Deployment experience in North Carolina

This past fall volunteer Deb Thingstad Boe responded for the first time to a Red Cross call for nurses to support Hurricane Florence relief efforts. Deb deployed to North Carolina where she worked in a shelter. Below is an excerpt of  Deb’s experience originally published in the December 2018 Minnesota Metro Medical Reserve Corps newsletter. Thank you to Deb for responding to the call to serve when you’re needed most!

Deb at Smith shelter in Fayetteville

I found out the deployment process moves fast! I spoke with the Red Cross on September 25, which was almost three weeks after Hurricane Florence made landfall, and six days later I was on the ground in Fayetteville, North Carolina. I was deployed through what is called Direct Deployment (DD), which is a rapid process used to ready healthcare workers for disaster work.

Once I received a call from Red Cross staff affirming my desire to deploy, I completed forms and about 15 hours of required online training and attended a deployment training in-person. At this training I received my disaster response ID, and mission and procurement cards. The mission card was used for my expenses and the procurement card was used to help clients (there is training on this!).

Along the way I also received a suggested packing list that was invaluable. Among those items were a stethoscope and blood pressure cuff. I found out later that it’s more difficult if you do not own these items when you arrive on assignment without them.  The best thing I purchased to prepare was a self-inflating air mattress that fit on the cot I slept on. Ear plugs are a must! If I didn’t wear them, then I worried about whether the next breath is coming for some people. I wasn’t the only healthcare volunteer that talked about that.

Red Cross volunteer staff shelter (a.k.a. home)

Although it felt like everything was moving fast, I knew this was what I wanted to do. I decided I would go with the flow, take things as they come and try to do my best.

My assignment was to work 12-hour shifts at Smith Recreation Center. This Red Cross shelter was planned to be the last to close in Fayetteville. This meant that as other shelters closed people who had not been able to find housing were relocated to Smith. The shelter had about 150 people in residence, many who were among the most vulnerable people in the city: people with mobility issues, unstable chronic conditions exacerbated by displacement, chronic untreated mental illness, addiction, in hospice care, and (previous to the disaster) long-term homelessness.

Every day was different and yet alike. Within the first fifteen minutes of the first day, I was instructed on how to administer Narcan and safety precautions related to the environment. I was informed that public health obtained Narcan for the shelters because there was a death due to opioids. The shelter had many residents who accessed Disaster Health Services on a daily basis. I learned about “shelter cough.” When I arrived many residents and staff had upper respiratory symptoms, and I wondered about influenza and whether residents had been offered flu vaccinations. Just listening was an important component of care.

Visiting rural communities in North Carolina

My experience with Public Health came in very handy. Part of the plan to help one woman in the shelter included food as a prescription for her chronic health needs. Listening and choices were critical to helping her. During my three hours with her, I managed to work in stress management tips and the power of positive-thinking and being forward-moving in thought and actions.

I finished my time working in rural North Carolina working with the community to identify unmet needs, assess how migrant farm workers were managing, and identify where the Red Cross could help. We partnered with Spanish-speaking restaurant owners to inform the area churches of our presence. They opened up an area of their restaurant for Red Cross services and allowed a food truck to be positioned in their parking lot. People came for blood pressure and glucose level checks, OTC meds, blankets, diapers, and TLC (tender-loving care). Staff assigned included an interpreter, disaster mental health, and disaster healthcare. Listening and caring were critical elements of care.

Deb and her new friend Lois

One of the things I enjoyed the most was meeting volunteers from other places. The first night a few of us who had met at the shelter gathered together and headed out to dinner. None of us were assigned to the same place, which meant we met more people the next day. I met a retired pulmonologist and two EMTs, and we had dinner together every night starting on night two of a ten-day deployment. We had fun, and it was a good transition to sleep and the next day.

Deb Thingstad Boe is an American Red Cross Volunteer and a Dakota County Minnesota Medical Reserve Corps Volunteer (MRC). Photos provided by Deb. Click here to learn more about becoming a Red Cross volunteer.

Thinking of becoming a Red Cross volunteer? These three opportunities support disaster relief.

Icon Disaster ServicesThis year, are you thinking of becoming a Red Cross volunteer? Right now in Minnesota, we’re recruiting for three opportunities supporting disaster relief. Each position ensures disaster workers can deliver humanitarian aid at home and around the corner. 

Icon DisasterSupport daily operations for disaster relief services
The American Red Cross serving Twin Cities Area seeks a volunteer to support instructor-led training by scheduling in-person classes and performing other administrative tasks, as needed. This is a flexible-schedule position that can be performed remotely during daytime hours. If interested, please contact Angela Antony (angela.antony@redcross.org).

Icon DisasterPrepare new volunteers for Red Cross disaster relief service
The American Red Cross serving Twin Cities Area seeks volunteers to assist Workforce Engagement with bringing on-board new disaster volunteers. This role guides new volunteers through the first steps of joining the Red Cross, from turning in the right paperwork and signing up for training, to helping them feel prepared for their roles. On-boarding volunteers enjoy working with people, being flexible, and serving on a team. If interested, please contact Hannah Linsk (hannah.linsk@redcross.org).

Icon DisasterHelp volunteers get out the door to disaster relief responses
The Minnesota Region needs volunteers to help deploy volunteers to both regional and national disasters. Deployment team members will assign volunteers to Disaster Relief Operations (DROs), give the proper information regarding deployment procedures, distribute mission cards, and perform other duties as necessary. The best candidates will be comfortable working with online platforms and on the telephone. Help us volunteers get out the door! If interested, please contact Susan Waananen (susan.waananen@redcross.org).

rco_blog_img_centenniallogoIt’s a great year to join us! Click here to learn more about our Century of Service, year-long celebration during 2017. #mnredcross100

Post by Lynette Nyman/American Red Cross Minnesota Region

2016 Year In Disasters — Helping People Near and Far

In November, Red Cross volunteer Mimi Bielinski met with Milton Vallejos after a multi-unit apartment fire in Burnsville, Minnesota.
In November, Red Cross volunteer Mimi Bielinski met with Milton Vallejos after a multi-unit apartment fire in Burnsville, Minnesota.

2016 was a busy year for Red Cross disaster services in Minnesota. Our relief workers did a great job making sure people near and far received Red Cross support during times of need and helping them rebuild their lives after disaster.

For example, in November, Red Cross volunteer Mimi Bielinski met with Milton Vallejos following a multi-unit apartment fire in Burnsville, a city just south of Minneapolis. Mimi worked with Milton to assess and support his family’s immediate disaster relief needs and to direct him to additional resources for long-term recovery. With Red Cross help said Milton, “All of our problems went away. We had a place to stay, money for food and clothes.” The Red Cross assisted more than 80 people affected by the fire. After four years into serving as a Red Cross volunteer Mimi said, “I feel good when people are being helped. And, I can tell when they’re being helped just by my interactions with them.”

During 2016, the Minnesota Region of the American Red Cross:

  • Responded to 470 disasters in the Minnesota Region, which includes part of western Wisconsin
  • Helped 1,011 families affected by local disasters, mostly single family home fires
  • Installed 3,720 smoke alarms in residences, making them safer from and more prepared for home fires as part of our Home Fire Campaign
  • Reached 5,245 youth with emergency preparedness education through The Pillowcase Project

In addition to helping at home, more than 150 Red Cross disaster relief workers from Minnesota responded (some not once, but multiple times) to national Red Cross relief efforts across the country, including flooding in Missouri, Texas, and Louisiana; water crisis in Flint, Michigan; wildfires in California; and hurricane relief across multiple states along the eastern seaboard. Their service provided shelter, food, and medical and emotional support to thousands of people experiencing some of their darkest moments.

Thank you to everyone for the great work done this past year, providing assistance to neighbors near and far.

Story and photo by Lynette Nyman, American Red Cross. Click here to learn more about the Red Cross in Minnesota.  

From Florida to the Carolinas

From Florida to the Carolinas, American Red Cross workers from Minnesota have supported Hurricane Matthew relief efforts. Assignments have ranged from working in a shelter and serving meals to coordinating with response partners and providing medical and mental health services. Others gathered stories and helped raise money for the response. Big picture number as of October 27: more than 50 Red Cross workers from Minnesota have deployed to areas impacted by the storm across the southeastern United States. Take a look.

14712963_10154611990962179_2000084266616440590_oCarole Madland visited people in shelters and neighborhoods in North Carolina. Sometimes she hitched a ride to reach isolated communities. Overall, the Red Cross mobilized 2,200 workers, 13 kitchens with partners, and 111 response vehicles for the state. Big picture number as of October 25: the Red Cross has mobilized more than 5,800 disaster workers since Hurricane Matthew first threatened communities in the southeast.

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Rachel Olmanson took meals to people in affected communities. Above is the view from Rachel’s truck while her team was next in line for food pick-up at a field kitchen in North Carolina. Big picture number as of October 25: the Red Cross and its partners have served more than 1.3 million meals and snacks in affected communities in Florida, Georgia, North Carolina and South Carolina.

 

matthew_daveschoeneckIn Florida, Dave Schoeneck (upper left) assisted with relief effort coordination. The Red Cross has worked closely with government officials and non-government organizations (NGOs), such as Southern Baptist Disaster Relief, AmeriCorps National Civilian Community Corps and others. Big picture number: around 13,000 homes are affected in Florida, Georgia, North Carolina and South Carolina.

 

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In South Carolina, Dave Snetsinger (second on right) was a shelter worker. Overall, the Red Cross has had nearly 1,200 workers, 5 kitchens with partners, and 53 response vehicles for relief efforts in the state. Big picture number as of October 25: the Red Cross has helped provide nearly 100,000 overnight shelter stays in Florida, Georgia, North Carolina and South Carolina.

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Mark and Gail Noren (right and center) are doing search and care, which means finding neighborhoods and people in need of meals and feeding them in North Carolina. Big picture number as of October 25: Red Cross and its partners have served 697,000 meals and snacks across hurricane affected areas in the state.

 

a9r13mhx5w_h375qp_a98-2In Georgia, Judy Hanne Gonzalez helped gather and share stories about the Red Cross and its Hurricane Matthew relief efforts. Judy also assisted with fundraising in Florida. Big picture number: as of October 25, the Red Cross has raised $8.1 million in designated donations and pledges for a relief response that’s estimated to cost $24-$28 million.

Thank you to everyone who has responded to the Hurricane Matthew relief efforts!

National VOAD honors Minnesota Red Cross disaster relief worker

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Red Cross disaster worker Ruth Talford received the 2016 NVOAD Spirit Award. Photo: Megan Mrozek/American Red Cross

We are pleased to announce that Ruth Talford, a disaster relief worker with the American Red Cross Minnesota Region, received the 2016 National Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster (NVOAD) Spirit Award. This award is given each year to a person who has exhibited outstanding commitment to the NVOAD movement. The award was presented to Ms. Talford during the NVOAD conference held in Minneapolis in late May. Conference participants included more than 400 people representing voluntary organizations from that respond to disasters around the country in a variety of ways, such as feeding, cleaning, and spiritual care. The Minnesota Region of the American Red Cross, the national American Red Cross, and other Red Cross regions were well-represented with several dozen disaster relief workers on-hand. This year’s conference service project was a Red Cross blood drive. Click here to learn more about NVOAD and click here to learn more about the MNVOAD.

Red Cross prepares for disasters that could cross the northern border

Across northern Minnesota, American Red Cross disaster relief responders are working towards hosting a disaster shelter workshop in each county and tribal community. Most recently, the Red Cross teamed up with Koochiching County employees. In addition, the Red Cross connected with response partners across the U.S.-Canadian border because, as we know, ‘disasters don’t go through customs.’

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Nancy Young with the American Red Cross Dakotas Region guides shelter training participants during a workshop in Koochiching County, March 2016. Photo credit: Richard Johnson/International Falls Journal

The training week started with a shelter set-up that included twenty-four Koochiching County employees. (The workshop was a smaller version of what was used for the statewide Vigilant Guard exercise in Duluth in the fall of 2015.) Before the participants arrived they completed the American Red Cross Shelter Fundamentals course online. During the on-site part of the training, a Red Cross team of three volunteers from the Minnesota and North Dakota guided the shelter participants. (The cross-border collaboration between states has been in place for more than two years because we’re often called to respond together.) The workshop was set-up in three stations: registration, dormitory, and feeding. There was also a training for disaster nursing. After the two-hour workshop there was an open-house for the community members who were not in the training to ask questions and to see how the Red Cross and Koochiching County can work together to shelter displaced people during disaster relief response. The Salvation was also on hand serving lunch to all who participated. (Thanks!)

rco_blog_img_CrossBorderConference2016A cross-border conference called “Disasters Do Not go Through Customs” followed the shelter training. Sponsored by the Rainy River Cross Border Planning Group, the conference  brought together around one hundred people from both sides of the U.S.-Canadian border who could work together during major disasters affecting both sides of the international border. Presentations included managing potential threats, such as train derailments, floods, tornadoes, biological outbreak, communication failures, quarantine, wild fires and terrorism. All levels of government were represented from both Canada and the United States. Railroad representatives addressed one of the biggest concerns throughout the emergency management world: train derailments involving large amounts of oil carried by rail.

Less than twenty fours after the end of the conference there was a train derailment in Callaway, Minnesota. The accident forced the town of more than 200 people to be evacuated. Red Cross volunteers from North Dakota and Minnesota as well as Salvation Army relief workers were on-scene, providing the care and sheltering that we have trained for and do so well.

Story by Tony Guerra, Disaster Program Manager for the American Red Cross Serving Northern Minnesota. You can be a Red Cross disaster relief volunteer.

Fires do more than burn

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As part of a Red Cross disaster relief team, Rose Ingebrigtsen has responded to several house fires in northern Minnesota, including one in Virginia on January 26, 2016. Photo credit: Nancy Rogers/American Red Cross

By Rose Ingebrigtsen, an American Red Cross intern serving in northern Minnesota

When I saw that the American Red Cross serving Northern Minnesota was looking for a disaster services intern I was immediately interested. Even though I did not have any prior experience with the Red Cross personally, I knew it must be a great place to work. Why else would 330,000 volunteers nationwide serve for free? At this point I am mostly learning about disaster response and capacity building for The Pillowcase Project (a youth disaster preparedness program that the Red Cross is doing in partnership with Disney), which is great because I love doing hands on work and working directly with people.

That changed on Friday, January 22, when I was able to go on my first D.A.T. (Disaster Action Team) response with the Red Cross. I was a little nervous due to the fact I had never done anything like this before, but I was lucky enough to be accompanied by our local disaster program manager and seasoned D.A.T. captain Tony Guerra.

Before meeting with the affected resident, we drove to the address to see first-hand the condition of the burned house. Due to sketchy cell service and an unreliable maps app we couldn’t find the house, but it turned out there wasn’t much of a house left to find. Later, when we met our client, I quickly learned how hard it is to be really prepared for a house fire, and that no one knows exactly what to do after and much of their belongings are damaged or gone. This client was no different: all she had now were the clothes on her back and, luckily, her purse.

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In northern Minnesota local community members help the Red Cross provide basic comfort and care to people who have suffered a tremendous loss because of home fire and other disasters. Photo credit: Nancy Rogers/American Red Cross.

After we assessed our client’s needs and determined what steps she needed to take next we brought her a donated quilt, which she appreciated so much. Typically these quilts are made by local church groups, and then they are donated to disaster victims and military veterans through the Red Cross. Giving someone in need a quilt is, I think, fitting. Back in the day, imported fabric was expensive for the average person in America and it was difficult to find sufficient, affordable fabric locally. The solution was to salvage scraps of fabric and to sew together into a quilt. Today, after someone has a house fire family, friends, strangers, and the Red Cross come together like small pieces of fabric to help people rebuild their lives.

Before beginning this internship, I had no idea how many house fires there were in our area and the damage they do besides burning up the contents of your house: think smoke damage or water damage. Since my first response in January, I’ve had the opportunity to respond to two more fire disasters in northern Minnesota. I was struck by the devastation residents feel after losing much to all of their belongings, and how much Red Cross disaster relief is necessary and appreciated. I hope there will be fewer house fires in the area. But if there are more I hope I have the opportunity respond again, because I have enjoyed lending a hand and making a direct positive difference in someone’s life.

Red Cross spiritual care is for disasters of all sizes

Story by Jason Bengtson, Regional Recovery Manager for the American Red Cross Minnesota Region

_DSC2957Since 1997, American Red Cross volunteers in spiritual care have responded to large disasters across the country, providing what is for some people a basic need for disaster relief. Now, the Red Cross will offer spiritual care during disasters small, medium and large. This program expansion comes following a national Red Cross leadership decision to make spiritual care a part of basic comfort and care in local communities across the country.

A major component of the Red Cross Disaster Spiritual Care Program is collaboration with our Integrated Care and Condolence Teams (ICCT). These teams coordinate services to families whose loved ones are injured, missing, or deceased because of disaster. Immediate relief and long-term recovery planning, health services, mental health support, and spiritual care is offered together as a way to decrease intrusion into people’s lives while increasing care, comfort and support, during a time of great need.

Our region is fortunate to have Greg Bodin leading the local spiritual care team. Greg is a Red Cross volunteer who helps lead the national spiritual care program. He’s also head of pastoral care for North Memorial Health Care. He has deep experience providing spiritual care after emergencies.

“This is an exciting opportunity for the Red Cross to expand the basic services it provides to people affected by disasters in Minnesota,” says Greg. “The Red Cross Disaster Spiritual Care program represents excellent community care across faith traditions.”

_DSC2929Spiritual care volunteers respect the Fundamental Principles of the global Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement. The principles ensure that services are provided with neutrality and impartiality in a way that supports the Red Cross mission to alleviate human suffering. The volunteers provide consistent and reliable services in all regions and to all persons regardless of faith traditions. They are trained to spiritual care during a house fire, the most common disaster the Red Cross responds to, as well as major natural disasters and mass casualty events.

Recruitment and training for this new opportunity will take place during the coming months. To be eligible for a spiritual care volunteer position an individual must be a professional chaplain or an endorsed faith-based provider. Active leaders of local faith-based organizations are encouraged to become Red Cross spiritual care responders.

For additional information about this opportunity, please email Jason at jason.bengtson@redcross.org. Image credits: Lynette Nyman

Every home fire death breaks a heart

HFCv2_763x260This past weekend there were two home fire deaths in Minnesota. One was a woman 25 years old and the other was a girl 5 years old. These sad and tragic deaths bring the number of home fire deaths to 46 this year in Minnesota. And like the people closest to these disasters, we feel our heart break each time we learn of a home fire death, and we especially feel the heart ache when Red Cross volunteers are responding to these disasters, helping the survivors rebuild their lives.

We do not know details about how the most recent home fires started. But we encourage everyone to  practice home fire safety, especially during the busy holiday season. Here are several resources that will get you started:

Icon PreparednessOne thing we’re passionate about is making sure that every household has working smoke alarms. Please check the alarms in your home to see if they’re working. If not, replace the batteries or the alarms. We can help you do this. Our Home Fire Campaign makes it possible for the Red Cross to install free smoke alarms that will help save lives during home fires.

Remember: if a fire starts in your home get out to safety, and then dial 9-1-1 for emergency assistance.

Caring people make the Red Cross go round

Story by Hildred Dungan, Red Cross Volunteer

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“Everything the Red Cross does because of disasters–and we’ve had many this year ranging from Washington wildfires to South Carolina flooding–is done with help from caring people like us. “

I have been a volunteer for the Red Cross since 2003. Based in Minnesota, I first started after I took several classes and became a volunteer to go to local fires and help the families after the incident. We provided those affected some funds depending on the severity of the fire. In our office counselors helped them with a lot of referrals to places like VEAP and Bridging to replace their personal items that were lost. It was always a comfort to them when we were there, especially in the middle of the night.

To date, I have been on about 20 deployments which have ranged from Hurricane Katrina (my first one) on the Gulf Coast to Hurricane Sandy in New York, and most recently the wildfires in Idaho and Montana. A deployment is when you are sent to volunteer at some type of a disaster usually in another state.

When I was deployed to Katrina, another volunteer and I drove the Emergency Response Vehicle better known as the ERV to Montgomery, AL to pick up a load of water and snacks. The ERV is the size of an ambulance and it is a feeding unit to go out in affected areas and feed those who are without electricity and maybe running water. We did 2 meals a day with a Baptist group cooking big kettles of food and there were maybe 20 ERV’s delivering food and water to all parts of the area. We were first assigned to Mobile, AL and drove anywhere up to a 50 miles range to serve lunch. We would serve hot food from a serving window in the truck and when finished or the food was all gone we would head back to our base camp and do it all over for dinner. All the people we served would be so appreciative as they hadn’t had a hot meal for 3-5 days by then.

Another disaster I worked on was the 35-W bridge collapse in Minneapolis. Another volunteer and I were in charge of seeing that there was hot food for the divers, police, federal officials when the first lady and again when the President came. We were only using 2 ERVs to send out food but had many volunteers who came to the Red Cross building to eat which is almost right under the bridge. I was able to go down on the river one evening and take food to the divers. Many days after the incident happened it was still a disturbing event to look up at the bridge and see cars still hanging there.

Hurricane Sandy was another unique disaster because of the size and how long the recovery went on and how large it was. By now I had changed from working with the feeding unit to the staffing unit. That job is to take care of the volunteers that are working on the disaster. They may be doing disaster assessment, mental health work, client casework and feeding those who are without a home, and most likely were staying in one of the many shelters the Red Cross operated across parts of New York, New Jersey and some of New England.

Because the job was so large for Sandy our Staff Services team was divided into several parts. I was the manager of all volunteers coming on the job and leaving the job. Some mornings we would have 50 new volunteers reporting to check in and get their assignments. The Red Cross headquarters where I worked for three weeks was two miles from my hotel. Every morning I walked past some interesting sights like the Good Morning America studio and the jumbotrons on Broadway. I picked up breakfast from a local deli or a street vendor and did the same on the walk back in the evening.

The night before Thanksgiving some of my group decided we would go up to Central Park and look at the parade floats. You cannot imagine the number of people who had decided to do the same thing. There were eight of us in our group and we had to hang on to the coat of the person in front of us or we would have been lost. We decided that we had walked about eight miles that evening, but it was fun. None us would do it again.

My most recent deployment was the Idaho and Montana wildfires. Half of my time there was spent in Kamiah, ID which is way up in the mountains. My workplace was the local American Legion. There was a reception center, called a MARC, that brought many groups into one place where those affected could get different kinds of help. There were 16 families that had totally lost their homes as they burned to the ground in a matter of minutes. Many others had lost part of their homes or all of their out buildings and a lot of cattle.

Everything the Red Cross does because of disasters–and we’ve had many this year ranging from Washington wildfires to South Carolina flooding–is done with help from caring people like us. The Red Cross is always grateful for our help. If any of you have 4-5 hours a week to volunteer, we always need more help. If it would not be your thing to go out to fires or to be deployed, there are simple jobs in the office that can be done, such as addressing birthday cards for volunteers. If you would like to become a Red Cross volunteer, just click here.