One Tangible Step Towards Personal Preparedness

by Caroline Sevachko/American Red Cross

Red Cross board member Hap LeVander shows off his family’s emergency kit: “A couple items to add, and we’re set!”

Last March, our region’s board members accepted a challenge:

“100% of Board Members will take at least one tangible step towards Personal Preparedness by getting a kit, making a plan or being informed; and will document and submit it evidence of it (by photo or in writing), no later than Tuesday, April 22, 2014, end of day.”

We can report to you: the challenge was embraced and the goal was reached. This means that all 98 regular board members from the 6 Red Cross chapters in the Northern Minnesota Region successfully participated!

We’re especially eager to share this news with you in the wake of the weekend’s deadly and devastating storms in Arkansas and other nearby states where the Red Cross is on the ground providing emergency aid to people affected by these storms –storms the strength of which we know can happen here in Minnesota.

Board member Sara Viker Althoff and her family practiced using their evacuation plan and fire escape ladder.
Red Cross board member Sara Viker Althoff and her family practiced using their flexible fire escape ladder.

So, we encourage everyone, just like our board members did, to take one step towards improving your family’s preparedness for disaster and other emergencies.

To help in getting a kit, making a plan or being informed, we’ve included below a couple good sources of information for you to use.  The following items will guide you in taking the first steps toward improving your level of preparedness.

1)     Here’s a link to the Be Red Cross Ready website, which gives you an interactive interface to begin the 3 steps to being prepared for emergencies:

2)     You also can download the Red Cross tornado app, which has alerts, tips and other features that will help you be prepared for emergencies:

Have fun… Get your family involved… And tell us how you did!


My Biggest Accomplishment

By Aria Nelson/American Red Cross Intern

Red Cross intern Aria Nelson
Red Cross intern Aria Nelson. Photo credit: Charlotte Bernsohn/American Red Cross.

I’m so happy I had the chance to be an intern with the American Red Cross.  As a senior at Winona State University majoring in Health Promotion, I needed a 600-hour internship to graduate in May. I came across the preparedness internship in my search, and man am I happy I did!

When I began my internship in January, my task was simple:  find and fill gaps in fire safety knowledge in the community. After much research and discussion, I focused my efforts on children. I turned to the Red Cross preparedness team for help with creating a fire safety event for children from scratch. After weeks of planning, revising, and set building, it was gratifying to see the event come to life on April 3.

It was exciting to see around 100 kids stream into the recreation room at the Boys and Girls Club in St. Paul and interact with each of the six fire safety stations we had created.  Each interactive station focused on a specific fire safety topic: creating an escape plan, cooking safety, fire hazards in the home, how to make an emergency kit and be prepared, candle safety, and how to get low and go.

An interactive education station during the “fire safety academy.” Photo credit: Charlotte Bernsohn/American Red Cross.

While facilitating the event, I noticed how the children were engaged at each station. I was happy to see the children making connections and truly learning lifesaving information about home fire safety.  For example, I remember watching a girl take time to think about how to escape from her house during a fire and then drawing it on graph paper. The need for this event was driven home when a boy came up and said, “I live in an apartment and I have no idea how I would get out.”

Through my internship experience at the American Red Cross I’ve done a variety of things, from gathering and assessing preparedness surveys to presenting, on my own, to community groups as well as to children in schools. Presentations became one of my favorite things to do. You would have never heard me say that in college!

I’ve been reflecting on my experience at the Red Cross. I can’t imagine having been anywhere else. I’m so grateful for this opportunity, the people I’ve met along the way, and the incredible amount of experience I have gained.  A special thanks to those who helped with the “fire safety academy” for children. Everyone did an amazing job educating and engaging the children. My hope is that this program will carry on when I am gone.

 Click here to learn more about Red Cross opportunities.


Your Disaster Kit: Better Than a Magic Wand?

Magic Wand or Bust? Or, Our Favorite Disaster Kit Fail courtesy of Carrie Carlson-Guest.
Magic Wand or Bust? Or, Our Favorite Disaster Kit Fail courtesy of Carrie Carlson-Guest.

September is National Preparedness Mont and a great time to get Red Cross Ready for disasters. 

We know – so far your approach to preparedness has looked like a magic wand in a bin. Or maybe it looks like this “kit you don’t want to have” or one of these disaster kit fails.

While we can’t auto-magically get you prepared for disasters, we can give you the tools you need.  The basic steps include making a plan, building a kit and being informed.

Make a Plan Planning together is important. Everyone in the household should help develop the emergency plan and know what they should do if something occurs. The plan should include ways to contact and find one another. Include two places to meet – one near the home in case of a sudden emergency like a fire, and one outside the neighborhood in case circumstances prevent people from returning home. The plan should also identify an emergency contact person from outside the area in case local telephone lines are overloaded or out of service.

Often people are not at home when a disaster occurs and they may not be able to get back into their neighborhood. Plans should include decisions about where everyone will go if ordered to evacuate and what route they will take to get there. When discussing evacuation, everyone should include several different routes in case roads are closed. If pets are part of the household, they should be considered, including where they could be safe if the family has to evacuate such as pet-friendly motels and animal shelters along the evacuation route.

Get a Kit Another step to get ready is to build an emergency kit. Use an easy-to-carry container so the family can use it at home or take it with them if asked to evacuate. It should contain a three-day supply of water (one gallon, per person, per day), nonperishable food, a flashlight, battery-powered or hand-crank radio, extra batteries, a first aid kit, a 7-day supply of medications, a multi-purpose tool, sanitation and personal hygiene items and copies of important personal documents. The Red Cross also recommends having at least two weeks worth of supplies at home.

Be Informed Everyone also needs to stay informed about what types of disasters are most likely to occur where they live or where they plan to visit, and how officials will communicate with you during an emergency. It’s also important to take a first aid and CPR/AED course—a vital component of disaster preparedness in case emergency help is delayed. Click here to find a class near your local Red Cross chapter.

Red Cross Apps People can be ready for whatever comes their way by downloading the free Red Cross apps for mobile devices which not only help people during emergencies, but offer help creating their emergency plan. The apps give people vital information to use during emergencies, even if they can’t connect to the internet. The apps can be downloaded from the Apple App Store and the Google Play Store for Android by searching for American Red Cross.

Happy National Preparedness Month!

Three Cheers for Paul!

So, the other day, this young man named Paul van Vliet stops by Red Cross offices in Minneapolis and drops off comfort kits for kids. How cool is that? He (Paul) comes up with his own project idea (making comfort kits for kids) and provides them (the kits) to us (Red Cross) so that our disaster relief workers can give the kits to kids affected by disasters (like fires, floods, & tornadoes).

Now, let’s give some credit to us (Red Cross) because we came up with the original comfort kits for adults and children idea, but we rely on motivated and generous peeps like Paul to make this kits and help reduce the suffering of people who escape burning buildings or high waters. Paul’s dad John was on hand for the comfort kits for kids drop off. He took a fine photo of his son Paul (top & bottom) and then sent us a nice note (excerpt below left).

“It was great to meet you at the Twin Cities’ Red Cross office today. Thanks for your interest in my son, Paul’s, Eagle Scout project. It was a wonderful surprise and honor to meet Phil Hansen, an Eagle Scout himself. I know Paul was very impressed and honored by Mr. Hanson’s enthusiastic reaction to his project. And I am sure Paul will remember this day for the rest of his life. Most important, he and I are gratified to know these comfort kits will benefit the littlest and most vulnerable victims of disasters.”

Well, John, we think your son is the bee’s knees. We could not do what we do without him and others like him. We wish Paul many happy days during his next adventure (college) and hope that he will make his way around the world and back to us some time in the future.

We all have a role to play in preventing drownings

By Phil Hansen, CEO, American Red Cross Northern Minnesota Region

The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources recently reported that the number of drownings across the state has nearly hit a 10-year high.  Each loss of life I hear about hits home. Years ago, I was motivated to join the Red Cross after witnessing a terrible tragedy, like the ones we’ve seen this summer.

As a young man I was involved with a team of rescuers in a search for two young boys who were lost in a river near the camp where I worked. As one boy entered the deep and fast-moving water he had lost his footing and reached back for help, pulling the other boy into the water with him. While we searched the dark water, the mother of the boys stood on shore pleading with us to find them–sadly, neither survived.  I was to learn later that neither boy knew how to swim.

These drowning deaths were heartbreaking for all involved. Personally, I was so troubled by the event that I wanted to do something meaningful to help ensure the safety of children in and around the water – I became a water safety and CPR instructor for the Red Cross where I have continued to work ever since.

Summer is a beautiful time in Minnesota and we are fortunate to have access to pools, rivers and, of course, our 10,000+ lakes.  But the spate of recent drowning incidents has prompted many to ask how future downing tragedies can be prevented.  When it comes to water safety we all have a role to play in promoting and supporting water safety basics, such as never swimming alone, always swimming near a lifeguard, and making learning to swim a priority in our families. We know, and we teach, that multiple layers of protection make the difference when preventing water emergencies and responding to them when they happen.

Here are some ways you can make a difference:

  • Maintain constant supervision when watching children around water. Active supervision prevents water emergencies and saves lives.
  • Have children or inexperienced swimmers wear a U.S. Coast Guard-approved life jacket around water, but do not rely on life jackets alone.
  • If someone is missing, check the water first. Seconds count in preventing death or disability.
  • Know how and when to call 9-1-1 or the local emergency number.
  • Enroll in CPR and First Aid courses to learn how to respond. Insist that babysitters, grandparents and others watching children around water know these lifesaving skills.
  • Know before you go—swim where you know it’s safe; walk carefully into open waters; do not dive.
  • Heed the warnings and instructions of lifeguards and other authorities as well as flags and signs.
  • Watch out for the dangerous “too’s”: too tired, too cold, too far from safety, and too much sun.

While the Minnesota summer is short and lovely, and should be enjoyed, there are both joys and hazards associated with recreation in and around water. We ask everyone to take on a role in water safety and to learn to respect the water.  No one is drown-proof, but together we can make our community a safer place to live, play and splash this summer.

¡Muchas Gracias Viviana!

Thanks to Red Cross worker Viviana Sotro thousands of people in Minnesota’s diverse communities are safer and better prepared for emergencies here in Minnesota.

This month way say “adios amiga” to our friend and co-worker Viviana Sotro who has accepted an executive director position at a local Latino family organization.

For twelve years, Sotro has provided emergency preparedness education to thousands of people across the Minneapolis-St.Paul metro area. In the Latino community alone, she has reached around 10,000 people with safety & preparedness education, which she believes is worthwhile. “I can say, yes, preparedness education makes a difference. I can see it on their faces. They say, now I know.”

Trained as a Red Cross EMT in Argentina, Sotro has long understood that diverse communities in Minnesota might need to learn about being safe during severe weather and other emergencies. “I could relate to them because most people from Latin countries have never experienced tornadoes.” In 2002, Sotro joined the Red Cross in Minnesota as a volunteer and the following year she accepted a staff position. Later, she became the community outreach manager guiding staff and volunteers in their work teaching people from Africa, Asia, and Latin America who now make Minnesota their home. “I really like to be respectful of other cultures. Everyone has something unique to appreciate.”

Although Sotro is departing her Red Cross job, she plans to continue being involved as a volunteer. Her hope, she says, is that diverse community engagement with the Red Cross increases. “I would like to see more Latinos wearing Red Cross t-shirts as volunteers.” She would especially like to see more people from diverse communities become Red Cross instructors, disaster relief workers, and good samaritans trained in CPR & First Aid.

Thank you, Viviana, for being a part of the Red Cross and helping to fulfill our mission to prevent and alleviate human suffering. We wish you and your family the very best.

Tips for a safer Halloween

As ghosts and vampires get ready to roam the streets, we offer these tips to make this a frightfully safe Halloween:

We like these pumpkins. Have a safe and fun Halloween. (Image credit: Lynette Nyman)

Costume Safety

Whether a child wants to be a princess, a monster or a superhero for Halloween, parents can help keep it safe by:

  • Adding reflective tape to costumes and trick-or-treat bags.
  • Using flame-resistant costumes.
  • Using face makeup instead of masks, which can cover eyes and make it hard to see.

Navigating the Neighborhood

To maximize safety, plan a route ahead of time. Make sure adults know where children are going. If the children are young, a parent or responsible adult should accompany them as they walk through the neighborhood.

Here are more safety tips to follow as children go from house to house:

  • Make sure trick-or-treaters have a flashlight.
  • Visit only the homes that have a porch light on. Accept treats at the door—never go inside.
  • Walk only on the sidewalks, not in the street. If no sidewalk is available, walk at the edge of the roadway, facing traffic.
  • Look both ways before crossing the street, and cross only at the corner.
  • Don’t cut across yards or use alleys. Don’t cross between parked cars.
  • Be cautious around strange animals, especially dogs.

Trick or Treat!

For those who expect to greet trick-or-treaters at their door, they can make sure it’s fun for everyone by following a few tips:

  • Make sure the outdoor lights are on.
  • Sweep leaves from sidewalks and steps.
  • Clear the porch or front yard of any obstacles that a child could trip over.
  • Restrain pets.
  • Use a glow stick instead of a candle in jack-o-lanterns to avoid a fire hazard.


Home Alone Safety Steps

Children are returning to school during the coming weeks. Some will be spending time home alone until parents return home from work. Now’s the time for both parents and children to take and learn safety steps that will make after-school hours at home alone safer and less stressful for everyone.

Top ten steps parents + guardians can take:

  1. Develop a home safety plan and discuss and practice it with the whole family.
  2. If a child is going home after school, have him or her call to check in after arriving home.
  3. For an older child, set ground rules about whether other kids can come over, whether cooking is okay, and whether the child can leave home.
  4. Post an emergency phone list where the child can see it.
  5. Make sure the first aid kit is stocked and stored where your children can find it, but keep our of reach of young children.
  6. Identify neighbors whose home your child can go to in case of an emergency.
  7. Remove or safely store in locked areas dangerous items like guns, ammunition, knives, hand tools, power tools, razor blades, scissors, and other objects that can cause injury.
  8. Make sure potential poisons like detergents, polishes, pesticides, care-care fluids, lighter fluid and lamp oils are stored in locked cabinets or out of the reach of children.
  9. Make sure medicine is kept in a locked storage place or out of the reach of children.
  10. Make sure at least one approved smoke alarm is installed and operating on each level of the home.

Top ten steps kids can take:

  1. Lock the door and make sure all the windows are closed and locked.
  2. Never open the door to strangers.
  3. Never open the door to delivery people or service representatives.
  4. Never tell someone on the telephone that mom or dad are not at home. Say something like “My mom is busy right now. Can I take a message?”
  5. Do not talk about being home alone on public websites.
  6. Never leave the house without permission.
  7. Do not go outside to check out an unusual noise. If the noise worries you, call mom, dad, or the police.
  8. Do not have friends over to visit when mom or dad aren’t at home without permission.
  9. Do not let anyone inside who is using drugs or alcohol, even if you know them.
  10. If you smell smoke or hears a fire or smoke alarm, get outside and ask a neighbor to call the fire department.

Perhaps you have more steps + tips that you’d like to share. Also, visit to learn more about being Red Cross ready before, during, and after emergencies.

Overwhelming Response Includes the Red Cross

Story and photos by Andrea Bredow, Red Cross Volunteer

Scott Webber & Mary Ellen Fox, volunteers on the sand bagging line in Hastings, Minnesota. Photo credit: Andrea Bredow/American Red Cross

It was a chilly 17 degrees on Saturday morning, but the cold spring air and piles of snow did not stop the Hastings, Minnesota, community from banding together to fight the looming Mississippi River waters.

An estimated 700 volunteers spent Saturday sandbagging homes along the river.  The American Red Cross Twin Cities Chapter volunteers were there as well. The Red Cross feeding vehicle, also know as the ERV, was on hand to provide hot beverages and snacks to keep volunteers warm and energized.

Red Cross volunteers served coffee, hot chocolate, & snacks to people sand bagging in Hastings, Minnesota. Photo credit: Andrea Bredow/American Red Cross

The call for volunteers went out early in the week and hundreds responded with shovel in hand.  Family’s worked filling bags, youth groups stood in the “bucket line” delivering sandbags to homes and Scott Webber even showed up on his birthday to help.

“This is what the city of Hastings does. We help each other,” said Webber.

Webber and a hundred other volunteers were sent to surround Lloyd Fanum’s river side home with sandbags.  Fanum has lived on the river for 30 years and is always overwhelmed by the communities outpouring of help.

“The boys and girls giving their weekend to help me is overwhelming!  I can’t thank them enough,” said Fanum.

Homeowner Lloyd Fanum is interviewed about the outpouring of help to save his home from the impending flood. Photo credit: Andrea Bredow/American Red Cross

The army of volunteers turned out 20,000 sandbags in only four hours!

“When the neighbors are in trouble, we are ready to reach out and help,” said Patrick Walker, one of the sand bagging organizers.

Walker says they are ready to gear up the sandbagging operation at any time.  If more homes along the river need help, the Hastings community will be there.

Click here to learn more about Red Cross services and opportunities.

Flashlight, Food, and Water

Our first winter storm of the season is approaching. The grocery stores are bustling (good for our economy, yes?) and people are pulling out their sweaters and comforters, getting ready for a long weekend at home.

To help, the Red Cross has a winter storm safety check list.  

Upon review we noticed that the check list does not specifically mention some of our favorite winter preparedness items, such as footie pajamas, apple cider, dark and/or milk chocolate, and lightsaber.

Our emergency services director Jill, who grew up in the country, remembers having to stay inside for days during snow storms. She suggests having movies and popcorn on hand, but if you do not have power then a camping lantern and deck of “Old Maid” playing cards should help pass the time.

Otherwise, you can do like Jill’s dad did: move all furniture and stuff to the center of the basement and ride a bicycle around in circles.