Deployment: Thoughts from a first-timer

Story and photos by Doug Bardwell, American Red Cross volunteer

January 25, 2019 – I thought I might go to Houston for Hurricane Harvey in 2017. I didn’t. I got a mission card (for expenses) and was on standby for Hawaii’s Kilauea volcano in 2018,  but we weren’t needed there either. That’s how it can go with national disaster deployments.

So, I was wondering if the third time was the charm, as I drove to downtown Cleveland to Red Cross regional headquarters to pick up my mission card for the California wildfires.

The Camp Fire had started on November 8 and wasn’t contained until the end of November—after obliterating the majority of Concow, Magalia and Paradise, California.

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I didn’t have to wonder long, as my plane reservations were confirmed two days later. I was scheduled to leave Saturday, December 29. After typical winter weather delays and cancellations, I finally arrived in Sacramento, and checked into the hotel at 1 a.m.

Sunday morning, I was picked up at the hotel and processed at the Yuba City Red Cross regional office before heading for the shelter in Chico, Ca., roughly 1-1/2 hours north of Sacramento. We’d be working at the Silver Dollar Fairgrounds, where more than 700 residents were staying in three men, women and family dorms, as well as a combination of camping tents, cars and RVs.

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Some staff were being housed about 60 minutes outside town in a series of hotels but I stayed in the staff shelter, just 12 minutes from the fairgrounds. Our shelter was a series of tents, set up on the Chico Airport grounds.

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A large circus tent was our home away from home for everything but sleeping and showering. Showers were in a trailer, but hot water was in ample supply—most of the time. The staff tent handled registration, feeding and supplies. Two large screen TVs provided a choice of entertainment and a dozen sofas were there to relax on. Internet bandwidth was amazingly good for those who preferred to stream their own entertainment or keep up with social media.

My first day, I had a chance encounter while standing and looking at the fairground’s small waterfall, just inside the main gate. I could sense someone behind me and turned to see a tall gentleman, one of the evacuees people referred to as “Buckeye.” When he discovered I was also from Ohio, I got the biggest bear hug I’ve ever received. Turns out his family is from Warrensville Heights.

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At the fairgrounds, almost 200 Red Cross volunteers, working 12-1/2-hour shifts, and numerous community partners, provided a host of services to the residents. The ultimate goal was to get everyone transitioned into permanent housing. In the best of circumstances, this can be difficult but the city of Chico already had a housing shortage. Luckily, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) committed to assisting those who couldn’t qualify for Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) housing.

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As people stayed at the fairgrounds, they each received three meals a day, a cot, blankets and a large, fluffy pillow. Paradise Equipment had a laundry trailer on site and everyone was entitled to free laundry service. They could just drop off a bag of clothes and pick it up later in the day—washed, dried and folded. Health needs were addressed for people and their pets. Residents received a range of health services as well as mental and spiritual counseling. Pets were vaccinated, fed and walked by a local pet relief organization.

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By the numbers, here’s what was going on 60 days into the Camp Fire disaster.

The Red Cross continues to provide shelter, meals and conversation for almost 700 evacuees, who are having trouble processing the idea of having lost everything. Not only are their houses gone, in many cases, they’ve also lost their jobs, their churches, schools, restaurants, social clubs and their friends.

If you’d care to donate, you can do it online at RedCross.org or by calling 1-800-HELP NOW.

Editor’s note: During his deployment, Doug escorted documentary filmmaker Nancy Hamilton of Golden Eagle Films through the shelter compound. She spoke with some of the shelter residents and offers her impression of the operation at the end of the video, which has been posted on Facebook.

 

Article edited by Glenda Bogar, American Red Cross volunteer.

 

Northeast Ohio Region weekend disaster response report: December 14-16, 2018

By Eric Alves, Regional Communications Specialist, American Red Cross of Northeast Ohio

Over the weekend, the American Red Cross was once again very active responding to the needs of the residents of Northeast Ohio.

California Wildfires 2018During the weekend of December 14-16, the Red Cross of Northeast Ohio responded to seven incidents occurring in four of the five chapters in the region. The incidents occurred in Cuyahoga, Jefferson, Mahoning, Richland, Summit and Trumbull counties, resulting in 18 individuals receiving assistance and the distribution of more than $4,000 in immediate financial assistance.

While Northeast Ohio is not often impacted by large natural disasters, it does not mean the difficulty of those natural disasters are not felt in the region. Over the weekend, the Red Cross provided assistance to two families in Cuyahoga and Summit counties who each lost loved ones during the recent California wildfires. The families received financial support to assist with funeral expenses, and were provided access to Red Cross disaster mental health workers to aid in the grieving process.

“The care we provided the local families who were next of kin to women who died in theCalifornia Wildfires 2018 Camp Fire in California was under our Integrated Care Team,” stated Renee Palagyi, senior disaster program manager. “Integrated Care Team allows a family to have two or three key contact people from Red Cross who are available for an in-person visit and follow-up phone calls. Assistance included a relatively small amount of money to be used for any death-related or other expenses they may encounter. More importantly, we provided a local touch, both through our caseworker and our disaster mental health professional. In talking with these women, they were incredibly grateful to receive my call and to know that they would have someone specifically assigned to talk with them over the next several weeks as they work through pain I can’t begin to imagine.”

If you would like to provide a financial donation to assist the Red Cross in continuing to support the residents of Northeast Ohio in their time of need, visit redcross.org/donate, call 1-800-RED CROSS or text REDCROSS to 90999 to make a $10 donation.

Psychologist Deploys to California to Assist Wildfire Victims

His expertise with PTSD counselling helped residents cope with losses

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Disaster Mental Health volunteer Edgardo Padin

Edgardo Padin is a clinical psychologist who helps treat veterans in the Northeast Ohio VA Healthcare System. This experience made him a valuable member of the volunteer team that responded to the wildfires in California this summer.

This was Ed’s first deployment as an American Red Cross disaster mental health worker. He wasn’t quite sure what his role would be, as he explained in an interview recorded shortly before he left for California.

Shortly after arriving, Ed found himself in a Red Cross shelter, counseling people who had just lost their homes and all of their belongings.

“I did a lot of talking to people,” he said. “I calmed them down and gave them some idea of what was happening by showing them how the fire was going on my iPad. Information was really important to them.”

Ed said that while he did provide a lot of mental health services, it wasn’t the only thing he did during his 10-day deployment.

“We had a Norovirus outbreak that we just had to work at and maintain so that it wouldn’t spread throughout the entire shelter,” he explained. “We collaborated with the University of Santa Cruz, which sent EMTs to help us. They worked 24-hour shifts just like we did.”

Emily Probst, the Regional Workforce Engagement Manager of the Red Cross Northeast Ohio Region, said Ed’s skills made him a very valuable volunteer.

“We are so thankful that Ed offered his immense expertise to help people affected by this crisis,” she said. “I have no doubt his work in California made a difference in the lives of the people he touched.”

Volunteers are needed every day to respond to local disasters like home fires and to deploy to wildfires, hurricanes and other national disasters. Visit redcross.org/neo and click on Volunteers at the top of the page to volunteer to help people in need.

In an interview upon his return, Ed said his first deployment as a Red Cross volunteer was a gratifying experience. “In the end, I felt like I did something that was wonderful. I did something that was helpful. It was a great adventure, and I certainly would do it again.”

 

Resolve to be Prepared

by: Melissa Papini, Disaster Program Manager

As we spend time reflecting on the closing of 2017, celebrating the season with our loved ones, being thankful for all the little things that bring us joy like safety and security, let’s also take time to think about (and say prayers for, if you’re so moved) our friends and family all over the world whose safety and security was threatened this year by natural disasters.

12292-409.jpgI recently heard an interview on the radio about a couple who moved from Brooklyn, NY to Ventura, CA this year. The interview was about the mandatory evacuations in their neighborhood related to the Thomas fire. They talked about how different it is to live in a community that has to be prepared at all times to flee their homes. Everyone they know has an emergency kit ready for not if, but when the wildfires get too close. That observation struck me. We live in a part of the country where very few people have natural disasters on their minds regularly. How many people do you know in Northeast Ohio that have an emergency kit ready at home?

Through my recent career move to “all things disaster,” my 10-year-old daughter has picked up on the idea of disaster preparedness. She has heard me talking about the Pillowcase Project and has created her own emergency kit that she’s packed in a pillowcase. She has a change of clothes, a flashlight, and a first aid kit ready to go if we ever need it. After reviewing the checklist in the Pillowcase Project booklet, I may suggest she add things like toiletries, markers and paper, a blanket, and a favorite toy.

For a detailed list of items that you can put together to create an entire household emergency kit please refer to our previous posts. There are also many Red Cross apps that can help you be prepared for and alerted about local disasters.

One other thing I’ve realized about preparedness through follow-up casework with our clients who’ve had home fires is how important it is to create an inventory of the contents of your home. If you are ever in a situation where you have a fire, your insurance company cannot begin to help you start replacing things until you’ve created a detailed inventory list for them. This is a daunting task for people who have millions of other things on their minds after a home fire. The easiest way to do this is take videos in each room of your home. Be sure to open drawers where you may have valuables too. Keep a copy of this video somewhere safe like an external hard drive in a fire proof lock box, the cloud, or you can even email it to yourself.

If you are like me and can’t wait to crack open your new planner for 2018 and start making lists of goals, be sure to add preparedness to your list of resolutions!

Veteran Police Officer Returns from CA Wildfire Response

Gets Emotional Describing the Devastation Following His First Red Cross Assignment

When Angel Morales signed-up to volunteer for the American Red Cross, he figured it would take six months before he’d be ready to help people suffering from major disasters.

It was more like six days.

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Red Cross volunteer Angel Morales speaks to the Greater Cleveland Board of Directors on December 12, 2017

“Can you go out to California?  We’ve got wildfires there.”  That’s what Angel says he heard when Emily Probst, Regional Disaster Workforce Engagement Manager called, less than a week after his initial training as a disaster responder.

“I took a two-day course.  It was very good. They gave me the basics for sheltering, feeding, and what they call mass care,” Angel recently told members of the Greater Cleveland Board of Directors. “They said in the classes ‘be ready to do whatever they need you to do to fill in.’  I wound up working at a warehouse, very left of center from what I’ve been doing administration-wise. It was a hands-on kind of job.”

Angel currently serves as the Deputy Chief of Police for the Cuyahoga Metropolitan Housing Authority.  Before that, he led security for the Cleveland Browns, after spending more than 25 years with the Cleveland Police Department, “retiring” as Deputy Chief in 1999.

“I think everybody understands that retirement is just a transition to something else. So, I try to give back.  And I wanted to do hands-on rather than be a boss all the time, so I figured ‘let me start fresh with the Red Cross.’”

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Red Cross volunteer Angel Morales

Despite all his years in law enforcement, Angel says the devastation he experienced in California touched his heart. “In a wildfire, it’s different from a hurricane or a storm. Everything is devastated. There’s nothing. It’s burnt to the ground.”  He teared-up as he continued, “You can see me get emotional about it. People lose everything, it just touches your heart. You feel it. It doesn’t matter where you come from, you feel the devastation in your heart.”

Still, he calls the two-weeks he spent helping people impacted by the wildfires a great experience.  And he commends all the volunteers he met and worked with, people from all across the country and from different walks of life.

“They really make a great contribution.”

The Red Cross is always looking for volunteers to train, so that they can help people affected by disasters big and small, near and far, from wildfires in California to home fires in your community.  Visit redcross.org/neo and click the “volunteer” tab to start the application process.

Youngstown-area Volunteers Head into Smoke and Fire of California

Three American Red Cross volunteers from the Northeast Ohio Region are being deployed to California, where a wildfire has forced the evacuation of thousands of residents.

Randy Liang of Cuyahoga Falls will help support the technology needs of the Red Cross disaster relief operation in Mariposa County, California.

Mark Strausser and Jason Mitman (in video, above) of Youngstown will work with residents who are staying in shelters as a result of the wildfire.

Red Cross workers and partners helping to provide a safe place to stay and three meals a day for hundreds of displaced residents.

“We help people here, at home, every day,” said Mitman, referring to the help Red Cross workers offer to Northeast Ohio residents who experience home fires and other disasters.  “Now I get to help people in California.  This is why I volunteer for the Red Cross.”

Other volunteers from Northeast Ohio may also be deployed to help in the days to come.

For information on volunteer opportunities, visit redcross.org/neo, and click on the Volunteer tab.