Tag Archives: Red Cross

Surviving A Week Without Water

My front yard is being re-landscaped so I can have running water!

My front yard is being re-landscaped so I can have running water!

After more than a week without running water, I appreciate even more the privilege of living in a first world country.  I never expected to be without running water for such a long period, but the unusually low temps in our area have prevented outside repairs.  We’re lucky though, even though our water main is broken, it has just enough pressure to allow us to turn it on for a few minutes each day to “restock” our water supply.

All this time without working faucets has got me to thinking about disasters in much greater detail.  I also have a much better understanding of how much water you HAVE to have each day to get by.

It turns out that the recommended 1 gal per person per day is actually a bare minimum.  We have found that, even if you aren’t taking showers or flushing toilets, you will need closer to 2-3 gallons per person per day.  Add toilets and basic personal hygiene (but still no showers) into the equation and you need more like 5-10 gallons per person.

Wow, what an eye opener.  Think about it, do you even have enough room or containers in your house to store 10 gallons of water per person for one day, let alone a week?  Puts things into perspective doesn’t it?

Of course, not all water is created equal.  The quality of the water coming through our broken pipe in not drinkable, so we’ve had to use a purification system to make sure we don’t create a “secondary emergency” by getting sick.  We’re fortunate to already own a system that will make our water potable, but it certainly isn’t something I would have thought about having in place for this type of situation.

My Red Cross disaster training has been really helpful in coping with this situation; it gave me some basic guidelines to follow and some ideas of how to be creative with our resources.  But nothing short of going through a situation can really make you challenge your underlying assumptions—many you may not even realize you have.

I had never considered how much water it takes to brush my teeth or how to wash my hands one at a time with one hand pouring from the pitcher and the other trying to wash itself. These are only two small things, but there are dozens of small challenges to be overcome without running water, everything from laundry to cooking.  I have always thought I would do OK during a zombie apocalypse, but I have definitely reconsidered some of my bravado after this past week.

While we’ve done great, we’ve also not been 100% without access to water or other resources.  At any time we can get in our car (which has plenty of gas) and drive to the store or go to a friend’s house for water.  We have more than enough food and haven’t lost power or heat, all things that can become scarce or nonexistent for weeks on end during disasters (think Hurricanes Sandy or Katrina).

So my message to all of you who are enjoying a cozy snow day, is to take a few minutes today to consider what you might do if you lost even one of these precious utilities that we take for granted.


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Why I was Happy to have Hand, Foot and Mouth Disease and How the Red Cross is to Blame

Two weeks ago I was at my family’s annual five-day love fest hanging out with family and friends-who-have-become-family.  It was a gorgeous day and the weather was perfect.  I had just finished having lunch with some just-passing-thru family and was in the kitchen doing a little dinner prep and chatting with an Aunt.

One of the younger cousins came to get my Aunt, but at the time I didn’t think anything of it.  A few minutes later that changed dramatically.

My Aunt came running into the main room of the lodge holding a toddler and yelling, “He’s not breathing and I can’t get his mouth open.”  I dropped what I was doing and rushed over to help.

Even as I was moving toward her I could feel my Red Cross training kick into gear.  I noted that she was struggling to hold the child and that she was trying to get his mouth open, I evaluated his age to be between one and two years old and I remembered that the most common issue at that age is choking on something they’ve put in their mouth.

I took him from my aunt, carefully positioned him over my arm as trained to do and performed the infant Heimlich maneuver on him one time. I could feel his chest shudder as he finally took a breath and then he began moaning. I laid him tummy side down on a high table so I could check his mouth for an object and that’s when I found his teeth clenched shut–he was having a seizure.

I rubbed his back, checking for breathing (as long as he was moaning he was breathing) and watched him until the seizure had subsided and that point handed him back to his mother.  While I was doing this, another family member was already on the phone to 911.

He was transported with his mother to the hospital where they did a battery of tests and couldn’t find an exact cause for the high fever.  They released him and, with both his mother and father, he returned to the lodge and spent the night.  On the doctor’s orders he was given some over-the-counter medications to keep his fever in check and he ran around and played all evening like nothing had happened. It was truly a joy to see how much fun he was having!

It wasn’t until several days later, after we had all dispersed, that we discovered what had caused his high temperature–Hand, Foot and Mouth disease–a disease that typically affects children under five year of age with awful blistering around the, you guessed it, hands, feet and mouth (sometimes in the mouth).  Every single family member was exposed.

But we are a hardy bunch, and there had been only one other child under five at the reunion.  That blissful ignorance lasted until the next day when a nine-year-old (who I had spent the entire previous day with) came down with a high fever.  But Sunday evening I, too, was well on my way to 101 degrees.

As miserable as I felt for a few days, I don’t begrudge one minute of it.  I would gladly trade a little illness for a healthy, happy toddler running around and having fun. And so I blame the Red Cross, only in jest, because who can say what the outcome would have been without that training?

Reunion Emergency Tips

Because we average one person per year going to the emergency room during our reunion (we aren’t dangerous I promise, there are just a lot of people having fun), I thought I would share a couple of tips that our family has picked up over the last few years:

  • Have one person (preferably an adult with good hearing) call 911. Have them stay on the phone as long as possible so you can report any changes in the patient’s status.
  • If you are camping or are in a vacation area that doesn’t have a regular address, send someone up to the main entrance to meet the ambulance, it can really save time.
  • Frequently when you are vacation, playthings and toys are scattered along the pathway, make sure it is clear. Open up the doors and make sure the rescue workers can easily access the patient.
  • Have one person get the purse/wallet of both the patient and their caregiver and prepare to follow the ambulance to the hospital to provide support. Make sure that they have an extra charger or cell phone. This is the person who will be called for updates and will relay any additional needs.
  • We’ve learned through experience not to overwhelm the hospital waiting area.  If appropriate we may send another person or two in shifts, but we do not help by showing up en mass.
  • Last, but surely the most important, make sure you have at least three people trained in CPR and First Aid at your next family reunion.  If that seems excessive, consider this,  emergencies can happen anywhere, out on the water, down the hiking trail or in the lodge. The more trained people you have, the better the chance that someone will be in the right place at the right time.  With the Red Cross online courses, it doesn’t even take much time to become trained.  Check it out here:
    Red Cross CPR

May your reunion end happily!Another Happy Reunion!

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Outside a Disaster Looking In

For me, it is always an odd feeling to watch a disaster from the outside.  I am more typically in the middle of things focused on helping to deliver the Red Cross mission to people who desperately need help.

Red Cross volunteers Jill Bode and Ana De La Garza during Hurricane Isaac.

When you are on the outside, with the media and social media as your primary sources of information, it looks a little different.  But there are some universal truths about disasters regardless of location, duration or frustration.  Here are a few:

1)     Someone will always need help.

2)      Someone will always give help.

3)      There will always be sorrow.

4)      There will always be laughter.

5)      Help can = a Hug.

6)      You can’t make it go away.

7)      Sometimes you can only choose your attitude.

8)      People are incredibly generous.

9)      People are amazingly resilient.

10)    Everyone wants to know what they can do to help.

Disasters are the worst of times, but seem to bring out the very essence of who we are.  They are frequently unexpected, unwelcome and unnerving, but they are always a learning experience for the families, volunteers and communities impacted.

Have you ever had a disaster?  What did you learn?

If you’d like to support the Red Cross, visit www.redcross.org to learn how.

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The Disaster that is my Twitter Account: Twitter Rules

Over the past two posts I’ve shared some of my “rules” for how I connect to others via social media. I’ve saved Twitter for last because I use it in a very specific way–for disasters. No, not of my making.

As a Red Cross public information volunteer, I primarily use my @RedCrossPRChick Twitter handle for sharing disaster preparedness and response information. Besides the obvious use of Red Cross in my Twitter handle and the care and attention to the brand that implies, I’ve found that I can only really manage about two types of social media at a time. Although I could tie all my accounts together, because of my varied rules for each type of social media, my audiences are very different and don’t necessarily want or need to know the same pieces of info or even have the need for the same frequency of interaction. So I save @RedCrossPRChick for sharing information when a disaster hits–whether I am deployed OR re-tweeting information from colleagues in the thick of things on the ground.

I try to stay engaged just enough between disasters to provide some value and stay front of mind, but reserve most of my interactions for times of disaster. Because of this, I tend to follow others on Twitter who are in the disaster response arena and can help me amplify my message when a disaster strikes.

As  for who follows me, because I want to push out disaster related messages, my profile is open and anyone can follow me. My followers are a bit varied and fall into international business professionals, communications/marketing/PR folks and then all the disaster related professionals.  However, I’ve noticed that the Twitter lists that I am on are mostly for Red Cross, disasters and non-profits.  Although I’d like to thank Nicole Underwood for naming her list “Commgurus” even if it is primarily for Red Cross Peeps (another of her lists that I am on), it’s a nice change of pace and very flattering.

That’s it, the last of my rules for the social media that I use regularly! Hope this made you think a little about how you use social media and your place in the SM world.

Before the next disaster strikes, be sure to follow me @RedCrossPRChick and be prepared!

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Reporting from the Front Lines of Life

It’s been over 390 days since my last post on this blog, so I thought I would kick 2012 off with my good intentions to get back to writing and bring everyone up to speed at the same time. Happy New Year!

You know that old saying, “Man plans, God laughs”? I am happy to say God had a lot of laughter from this quarter over the past year.  When we closed down the non-profit I was heading in December of last year (because the project was complete), I had HUGE plans, that I shared with everyone, to “test-drive” retirement for a whole month.  Take time off and do only things I wanted to do, nothing else.

So we kicked the year off with a cruise because that seemed like a great way to start retirement, wouldn’t you agree? We took the “Love Boat” cruise to Mexico and enjoyed all of those fabulous ports of call from one of my favorite childhood TV shows.  My parents were on the cruise with us and I had the thrill of introducing my Mother to snorkeling and we both para-sailed for the very first time. What a Blast!

It’s a good thing I started the year off with a bang, because what followed was a year of chaos that I wouldn’t have been able to create, even if I was a really talented sitcom writer.  Devastating family illnesses that included an unprecedented nine surgeries, disaster responses of biblical proportions and even meeting President Obama on the front lawn of the White House were just some of the high- and low-lights of the year 2011.

Being invited to the White House was amazing!

However, between the tears and the laughter I learned a great deal about myself, my family and my friends.  In this vein of self-discovery, I share these lessons with you:

  • I learned that I can trust my husband to pack the clothes I need for a business conference, a feat that still leaves many of my friends (and his) dumbfounded.
  • I learned that humor will get you through just about the worst days of your life.
  • I’ve learned that “quality time” can be found in unlikely places. Walmart, anyone?
  • I’ve learned that while we may have to “parent” our parents for a while, we also have to be willing to let them out on their own again.
  • I’ve learned to fight hard for my family, friends and values, even if others don’t understand why or think I am being too aggressive.
  • Most importantly I’ve learned that forgiveness is important to my sanity, the distance of time and place can help make many things more bearable and the lessons I remember best are the ones that I learned in the hardest way.

What does 2012 look like? Who knows!  I’m just along for the ride, hanging on for dear life and spitting out the bugs that get stuck in my teeth along the way. All I can say is that we’re off to a rip-roaring start!

What’s in your 2012?

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In Search of a New Beginning

Those of you who know me well know that I have spent nearly two decades as a PR Chick of some type–non-profit, government and private sector–and that my “hobby” has been disaster response, more specifically with the Red Cross.  Then in June of 2008, while I was actually taking time off from my job to volunteer with the Red Cross (in West Virgina), my own home flooded.  But it wasn’t just my home, it was hundreds of other people’s homes as well.  Pretty much everyone in my whole community was affected in some way, many much worse than I was.

My husband and I were very lucky, we had friends close by to help, we had some basic disaster recovery/mitigation knowledge and, quite frankly, he’s a bit of a McGyver, and was able to rig up pumps and other devices to help limit the damage to our home.  A few months later, a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity came my way, a chance to head up the local long-term flood recovery program. For the first time ever, I could combine my passion for disaster with my practical PR side–a marriage made in heaven!

We have accomplished a great deal more than anyone really planned or expected, but I’ll be honest, I certainly didn’t think it would be such a struggle to get this done.  I DID think it would be hard work and that people would become tired and worn out, I just didn’t anticipate the barriers thrown up by other non-profits.

I totally get that everyone doesn’t think exactly alike and that there are going to be disagreements and that solutions are going to be frequently knitted together out of compromises–that’s not what I am talking about.  I am talking about real, systemic problems that force non-profits to be competitive with each other instead of cooperative.  Everyone is so busy fighting over the scraps, that they miss the 5-course meal that could be sitting right in front of them.  Sort of the Stone Soup idea, if we all worked together, we could all eat better (and I am ALL about eating).

It’s probably naive that I didn’t notice this the first time I worked for a non-profit, or maybe even the second time, or maybe it just wasn’t as obvious then as it is now.  Who knows?  The point is, it’s here and I don’t want it to stay.  It is not a productive way to do business (yes, non-profits are businesses) and it certainly doesn’t deliver more, better or faster services to those who need them the most.

I don’t really know what the answer is, but what I do know is that my job here is done.  We’ll be closing the doors of our long-term flood recovery program on Dec. 17th, 2010.  The organization will transition to a group that helps get the community ready for the next disaster AND it will be completely managed and run by volunteers.  I’m actually thrilled about it.  It seems like the model of a non-profit that meets the needs of the community and then shuts down, or in this case, morphs into a lean, mean volunteer machine is a far better model than an organization that goes on and on just because it’s always been there.

Since I knew that my time was limited and our organization was well-funded, I had the luxury of not having to involve my ego or my continued lively hood in every decision that was made.  It was VERY freeing!  And completely stymied many of the non-profit executives I worked with.  They really couldn’t believe that I didn’t have an ulterior motive or a hidden agenda, it was difficult for some of them to accept this and focus on the work that needed to be done.  More importantly, many of them wondered how they could access the bounty of funds that our agency was given, it was almost like sibling rivalry.  “Why can’t I have that toy?  I’m older!”  To say the least, I felt like I spent a lot of time on the defensive explaining why whose funds were given to our agency and what they could (and couldn’t) be used for–never a comfortable feeling.

Regardless, as I said, my job is done, but not my work.  I have decided that it’s time for a new start for both me and the non-profit world.  I know I can’t personally change all the issues I’ve seen, but I CAN change how I approach the causes I care about and the organizations I give my time and energy to.  So, with that in mind, I’m setting out to look for my next adventure and a new beginning!

I’ll keep you posted on what I find and I’d love to hear what you are doing to make your community a more wonderful place to live.

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To Really Help in Haiti, Help at Home

The goal of this post isn’t to rant, but instead to educate.  I apologize in advance if I hurt someone’s feelings or you don’t agree with my point of view, but I think it’s time to give a few facts about disaster response to the world at large.

Long post WARNING, bear with me.

As a long time Red Cross disaster services volunteer, I have a unique perspective on what is currently happening in Haiti and I want to share that with you.  Within hours of any large-scale disaster I usually receive several phone calls from friends and family asking me if I’m on my way to the latest calamity.  It’s a fair question since I’ve spent more than 17 years responding disasters all over the country and because I’m part of a special team that typically deploys within hours.  In the case of Haiti, my answer has been “not yet.” I’ll get into the reasons why in a minute.

The very next statement is typically something like, “I wish I could do what you are doing or help in some way.”  And my answer is always, “You can do what I’m doing and there are hundreds of other ways you can help as well.”   I’ll share with you some very clear-cut steps you can take to help Haiti from Home.  But first I need to give you a little disaster background.

I think that it was fairly apparent from the video footage that we’ve seen from Haiti, that there was a huge amount of infrastructure destroyed.  But for most Americans, that really doesn’t mean much.  At the worst, we are usually without only one or two pieces of our infrastructure functioning at a time.  Perhaps the phones don’t work, or the power is out, or the water isn’t drinkable, or a road has collapsed or a bridge is out, but it rare for us to have the “perfect storm” where all of those situations strike at the exact same time.  Even our worst natural disasters rarely have that happen in this country.  And when a disaster like Katrina strikes, help (food, water, shelter) is only a few hours away.

Haiti is an island.  This complicates an already unbelievably complicated situation even more.  Without an airport and a seaport functioning at capacity, it’s like trying to move without arms and legs.  Even if the resources are ready to go there, they can’t be moved in country fast enough. Ever single square foot of space on a plane or a ship becomes incredibly valuable.

Earlier this week I read a story in our paper about a local dentist who jumped on a plane and headed to Haiti. I’m sure you’ve heard similar stories in your area.  They make me so very sick and sad.  Now, in his defense, the dentist had been running a clinic in  Haiti for 20 years and probably had some relationships and language skills that made it easier for him to be there. He has apparently been doing some basic medical things like helping set broken legs and deliver babies. So in that sense he was probably a better choice than you or even me.  But I still think it was very selfish.

In a disaster situation like the one in Haiti, it’s not enough to have basic disaster experience or speak the language or even have resources. You MUST have highly specialized skills that are appropriate for the initial stages of a calamitous disaster–water purification engineering, food distribution specialization (which is extremely important to help avoid riots) and medical trauma skills.  Anything less right now is literally taking the food and water out of someone’s mouth.  He filled a space that could have been filled by someone with more skills and his presence there may have actually caused someone’s demise.

It is arrogance to believe that just because we have a particular set of skills and resources that it’s enough to give us the “right” to go help in a country that has such severe needs.  If my many years of disaster work have taught me nothing else it is this:  even I with my mass casualty disaster experience and basic French language skills am not the best person to deploy at this time. Later perhaps, but not now.

Let me tell you about the member of our team who was sent to Haiti.  She’s a trained trauma flight paramedic with thousands of hours of experience, she’s multi-lingual and she has years of experience working self-sufficiently in third-world countries.  I’ve worked with her on mass casualty disasters and she’s level-headed and calm.  And, this is important, she’s the only one from our team there right now.  We have over 50 team members who could go, but a very strong case has to be made that it is worth the risk that we might not do more harm than good.

And let me tell you something else, there is no hurry.  Yes, there is a crisis in Haiti and millions of dollars, thousands of people and dozens of hospitals are all pouring into that country.  But this disaster isn’t gong to be over tomorrow, or next year or most likely, even this decade.  It’s going to take billions of man hours, dollars and people to help Haiti recover.  It won’t be done overnight.

So what can you do?  You can raise money. That’s the big one.  Don’t collect clothes or water or food to ship to Haiti, it won’t help.  After major disasters in this country, Hurricane Andrew or Hurricane Katrina, they have had to destroy truckloads of wasted resources because they  weren’t the right thing, they became mildewed and unusable or they didn’t get to where they were needed.  The only thing worse than having no help is having the wrong help.  Shoes for your feet won’t fill your belly.

I’m not sure why people are so reluctant to believe that money is the best way to help.  Perhaps this disaster will be the turning point in that mindset.  If you must collect clothes, have a garage sale and send the proceeds. Or host a bake sale, it doesn’t matter how you raise the funds, raise them! Remember that money has power far beyond what it can purchase, it can also  re-start a nation’s economy, making sure people are employed and able to help themselves as much as possible.  (And while I’m on the subject, I think this would make a great economic thesis topic for a graduate student–hint, hint.)

I promised to tell you what you could do to help here at home to make an impact on Haiti.  We all have a lot of problems in our own backyards, so remember that as you read this list:

  1. Raise money for a trusted charity! (I know you’ve already heard this one, but it bears repeating because it is THAT important!) Remember that there are already dozens of disaster charities in place in Haiti who can use your support, Red Cross, CARE, and many others.
  2. Those same groups have needs here at home.  Volunteering with them locally may help free up resources and better trained volunteers for Haiti. Find your local Red Cross here.
  3. Train for the next disaster now.  Disasters happen all the time.  A house fire or a flood may not seem like a big deal (and usually doesn’t get near the media attention), but trust me, from my own personal experience I can tell you the most profound disaster you will ever experience will be the one that happens to you. And someone who is trained to help can make all the difference!  Getting training now will also allow you to be ready to help during the next big disaster.
  4. There are amazing groups like Crisis Commons who are using their technically skills at Crisis Camps all over the United States (and Columbia now too!) to help solve issues that have been presented to them by various non-profits and others in the know.  So far they’ve worked on more than a dozen projects.  even if you aren’t technically inclined, they need to people to help them out. Check them out here.
  5. Use social media to spread the word about the amazing things that are being done to help in Haiti.  Let’s celebrate as much good news as possible! And, of course, you can use social media to help raise awareness and funds–have some fun with it.  Rally your friends to sponsor you in a crazy dare (notice I didn’t say dangerous) or offer to publicly humiliate yourself if they’ll send money to a designated charity.
  6. Join a completely non-disaster non-profit agency as a volunteer and dedicate your service to the people of Haiti.  Every time you give of your time and talents, you make this world a better place, whether it’s in Haiti or at home. And isn’t that the real point?

If you absolutely feel like you have to go to Haiti at some point to help:

  • Plan your trip for at least a year from now, if not two.
  • Have a clearly defined reason for going,beyond just “helping.”
  • Get specialized training beyond what you may already have.
  • Practice self-sufficiency, try primitive camping for a week or more.
  • Learn Creole.
  • Establish a support system of people or an organization in Haiti.
  • Raise money to fund your trip and take enough with you to make a difference.


Filed under Disaster