see some unusual and often outrageous claims, especially involving big topics in the news.

Lately, you may have seen a ridiculous rumor about the Red Cross purposely spreading Ebola in African nations. The Red Cross and Red Crescent network across the globe does amazing work to respond to disasters and emergencies; promote health; tend to the sick and injured and get communities ready for future emergencies.

Red Cross workers from around the world and volunteers from the Ebola affected countries are on the ground right now trying to stem the tide of this virus.

Sharing false rumors like this through social media isn’t helping their efforts. In fact, spreading false information actually endangers the very people who are trying to make a difference. And, because the rumor also promotes the notion that Ebola isn’t real, it also minimizes the risk at a time when people-particularly those in the most affected West African nations-should be vigilant about their health. That’s dangerous too.

Before you share what you see online about this or any rumor, please take a moment to learn about the issue. The people at Snopes.com have posted an article debunking this myth entitled “We’re Not Ghana Take It”. The International Business Times, a well respected publication, even reported on this rumor, labeling it a “conspiracy theory”. The official American Red Cross response is below as well. For the most up to date information about Ebola in the U.S, we encourage you to visit www.cdc.gov/ebola.

The allegations against the Red Cross regarding the spread of Ebola in West Africa are completely false and unfounded. The Red Cross has not been providing Ebola “vaccinations” to anyone in West Africa. In fact, there is currently, no vaccine for Ebola.

Ebola is a serious and potentially deadly virus spread by human contact with infected patients. It is real and must be taken seriously.

Moreover, these allegations are an insult to the 4,000 local volunteers-themselves citizens of West African nations-who have been working tirelessly to help their neighbors. These volunteers have worked around the clock to provide prevention education, assist with burials, and provide comfort to families impacted by Ebola. In addition, the Red Cross opened a 60 bed treatment center in Sierra Leone. Patients have already started to recover and have been released from the center.

Spreading misinformation through social media is reckless and endangers lives. To learn accurate information about the ongoing relief efforts in West Africa please visit http://www.redcross.org/ebolaoutbreak.

Home Fire Campaign: Week 1 Wrap Up

The American Red Cross Home Fire Preparedness Campaign is striving to reduce the number of deaths and injuries caused by home fores, and we’ve already made an impact.

Over the weekend in Georgia, a Red Cross chapter and Boy Scout Troop went through many neighborhoods,installing fire alarms in the homes that were missing them. Later on, a woman turned on her self-cleaning oven and then took a nap. A pot of grease in the oven set off her recently installed smoke detector. Because of the this, the woman was able to wake up and safely escape her home.

Local chapters are doing great work by canvassing their area with information, installing smoke alarms, and making their communities aware of this campaign through social media.

Be sure to search for your local chapter on Facebook and Twitter to learn more about what your chapter is doing to help make your community safer and help reduce the number of deaths caused by home fires every year. If we saved at least one life this week, then we’re hopeful that more lives can be saved as we continue this campaign!

Here are a few highlights from what’s happened this week:

— SOMO Red Cross (@SOMORedCross) September 12, 2014







Face Your Fears Day: A Confession

My mother likes to tell the story of one summer day when I was about five years old, living in the tiny town of Marengo, Ohio. It was a windy day – enough to move the tree branches and leaves, but not enough to indicate a storm or any other danger. Mom recounts how I stood at the back screen door, terrified to go outside because of the wind. And being very concerned about our picnic table blowing away.

Hi. My name is Sarah Layton. I work at the American Red Cross, and I have an irrational fear of the wind.

From that illustration, I’m sure you can image how I reacted whenever a real storm approached. I was an expert weather radar reader from a young age, at least enough to know when I should panic. Which was often. I would gather all my stuffed animals and dolls, stuff them into my Beauty and the Beast sleeping bag, and schlep the whole thing down to the stone cellar. I’d also gather a thermos of water and graham crackers.

Growing Up

I’m sure many of us have humorous or cute things we did as children when we didn’t understand a situation fully, or we were scared. This is relatable. But I’m sure we can also all relate to maturing, and coming to terms with the truth of the “knowledge is power” concept. I was excited to come work for the Red Cross as an exciting career move, but also as a chance to face my weather (and really, any other disaster).

Getting Prepared

My prayers as a kid went something like “Lord, protect me from fires, tornadoes, earthquakes, floods, volcanoes [yes, in Ohio. I didn’t say I was rational], and anything else that might hurt me, my family, and my town.” Luckily, I now have actionable information to help prepare for any number of disasters with Red Cross resources.

I took a first aid and CPR/AED course. I’ve downloaded all our Red Cross apps to set up alerts and have information at my fingertips for all types of emergencies. Instead of opening up all the windows in the house and bolting for the cellar when a tornado might be approaching, I know some handy resources to distinguish myths from facts. And instead of a grabbing a thermos of water and graham crackers, I’ve got the full three days’ supply of water and food stocked in my apartment.

Lending a Hand

This doesn’t mean I still don’t freak out a bit unnecessarily when dark clouds roll in and tornado warnings scroll across the TV screen. But you’ll find me out in front this time, giving digital hugs to others who are scared and sharing important information for others in harm’s way.

Knowledge is power. Face your fears. And just maybe, save a life.

Fire Alarm Fails: Part 1, Dance Party

We all remember those times a shrill, repetitive alarm interrupted a normal day — you burn your dinner, and the smoke alarms go off. You’re in a high school English class, and have to trudge outside in the rain for a fire drill. No matter if it’s a minor mishap or a drill, what a great opportunity to practice your fire escape plan!

But some people don’t see a fire alarm as an opportunity to practice. Rather, we found some fantastic examples of what NOT to do during a fire alarm.

Namely, have a dance party.

Fire experts agree that people may have as little as two minutes to escape a burning home before it’s too late to get out.

Make sure that everyone in the family knows how to get out of every room and how to get out of the home in less than two minutes.

Practice that plan. What’s the household’s escape time?

There are two simple steps every household in America can take that can save lives: checking their existing smoke alarms and practicing fire drills at home. 

Install smoke alarms on every level of the home, inside bedrooms and outside sleeping areas.

Test your smoke alarms every month and replace the batteries at least once a year.

Did you know the American Red Cross responds to a disaster every eight minutes and nearly all of these are home fires? During a home fire, working smoke alarms and a fire escape plan that has been practiced regularly can save lives. Find out if your family is prepared for a home fire – take our new quiz!

Stay tuned for more on how the Red Cross is working across the country to reduce deaths from home fires.


Quiz: Are You Prepared for a Home Fire?

The stats seem dire: 7 people die and 36 people are injured every single day from home fires. Over $7 billion in property damage occurs each year due to home fires. We all learned “stop, drop and roll” if you are on fire, but what else can we do to prepare for the worst?

This week, the Red Cross and its partners have launched an initiative that aims to reduce deaths and injuries caused by home fires by 25% in five years with the Home Fire Preparedness Campaign.

Test yourself with this handy quiz to determine what you have covered, and what you and your family may need to work on:

Powered by Interact

The Red Cross is asking every household in America to join us in taking two simple steps that can save lives: checking or installing smoke alarms and practicing fire drills at home. Join the campaign as a volunteer by contacting your local Red Cross chapter.


Could Your Family Survive a Home Fire? (VIDEO)

Yesterday, the TODAY show aired a segment with startling statistics about home fires. Eighty-two percent of families have never practiced a fire drill in their home so they don’t know what to do if their house caught on fire. The video below puts one Connecticut family to the test to see if they know how to escape their home. If you don’t have a home fire escape plan, use this fire escape planning sheet and read how how you can prevent a house fire today.


Visit NBCNews.com for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

Chatting about Enterovirus D68

Dr. Thomas Kirsch is a member of the American Red Cross Scientific Advisory Council and is the national physician advisor for the American Red Cross Disaster Health Services.  He is deputy director of the Johns Hopkins Office of Critical Event Preparedness and assistant professor at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine.

A  new virus spreading across much of the country, known as Enterovirus D68, that is much like the flu –with  fever, sneezing, aches, and a runny nose – but with a cough that is a problem for many patients.

For some infants, children, and teens – especially those with asthma – the respiratory effects of this virus can be severe and require a trip to the emergency room or hospitalization.

With the virus identified in 12 states to date in early October, and flu just season around the corner, it’s time to prepare.

Today, I participated as a guest in the ABC News Twitter Chat about the Enterovirus. You can find tweets from the chat by searching #abcDrBchat in Twitter.

People can also follow these seven guidelines to protect yourself and your family from the Enterovirus and the flu:

  • Soap it and stop it. Proper hand washing helps avoid getting and spreading viruses. If using soap and water, wash thoroughly for at least 20 seconds, rinse, and then dry with a disposable towel (and use it to turn off the faucet). If using an alcohol-based sanitize, rub thoroughly over the hands until the gel dries.
  • Keep a handle on hands. Keep hands away from the eyes, nose and mouth to stop germs from entering the body. If you sneeze or cough, do it into a tissue and throw it away. If you don’t have a tissue, direct your germs into your elbow, not your hands.
  • Keep your distance. Avoid close contact such as handshakes and hugs with people and co-workers who may be ill.
  • Don’t share your stuff. Avoid sharing items at home and work such as utensils, drinks, computers, telephones and mobile devices. If you must share, disinfect surfaces before and after. Regularly disinfect doorknobs, switches, handles, desks and other surfaces that are commonly touched.
  • Stay home if sick. If a family member gets the Enterovirus, help others stay healthy by keeping the sick person home until 24 hours after their fever is gone without taking medication.
  • Get a flu shot. Though it does not protect against the Enterovirus, the flu vaccine is recommended for everyone aged six months and older, especially pregnant women, people aged 50 or older, and those with chronic medical conditions.
  • See a doctor. Remember that children and adults experiencing difficulty breathing should see their health care provider. Those with known respiratory illnesses such as asthma should be sure to take their medications.

You also can prepare for respiratory emergencies by taking Red Cross training courses such as the Red Cross online Family First Aid and Pediatric CPR course.


From the Archives: Restorative Face Masks for WWI Soldiers

World War I caused the death of millions of combatants and civilians, while countless soldiers suffered from injury and disfigurement. Perhaps the most disheartening were facial injuries, as soldiers had to not only deal with the physical loss, but also the constant psychological stress of wondering how people would react to their changed appearance. These men worried about their homecoming— how would strangers react, but more importantly how they would be treated by friends and family.  Surgery and skin grafting was an option for some, but many sustained injuries that went beyond the ability of surgery to repair. These unfortunate soldiers turned to portrait masks. Pioneered by English sculptor Captain Derwent Wood, and improved upon by American sculptor Anna Coleman Ladd, portrait masks were modeled from photographs taken before the injury and were painted in oils to resemble the former features of the patient.

Historical World War I Era 1914-1923

A variety of portrait masks produced by Anna Coleman Ladd.

Captain Wood carried out experiments in a London hospital with the hope of finding a more permanent solution to the rubber and gelatin ears and noses that were being supplied to soldiers with extreme facial disfigurements. Wood’s experiments resulted in portrait masks that could be attached to a patient’s face and allow the patient to look more like his previous self. Captain Wood’s work reached America in 1917, and eventually came to the attention of fellow sculptor, Anna Coleman Ladd. Ladd felt an instant need to offer her skills to these recovering soldiers, and left for France under the sponsorship of the American Red Cross.

Anna Coleman Ladd fitting soldier with restorative face mask.

Anna Coleman Ladd fitting soldier with restorative face mask.

Ladd set up a large studio in the artists’ quarter of Paris, and there she received soldiers desperate to look like they once had. Taking a cast of the soldier’s face was the first step in the mask-making process. This mold, along with photographs of the patient prior to the injury, was then used to create a mold that resembled the patient’s previous image.

The top row of casts shows the first step in the process as these were molded from the soldiers’ disfigured faces.  The bottom row of casts shows the molds with restorative work sculpted by Anna Coleman Ladd.

The top row of casts shows the first step in the process as these were molded from the soldiers’ disfigured faces.The bottom row of casts shows the molds with restorative work sculpted by Anna Coleman Ladd.

A final cast was taken from this mold, and sent to a plant where a thin copper replica was created. The copper mask was returned to Ladd to add the finishing touches.  Fine copper threads were soldered onto the eyeholes to resemble eyelashes. Ladd would paint the mask while it was on the soldier so that she could achieve a flesh color as close as possible to the real skin tone. If the disfigurement included the entire mouth, she would model the lips with space to accommodate a cigarette holder.  For those who desired, a moustache could be added. Anna Coleman Ladd took great care to produce masks that would allow men who gave so much for their country to return home as physically whole as possible.

Two soldiers play cards while wearing Ladd’s handiwork.

Two soldiers play cards while wearing Ladd’s handiwork.

It’s Still Raining in the Balkans, But Families Move Forward

This blog post was written by Wendy Brightman, a Red Cross volunteer who deployed to Bosnia and Herzegovina to assist with cash distribution to families recovering from heavy flooding that occurred last spring. When she arrived a few weeks ago, it was still raining. September rains have continued to bring flooding to the same areas along the swollen rivers.

Mirad, his wife, and a Red Cross volunteerMirad Fsakovic and his family live in Brcko District—in a two-story home that has been in their family for three generations. As we entered the gate to their garden, the smell of sweet peppers came to us. Mirad was roasting several pounds of them on a grill made from an old washing machine drum. They purchased the peppers from a local farmer with some of the money provided by the Red Cross. We sat on benches near the grill as Mirad explained the night of the flood to us:

As the rain pounded, Mirad and his wife could see the water rising in the street, then into their garden and under the doors of their home. They moved to top floor—where their son, daughter-in-law, and granddaughter live—and continued to watch the water rise. Selma, 5, awoke to the thunder, rain and water coming up to the second floor balcony. Her parents and grandparents sang songs to her through the night. Selma said that she wasn’t afraid, but had wished she could go swimming and boating in the water. She is only sad that she lost most of her toys — some had been washed away, others were destroyed by mold and mildew. In the morning, the water had risen about four feet inside the house. Over the following days, it began to recede, leaving behind mud.

Mirad said that the money they received from the Red Cross—about $1,600—has helped them clean out their house, repair the floor with new tiles, purchase wood and a heating stove for winter, and pay their bills on time. They are still using dehumidifiers to dry the walls but it is going slowly. They are keeping a portion of the Red Cross money for the future, when the walls can be plastered and painted.

As I was leaving, Selma presented me with a drawing she made of her hands. She said she wanted me to have it to say thank you to the Red Cross—and then whispered, “Next time will you bring toys?”

A child's drawing

The family told me about all the support they received from their family and their community. Neighbors have helped them clean up and repair their house. In the coming months Mirad—who has carpentry skills—will repay this kindness by helping his neighbors with their repairs. “We know each family very well. We have lived here since my grandmother’s time. Whenever there is a problem we help each other.” With this community support and some cash from the Red Cross, the family will reach their goal of a repaired house, ready for winter.

The American Red Cross has contributed $710,000 to help people in the Balkans recover from the floods. Learn more >>