By Melanie Tschida – American Red Cross Minnesota and Dakotas Region
Like most people, I remember exactly where I was on September 11, 2001 when I heard the news of the first plane hitting the World Trade Center. I was at the Red Cross office in Rochester, Minnesota, and within minutes of receiving that first phone call, we were all watching the coverage on television, unable to believe what we were seeing but unable to stop watching.
It was unsettling at best to realize our country was under attack. We cried for the innocent victims and feared what targets were next.
And then, in true Red Cross fashion, we got to work. Because even though this was not a typical disaster, people started calling our office to see how they could help. Donors lined up outside to give blood. Financial donations poured in, from children donating their allowance to corporations making six-figure gifts.
My most vivid memory of those initial days and weeks, however, were the volunteers who came forward and asked us to send them to help.
We sent dozens of volunteers to New York, Pennsylvania, and the Pentagon – some were our seasoned folks who had been to many disaster operations, and some were new to us but had experience in providing psychological support. I remember a profound sense of gratitude for these volunteers who set aside everything else and rushed to get there so they could provide the care and comfort we knew was so desperately needed as our nation was grieving.
It was such a difficult time but I also recall feeling so blessed that I was in a position to help, and to see the best in people as they gave so freely of their personal gifts in response to this tragic event.
Much has changed in the Red Cross in the last twenty years. Our programs and methods of delivery have evolved considerably, but some things have not changed – the most important being our unwavering commitment to providing comfort and care to every person in need of our services. I remain deeply grateful for the gift of being in a position to see the best in people as they come forward to donate their time and personal resources to help others.
Volunteering comes naturally to Cis Big Crow, a member of the Oglala Sioux Tribe and an American Red Cross volunteer. “I guess volunteering just grew on me. And I didn’t realize how many years I was with the Red Cross,” she says.
Since 1999, when a deadly tornado struck the Pine Ridge Reservation, Big Crow has been a Red Cross volunteer assisting reservation residents affected by tornados, storms, floods and other natural disasters. She has helped Tribal members reach critical aid, assisting them with filling out emergency forms and connecting them with housing, food and other types of disaster relief.
Big Crow works in the Oglala Sioux President’s Office, which previously was the place people called when there was an emergency on the reservation, such as a house fire. The Tribe now has a dedicated emergency management team, she says. But Big Crow is still the point person people call when they need help when disasters happen. She ensures they get in touch with Tribal emergency management and the Red Cross.
In the past, Big Crow has filled a variety of roles during Red Cross disaster responses, such as setting up temporary shelters, preparing meals for people and finding temporary housing for them. During the past twenty-plus years, she’s become an essential disaster action team member for the Red Cross in South Dakota, responding to an estimated 300 local disasters.
“Cis has been an exceptional volunteer,” says Richard Smith, executive director of the American Red Cross serving Central and Western South Dakota. “Cis is always positive and upbeat, even in difficult situations. Her guidance in working with the Oglala Sioux people and the Tribal council is invaluable.”
Big Crow has no plans to stop . Asked what keeps her going, Big Crow said she finds joy in assisting people in need. “You’re out there to help people,” she says.
New volunteers are always needed, especially with busy disaster seasons happening more frequently. People interested in applying for local opportunities should visit redcross.org/mndaks.
After back-to-back years of record-breaking wildfires, this year it’s more critical than ever to get ready now. Like the home and apartment fires we respond to every day, wildfires are dangerous and can spread quickly, giving you only minutes to evacuate.
Getting ready is easy with four steps.
Create an evacuation plan. Include in your plan what to do in case you’re separated from your family during an emergency and for evacuation. Coordinate your plan with your child’s school, your work and your community’s emergency plans. Plan multiple routes to local shelters, register family members with special medical needs as required and make plans for pets. If you already have an emergency plan, talk about it again with family members so everyone knows what to do when an emergency occurs.
Build an emergency kit. Include a gallon of water per person, per day, non-perishable food, a flashlight, battery-powered radio, first aid kit, medications, supplies for an infant if applicable, a multi-purpose tool, personal hygiene items, copies of important papers, cell phone chargers, extra cash, blankets, maps of the area and emergency contact information. Because of the pandemic, include a mask for everyone in your household. If you already have a disaster kit, now is the time make sure the food and water is still okay to consume and that copies of important documents are up to date.
Be informed. Find out how local officials will contact you during a wildfire emergency and how you will get important information, such as evacuation orders.
Download the Red Cross Emergency App. Our free emergency app will help keep you and your loved ones safe with real-time alerts, open Red Cross shelter locations and safety advice on wildfires and other emergencies. To download the app, search for ‘American Red Cross’ in your app store or text “GETEMERGENCY” to 90999.
In addition to preparedness, take steps to prevent wildfires.
Don’t drive your vehicle onto dry grass or brush. Hot components under your vehicle can spark fires.
Use equipment responsibly. Lawn mowers, chain saws, tractors and trimmers can all spark a wildfire.
Use caution any time you use fire. Dispose of charcoal briquettes and fireplace ashes properly, never leave any outdoor fire unattended, and make sure that outdoor fires are fully extinguished before leaving the area.
If residential debris burning is allowed — use caution. After obtaining any necessary permits, ensure that burning is not currently restricted in your area.
Store combustible or flammable materials in approved safety containers away from the house.
Find an outdoor water source, such as a pond, well, even a swimming pool, and have a hose that can reach any area of your property.
Create a fire-resistant zone free of leaves, debris or flammable materials for at least 30 feet out from your home.
Regularly clean roofs and gutters.
Make sure driveway entrances and your house number are clearly marked so fire vehicles can get to your home.
Animals can sometimes be overlooked when creating a disaster preparedness plan for your household but are still at risk during an emergency.
Floods and home fires are some of the most common disasters that families in Minnesota and the Dakotas face. It’s important to have a plan in place for your family members, pets, and livestock in the event that a disaster strikes close to home. Below are some ways to include your pets and livestock in your disaster preparedness plan. Note: This post mainly focuses on cats, dogs, and livestock. For information on other pet species, visit the links in the Additional Resources section at the end.
10 Ways to Include Your Pets in Your Disaster Preparedness Plans
1. Include pets in evacuation practice drills so they feel comfortable riding in their travel carriers. Practice transporting your pet by taking them for rides in a vehicle similar to one you would be evacuating in.
2. Microchip your pet(s). Register your pet’s microchip with the manufacturer and keep your contact information updated at all times.
3. Prepare a Pet Disaster Kit so evacuation will go smoothly for your entire family. This kit should include:
– Sturdy leashes, harnesses and/or carriers to transport pets safely and ensure that they can’t escape.
– Food, drinking water, bowls, cat litter/pan and a manual can opener.
– Medications and copies of medical records stored in a waterproof container
– A first aid kit.
– Current photos of you with your pet(s) in case they get lost.
– Information on feeding schedules, medical conditions, behavior problems, and the name and number of your veterinarian in case you have to foster or board your pets.
– Pet beds and toys, if easily transportable
4. Communicate which family member is tasked with grabbing the emergency pet disaster kit. Make sure each member of your family knows your pet evacuation plan.
5. Ensure that your pet’s vaccinations are current and that all dogs and cats are wearing collars with securely fastened, up-to-date identification. Many pet shelters require proof of current vaccinations to reduce the spread of disease.
6. Know where your pet might hide when stressed or scared. Practice catching your pet, if needed.
7. Identify which pet friendly hotels and motels along your evacuation route will accept you and your pets in an emergency. The majority of Red Cross shelters cannot accept pets because of health and safety concerns. Service animals that assist people with disabilities are allowed in Red Cross shelters.
8. Create a buddy system with neighbors so everyone is prepared to help if a disaster strikes when a family is away.
9. Affix a pet alert window cling to a visible front window and write the number of pets in your house. This is critical for first responders to know how many animals may need to be evacuated.
10. Download the Red Cross Pet First Aid App for access to training on dog and cat first aid and other resources to be prepared for a disaster.
When Disaster Strikes
If you must leave your pet behind in the event of a disaster NEVER leave them chained outside. Leave them loose inside your home near entrances with plenty of food and water.
While the best way to ensure your pet stays safe during a disaster is to evacuate them with you, remember never to delay escape or endanger yourself or family to rescue a family pet.
Caring for Pets After Disaster
Be aware of hazards at ground level, particularly debris, spilled chemicals, fertilizers and other substances that could injure your pet.
Watch your animals closely and keep them under control as fences and gates may be damaged or destroyed.
Disasters can alter the scents and the appearance of areas your pet is familiar and comfortable with. Make sure you monitor their well being and be aware that changes in levels of aggression and defensiveness are possible.
10 Ways to Prepare Livestock for Disasters
1. Ensure all animals have some form of identification.
2. Evacuate animals whenever possible. Map out primary and secondary routes in advance.
3. Hold disaster drills and practice emergency procedures with all employees and animal owners.
4. Make sure you have the trailers needed for transporting and supporting each type of animal.
5. Make available experienced handlers and drivers that understand your evacuation plans.
6. Help organize safe holding facilities in your community such as fairgrounds, farms, and racetracks for use in an emergency.
7. Ensure destinations have food, water, veterinary care, and handling equipment.
8. For flooding disasters, move animals, feed, and water supplies to higher ground. Act quickly at the first sign of rising water.
9. Do not let animals loose to fend for themselves during a disaster unless a wildfire threatens your area. Animals on the road can be injured and can create a hazard for evacuating motorists.
10. Post a sign for rescue workers noting the number and types of animals left behind.
This year, celebrating Independence Day will be different due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. We have safety tips that you can follow, especially if your community is re-opening.
• Continue to social distance by staying 6 feet away from others, especially if you are at high risk for serious illness from COVID-19 (over age 65 or any age with underlying medical conditions).
• Continue to wear cloth face coverings in public. Face coverings are most essential when social distancing is difficult.
• Follow guidelines for your area when it comes to how large gatherings can be. Avoid crowds and mass gatherings.
• Clean and disinfect frequently touched surfaces daily.
• Stay home if you are sick.
Many public fireworks shows are canceled this summer to avoid holding events where large crowds will gather. If you plan to use your own fireworks, check first if it is legal in your area.
• Never give fireworks to small children, and never throw or point a firework toward people, animals, vehicles, structures or flammable materials. Always follow the instructions on the packaging.
• Keep a supply of water close by as a precaution.
• Make sure the person lighting fireworks always wears eye protection.
• Light only one firework at a time and never attempt to relight “a dud.”
• Store fireworks in a cool, dry place away from children and pets.
Grilling fires spark more than 10,000 home fires on average each year in the U.S. Do these things to help prevent a home fire:
• Always supervise a barbecue grill when in use.
• Don’t add charcoal starter fluid when coals have already been ignited.
• Never grill indoors — not in the house, camper, tent or any enclosed area.
• Make sure everyone, stays away from the grill, including children and pets.
• Keep the grill away from the house or anything that could catch fire.
• Use the long-handled tools especially made for cooking on the grill.
DYK: The Red Cross offers a series of free mobile apps to put lifesaving safety information in the palm of your hand. Download these apps by searching for “American Red Cross” in your app store or at redcross.org/apps.
Red Cross disaster mental health expert shares mental health insights for times of isolation, stress, and uncertainty.
When disaster strikes or when a crisis develops we can find ourselves challenged physically, emotionally and mentally. While we are often very good at taking care of our physical needs, in those hard times we often neglect our mental health.
And that’s where the American Red Cross Disaster Mental Health team comes in. These volunteers are highly trained and qualified helpers that can assist with keeping us mentally strong and emotionally stable during hard times.
Terry Crandall knows all too well the challenges we are all facing with COVID-19 related stay-at-home and quarantine orders. “Our biggest challenge right now is probably isolation and the ongoing effect of not having our usual social support network.”
Mr. Crandall leads the Disaster Mental Health team for the Minnesota & Dakotas Region of the Red Cross. Terry, who is a Licensed Professional Counselor and an Adjunct Professor at the University of South Dakota, tells us that he started volunteering with the Red Cross in 2006.
Since then he says with a laugh that he has now, ‘drank the Kool-Aid’ in reference to his passion for the Red Cross mission and his commitment to helping people in need of mental health help. “That is sometimes just a shoulder to lean on and someone to tell their story to.”
Terry believes that not having access to the people we love like our family and friends leaves most people feeling isolated and without their usual support system. He says that feeling of isolation can lead to despair when facing this pandemic.
“People are experiencing very normal emotional and mental reactions to this situation. They are missing their families and friends, they are worried for kids and their studies. Kids are missing their friends and social networks like their clubs and teams. There is uncertainty about when, or if, school will be back in session. Proms and senior events will likely not happen for this class.”
For almost all of us work has changed. For those left out of work by this virus there are huge amounts of anxiety about the future. Money concerns seem to touch everyone.
Compounding these worries are the stressors that can come from having what may feel like, “just too much family time.” Terry recommends families keep to a regular schedule and try to stay engaged in activities that are creative and can offer some exercise.
Terry says that using positive imagery, relaxation techniques, and visualization tools can all help make you more resilient and able to cope in a healthier way. “The most important tool we all have is a positive outlook. If we can stay focused on the fact that this isn’t forever and that there will be a much better day to come, we can keep all of us mentally strong.”
The Red Cross guide to recovering emotionally recommends several tools to help keep a positive outlook. ‘Remind yourself of how you’ve successfully gotten through difficult times in the past. Reach out when you need support, and help others when they need it.’
You can get disaster tools, information about recovery, and guides to coping with the stress of the COVID-19 crisis at the Red Cross website. You can start here: shelteringathome. For more about the emotional stresses and tools that can help you can visit this guide: recoveringemotionally.
Are you ready to join the team? The American Red Cross accomplishes our mission with over 90% volunteers. We need you. Your community needs you. You feel the need to help make this better. Please consider adding your talents to our team.
If you are interested in joining the Disaster Mental Health team please see the requirements and opportunities by visiting: mentalhealthvolunteer.
To reach out for free 24/7 counseling or support, contact the Disaster Distress Helpline at 1-800-985-5990 or text “TalkWithUs’ to 66746.
This year, our own Janice Springer is among the selected recipients of the prestigious Florence Nightingale Medal. This honor from the International Committee of the Red Cross is the highest international distinction a nurse can receive.
Janice Springer, DNP, RN, PHN, received this prestigious recognition for extraordinary service in disaster situations and in public health and nursing education.
Dr. Springer is a Red Cross volunteer who has deployed to 15 disaster relief operations since 2005, often as a leader. Having held several Red Cross leadership roles within Disaster Cycle Services and the International Services Department, she is currently serving as Volunteer Partner for International Recovery, expanding her public health nursing expertise internationally.
Dr. Springer serves as a disaster public health and disability integration subject matter expert for the North American Humanitarian Response Summit, a coalition of U.S. and international government and humanitarian response organizations, helping plan for international cross-border catastrophic disasters. She has published extensively in nursing textbooks and professional journals and has presented papers and posters on her research and best practices throughout the world.
Dr. Springer’s contributions to public health nursing, disaster nursing and the Red Cross are exceptional. The effects of her dedication, leadership and work will continue to spread their positive impact on Red Cross nursing and support individuals affected by disasters around the world.
Click here for more about becoming a Red Cross volunteer.
For five years, we’ve been working with our partners to install free smoke alarms in high-risk communities and help families create escape plans through our Home Fire Campaign.
Every day, seven people die in home fires in the U.S., most in homes that don’t have working smoke alarms. That’s why the Red Cross launched our national Home Fire Campaign in 2014. We would like to thank everyone for their support to help prevent these needless tragedies.
So far, the campaign has saved 11 lives (details below) in Minnesota. Across the country, the national campaign efforts have saved at least 638 lives.
Our local impact includes:
Local Lives Saved
In Two Harbors, two lives were saved in January, 2019. Thanks to Red Cross volunteers Tim and John who had installed the smoke alarms before the fire as part of Home Fire Campaign activities a couple years ago.
In Virginia, three lives were saved on May 20, 2019. The family received notification of a fire through a Lifetone bed-shaker smoke alarm installed just three months prior. The special alarm helps alert people who are deaf or hard-of-hearing. Thanks to the entire Virginia Fire Department for supporting this effort. For more, see this story by WDIO ABC News in Duluth.
In Federal Dam, six lives were saved on January 2, 2019. Special thanks to Red Cross volunteer Mike Auger who responded to the fire to help the family and also installed the smoke alarm in August, 2016. Thanks to partners Federal Dam Fire Department and the Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe. For more, see this story by KBJR NBC News in Duluth.
You Can Help
Home fires are the nation’s most frequent disaster, and while we can’t always stop them from happening, we can help ensure families are prepared. Please help us to sound the alarm about home fire safety and save lives. Visit soundthealarm.org/mn to learn how you can join us by becoming a volunteer or making a donation to support our lifesaving services.
Rick’s got to get on a plane soon. So, let’s get right to this. Rick Emanuel (in the video below) is going south to support people affected by the powerful storm approaching the Gulf Coast.
This will be Rick’s third deployment to a major disaster response in just over a year. His first, last fall, was Hurricane Florence, where he worked at a shelter in Havelock, North Carolina. “Feeding, setting up cots, making sure everybody has what they need,” he says were the main things he did in his volunteer role supporting shelter operations for the American Red Cross. “And getting people to the right resources when they’re in crisis.”
In North Carolina, the water rose so fast in some areas that first responders, national guard soldiers and community helpers were bringing in people, especially the elderly, in massive dump trucks because those vehicles could reach them through the flood waters. “They were bringing in people as fast as they could,” he says. Supplies arrived anytime and needed to be off-loaded as fast as possible. Sometimes this was in the middle of the night when volunteers like him might get some sleep. “That was the biggest part of the deal, finding down time.”
With this deployment to Louisiana he’s even more ready to help others because he knows that “flexible is the word” when it comes to providing disaster relief.
If you would like to support disasters big and small, including training and deploying volunteers like Rick, visit redcross.org/mn.
During Hurricane Florence, John Decker was not at the shelter in North Carolina the night a woman died from an opioid overdose in September of 2018.
But he heard about the death almost as soon as it happened because for one month, at the onset of the response, Decker was in North Carolina serving as Disaster Health Services chief for the Red Cross relief effort. The young woman who died was her mother’s care-taker, he recalls.
Decker is a Red Cross volunteer who responds to major disasters across the United States. When home in Minnesota, he’s a registered nurse. Now, after ten years with the Red Cross, he’s often at the front lines of providing disaster relief in shelters.
That night in North Carolina their first concern, Decker says, was to support the young woman’s mother. Their second was to prevent more deaths. Decker connected with national Red Cross disaster leadership that was supporting field activities. Together, they set two immediate priorities: find naloxone and train shelter workers.
The CDC reports that around 130 people die from opioid overdose every day in the United States. During 2017, 47,600 people died from overdoses involving opioids. Those deaths were 68% of drug-related overdoses.
Decker found a local source for Narcan, one type of naloxone medicine that reverses overdose. There were only a couple boxes. Not enough, he figured. Plus, they were expensive. Then, his phone rang. On the line was a woman who worked with a relief partner. She had 2,500 – 3,000 doses. With help, Decker picked them up and got them distributed to more than 400 shelters.
The Red Cross and its partners supported more than 129,700 overnight stays for people displaced because of Hurricane Florence across North Carolina, South Carolina and Virginia. During Fiscal Year 2018, the Red Cross and its partners provided more than 1 million overnight shelter stays for people affected by disasters.
Next up was teaching shelter workers the signs of opioid overdose and the steps to respond. Initially, some people resisted. They were comfortable delivering relief supplies, not giving someone a medicine requiring injection. The training transformed their feelings and their skills. At first it’s scary, and then we learn, and then it’s nothing, Decker says. “It’s good to get rid of the mystery. It’s no more complicated than a kid’s Legos.”
Since then, the Red Cross released an online class that helps people respond to opioid overdose emergencies. I took the course and learned a lot. It removed my anxiety and strengthened my confidence about helping someone during an opioid overdose emergency. Check out and take the class here. For a quick understanding of opioid overdose, watch this new video.