Friday, September 30, 2011

My Life in Disaster: Transitions

I am a mother of three, two girls and one boy. My girls are both in college, and my son is a sophomore in high school. Like many moms who chose to stay at home with their kids, I found myself left in their dust, as they charged out of the house as fast as they possibly could, thinking “What next?” My daughters wouldn't even consider colleges within a 75-mile radius of home.

Was living at home that bad? The answer comes to me in my younger daughter's phone calls home. We talk now more than ever. She and I look forward to parents’ weekend. My older daughter is home again; three years away was enough for her. She now attends school in New York. The distance made my kids closer. They actually miss each other and talk more than they did when they were living under one roof.

While I was and am so happy for them as they forge ahead, when the girls left I felt abandoned. Now what was I supposed to do? Yes, my son is home, but he is a very independent young man, who doesn't need his mom that much anymore. That's a good thing, I know.

I decided to apply to the Red Cross to become a volunteer. It's the best decision I could have made. While I was raising my kids, I became interested in writing and photography. As a volunteer for the Communications Department at the New York City chapter, I am able to use those skills, and even improve them.

Coming into the office feels like old times. It's good to have a reason not to walk around in sweats all day, It's good to get out of the house, and we all need a change of scenery. But more than that, I love putting my skills to good use. It's very satisfying to know that I am helping to make a difference. Giving my time to the Red Cross allows me give back. Now when I see the Red Cross responding to disasters, I'm not only impressed, I'm know that I am part of the team.

There are so many volunteer opportunities at the Red Cross, and each one fits a different personality or skill set. Opportunities range from responding to disasters to instructing people in emergency preparedness or lifesaving skills to helping someone locate a relative separated from family members by armed conflict or natural disaster. No matter what your personality or skill you will find a match, and you will feel the satisfaction that only helping others brings.

My Life in Disaster is a series of blog posts by Maha Awad, who is volunteering with the Red Cross and finding out first-hand what it means to be prepared for life’s many disasters.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

2 Vacates and a Fire

By Andrea Garner

When I started my internship in the Communications Department at the Red Cross in June, I was not quite sure what to expect. On my very first day, I was introduced to the blog that I am posting on now, a blog that highlight’s how the Red Cross changes people’s lives. As I read through each story, I felt a sense of pride knowing that I would be working with an organization that helps people in so many different ways. As I continued to read, I came across a story written by the previous intern who shared her experiences shadowing a Red Cross responder. The next day, I was told that I’d be doing the same thing.

I went my first one of these “ride-alongs” two weeks into my stay and observed our Chapter’s response to two vacates. (A “vacate” is when the city deems an apartment or a building unsafe for habitation and orders the tenants to leave.) But as my time in NYC was coming to an end, I had yet to see what the Red Cross does the most, respond to a fire. I was especially eager to see a fire response, since a large part of my job involved writing stories about these incidents for the Greater NY Red Cross website. Several attempts later and only two days before the end of my internship, that time had finally come. 

As I arrived at the scene of the fire in the Bronx with the responder I was with, the very first thing I noticed was there was no fire truck and everything seemed calm. As we made our way into the building, there was no sign of a fire. Since we knew it only affected one apartment, we continued to make our way to the 7th floor. As we stepped out of the elevator, the smell of smoke filled the air, the first proof to me that there had definitely been a fire. As we turned the corner to the apartment door where the fire occurred, visible ash was outside of the door. We knocked on the door, there was no answer, but we did notice an extra lock on the door. The lock had been put there so no one could enter the apartment. As the responder prepared the Red Cross letter to leave on the door, a janitor informed us that there was no one home during the fire. Once again, we could only hope that the residents would use the Red Cross number on the notice and call us if they needed anything.

As I think about the residents of the apartment that was affected by the fire. I think about all of the emotions they may go though when they arrive home, when they see the lock on their door and learn that there has been a fire in the place they call home. I can only imagine the heartbreak they will feel. My only hope is that they will feel a glimmer of hope when they see our sign posted on their door and know that the Red Cross is waiting to help them. I hope they reach out to us and I hope they find the strength within themselves to share their story. A story that may in return, change someone else’s life.

Monday, September 19, 2011

My Life in Disaster: Contagion!


Last week I went to see the movie “Contagion,” directed by Steven Soderburgh. It’s a thriller about an airborne virus which causes a pandemic, killing almost everyone who comes into contact with it. In the movie, Kate Winslet, who plays a doctor investigating the virus for the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), mentions that we touch our hands to our face two or three thousand times per day. Yes, thousand!

After watching Soderburgh’s quiet, cool focus on how often we are exposed/expose others just by passing a credit card to a cashier, or eating from a bowl of peanuts at a bar, I can’t help but be just a bit compulsive about whose germs I have been or am about to be exposed to myself.

Immediately after seeing the film I’ll just say that I was a different person. I became suspicious of every cough, sneeze or throat clearing within earshot and way too aware of how often people touch their faces, then touch things, which we then touch. I understood why people in Japan walk around with face masks.

Now that some time has passed I’m not as panicked as I was right after seeing the movie. I’m less inclined to reach for the sani-gel every time I shake hands with someone. I also remind myself that we have been through recent pandemic scares such as SARS and Anthrax and of course the ever-changing influenza virus.

While movies like “Contagion” are entertaining, they can also make us want to hide in our rooms and not come into contact with any living creature; but we’ve got Facebook and texting for that. What we should do is listen to our mothers. The old adage “Wash your hands before you eat” isn’t for naught.

We can also be a bit prepared. Why not have a face mask for each person in the family? Redcrossstore.org carries a Germ Guard Personal Protection Pack with N95 Mask, which sounds very official, but is really a mask, gloves and hand sanitizer.

I still think we should rethink shaking hands as a form of greeting people. Wikipedia states that handshaking is thought to have originated either as a means of displaying an open palm sans weapon, or as a way of displacing an opponent’s weapon. And since most of us are not gun toters, maybe hugs are a good alternative.

My Life in Disaster is a series of blog posts by Maha Awad, who is volunteering with the Red Cross and finding out first-hand what it means to be prepared for life’s many disasters.


Monday, September 12, 2011

The Morning After …Ten Years Later

It’s September 12, 2011. Yesterday’s 9/11 memorials are still on my mind as I ride the 8:15 Staten Island ferry, which is standing room only this morning. I wonder if this is due to the heightened security in the terminals.

I decide to stand outside on the rear deck and enjoy the warm and unusually sunny morning. Since Hurricane Irene, it seems that we’ve had rain almost every day.

I spot a coast guard escort in the wake of the ferry. The sight triggers memories of ten years past. I’m back on the boat, only this time it’s September 14, 2001. Ten years earlier I felt the need to see what was left of the trade towers for myself.

I don’t know what possessed me; maybe it was the fact that my husband’s plane was midair as the attacks occurred and his airplane was diverted to Canada. All of those passengers arriving from Korea, along with my husband, had to find their own way back to New York, from Vancouver. It took him one week to get back home, and I could not sit and wait any longer; I had to do something.

I left my kids with my mother and rode the ferry. I walked to where the Towers had stood and stared in disbelief. It was a war zone. I couldn’t believe that these two towers, where I had worked in the late eighties and early nineties for cargo steamship lines, were the piles of rubble I was staring at now.

That ferry also had a coast guard escort that day, but that sky was dark with ashes. I shake the memory from my mind. After all, yesterday’s 9/11 memorials had a common thread of “it’s time to move forward.”

Granted, it’s hard to move ahead when the threat of terror is looming like a vulture over its prey. But what 9/11/2001 taught me is that I should be prepared.

Ten years ago my kids were in school. I was at work at the College of Staten Island, listening to the radio—in disbelief—as the events unfolded. I remember not knowing what to do. Some people stayed at work. I rushed to my kids’ school a twenty-minute drive away and picked them up. Fortunately we were able to keep up with the news on television.

What I realize today, after Hurricane Irene, is that you must have electricity to watch the news. When Irene swept through Staten Island on August 27, our power went down. The only way we could hear the news during Irene would have been to sit in the car with the motor running.

Luckily my husband found his battery-operated short wave radio so we were able to follow 1010 WINS. The radio and a few candles were the extent of our preparedness. (I now know the Red Cross advises against lighting candles during a power outage due to the extreme risk of fire.)

Since September is National Emergency Preparedness Month, I’ve decided to rethink my strategy. I’m going to “Get a kit, make a plan, and be informed.” After surfing redcrossstore.org I’ve got decisions to make—like which kit to buy for my family and my friends. I know they’ll make great Christmas gifts.

Friday, September 9, 2011

New Yorkers Turn to Red Cross—Again

By Jeff Taylor, American Red Cross

FONDA, N.Y., Sept. 8, 2011—Brenda Ell and her three foster children know the Fonda-Fultonville Central School in Fonda, N.Y., better than they’d care to. For the second time in a week, the family has sought refuge in the American Red Cross shelter located at the school.

"The American Red Cross and all the volunteers have given us a safe place to go for comfort when our whole world has been turned upside down," said Ell, whose Fultonville home was damaged by a mudslide.
Besides being in a safe place, that comfort has included warm meals, a cot to sleep on and—with help from the school superintendent—the auditorium was turned into a children's movie theater.

The impact of Hurricane Irene, and the latest flooding from the remnants of Tropical Storm Lee, is leaving behind a mammoth foot print across New York. Shelters that had been closed, as well as several new locations, had to be opened during the past 24 hours.

The Ell family actually has a second home nearly 125 miles from Fultonville. Yet they were unable to evacuate there as it unfortunately it sits on the river bank in Binghamton—where forecast record flooding is causing massive evacuations.

To keep up with the ongoing response operation in New York, or to see where shelters are located, visit www.redcross.org

Those who want to help can make a donation to support American Red Cross Disaster Relief. This gift enables the Red Cross to prepare for and provide shelter, food, emotional support and other assistance in response to disasters. Visit www.redcross.org or call 1-800-RED-CROSS; you can also text the word “REDCROSS” to 90999 to make a $10 donation. Contributions may also be sent to local American Red Cross chapters or to the American Red Cross, P.O. Box 37243, Washington, DC 20013.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Red Cross Brings First Hot Meals into Isolated Communities



ALBANY, N.Y., Sept. 4, 2011-Saturday, with an escort from the Middleburgh Fire Department, an American Red Cross mobile feeding truck arrived in the tiny hamlet of Breakabeen, N.Y. Located about fifty miles southwest of Albany, it had been isolated due to flooding caused by Hurricane Irene.

Driven by the husband and wife team of Tom and Cheryl Fleet, volunteers from Mercer, Pa., the food truck settled in outside the Breakabeen General Store on Main Street. As they set up the meals, representatives of the honorary Breakabeen Hose Company went through the hamlet in an ambulance announcing the arrival of the Red Cross.

It wasn't long before residents flocked to the Red Cross for a hot meal. With the fire department's assistance, residents were handed hot meals of chicken, tater tots, green beans and peaches-for many residents, it was the first hot meal they had since the storm."

I'm amazed at the resiliency of the residents," said Cheryl, taking a break during the dinner service. "Everyone has such good humor in spite of what is surrounding them."

According to the Fleets, they would not have been able to reach the community without the support of the local fire departments who had been supporting the town initially.

When Hurricane Irene struck, members of the Germantown and Rapids Fire Department were dispatched to the hamlet to assist in the recovery efforts.

Hot meals bring smiles to the faces of Breakabeen residents Addie Brown and Jane Swint. Breakabeen, a tiny hamlet in Upstate New York, was isolated for nearly a week because of flooding caused by Hurricane Irene. Meals delivered by the Red Cross Sept. 3 were the first hot meals many residents had since the storm. Photo: Carolyn Sherwin
  "We came here to support this community, when the Middleburgh Fire District asked for help, no questions asked, we deployed, "said Germantown Fire Chief Michael Lawson.

Chief Barry Kobrin of the Rapids Volunteer Fire Department added, "The community has been incredibly good to us since our arrival and everyone has been more than accommodating. The arrival of the Red Cross with this meal is the icing on the cake."

Over 400 dinners were served in Breakabeen. The American Red Cross, through a partnership with the Southern Baptist Convention, has two kitchens setup in the state of New York. Tens of thousands of meals are being prepared each day to be loaded onto vehicles.
Additionally, the Red Cross is delivering meals-ready to-eat (MREs), water and cleanup kits across the state from Long Island, to Binghamton and north of Albany; and volunteers are doing outreach to help provide information and counseling for those affected.
The Red Cross has disaster relief operations active in more than a dozen states, and costs are growing by the hour as the Red Cross helps those in need. Current estimates for Red Cross relief for Hurricane Irene are from $10 million to $15 million.

Breakabeen resident Brent Ast receives a hot meal from Red Cross volunteer Cheryl Fleet, of Mercer, Pa. Breakabeen, a tiny hamlet in Upstate New York, was isolated for nearly a week because of flooding caused by Hurricane Irene. Meals delivered by the Red Cross Sept. 3 were the first hot meals many residents had since the storm. Photo: Carolyn Sherwin, American Red Cross

Those who want to help can make a donation to support American Red Cross Disaster Relief. This gift enables the Red Cross to prepare for and provide shelter, food, emotional support and other assistance in response to disasters. Visit www.redcross.org <http://www.redcross.org/>  or call 1-800-RED-CROSS; you can also text the word "REDCROSS" to 90999 to make a $10 donation. Contributions may also be sent to local American Red Cross chapters or to the American Red Cross, P.O. Box 37243, Washington, DC 20013.





By Carolyn Sherwin, American Red Cross Volunteer
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