Barbara Behling Shares her Red Cross Deployment Experience

By Barbara Behling, regional community development officer for the Amercan Red Cross Northeast Wisconsin

Flag flies at Lowes store in Sanford.N.C. Amazing no one was hurt.

On Sunday, April 17th I was deployed to support North Carolina as a string of deadly tornadoes had ravaged the state. As a member of the Advanced Public Affairs Team, we are responsible for the early communications between local communities, affected chapters, emergency management and national media.

This disaster presented several challenges. No mercy was shown on several counties; more than twenty people were killed, hundreds of home destroyed, thousands damaged, and the scope of involvement from all partners (Red Cross, FEMA, Southern Baptist, Search & Rescue, Salvation Army, Tide Loads of Hope, etc) was immense.

More than a dozen shelters were established for temporary housing. In each, we coordinated “I’m safe and well” messages to families frantically searching for their loved ones. We provided a warm place to sleep, showers, hot food, snack, activities for the kids (this included an Easter Basket delivery made by local school group, with financial support from a local business). Most of all, we provided a respite of silence, support and hope.

My two favorite “safe and well” connections were regarding a 91-year old grandmother and her family out of state. On an even larger scale, we reconnected a military family near Fort Bragg with her deployed husband in Kuwait via assistance from their Puerto Rican family and the Puerto Rican Red Cross.

Our Counseling teams were working one-on-one with families who lost a loved one in the storms. They listened, supported funeral arrangements, encouraged the grieving process to continue, they cried and hugged each family member left behind. 

In neighborhoods, our damage assessment teams were recording the storms carnage so that we could provide additional financial assistance to storm victims. Each families needs are different and through the client casework process, we listened, documented and supported emergency basic needs.

Partnerships which were well established and those that “popped-out” of the blue were heart-warming. The Tides Loads of Hope cloth washing service was activated in two communities. The Southern Baptists were cooking food and our emergency vehicles delivered it door-to-door. The media was consummate partner, they ran stories of where people could stay, what emergency numbers to call, hosted telethons and more.

While Mother Nature wrath of destruction was at her worst. The people of North Carolina were at their best. It’s this collective spirit that will prevail.

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