260 People Received Red Cross Assistance After Home Fires, Other Disasters in March

MILWAUKEE, Wisc. (April 2, 2020) — Even during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, emergencies don’t stop and neither does the work of the American Red Cross. Every day, local volunteers are still providing care and comfort after disasters, such as home fires.

In the month of March, Red Cross disaster workers in Wisconsin responded to 81 incidents, providing assistance to 260 people all across Wisconsin (see map). Volunteers primarily helped families after home fires (79 incidents), with the addition of health measures and virtual work to keep this important support moving ahead for people in crisis.March 2020 fires WI ARC

“Our responses remained higher than average in March. As the realities of COVID-19 hit our state and nation, our disaster teams worked with public health officials, took on new training and added health and distancing measures to keep this work moving ahead, safely,” said Justin Kern, Communications Officer for the Wisconsin Region of the Red Cross. “We’re urging everyone to take steps while you’re observing stay-at-home measures to minimize the risk of fires in your own home.”

Along with the 79 fires in March – more than two per day, which is above our typical state average – Red Cross disaster teams also responded to help people at a building collapse in Racine and a transportation incident in Milwaukee.


You can support this ongoing mission for our neighbors in need by joining as a volunteer or by making a donation at redcross.org.


Our top priority is protecting the people we serve and our volunteers, so we have adopted new guidelines and tactics as we continue to support our communities. All volunteer responders and clients are asked health screening questions prior to meeting at a disaster scene. We also have the technology in place to issue immediate disaster assistance on a virtual basis. We have implemented steps to keep clients and volunteers safe from close contact, while at the same time providing financial assistance for items such as food, clothing, shelter and medications. The Red Cross also offers mental health support in beginning the long-term recovery process.

Dave and Kevin deliver to ISO Milwaukee FIVE

American Red Cross disaster volunteers Dave Flowers, left, and Kevin Connell don protective face shields and gloves as they deliver hygiene supplies to a shelter run by the National Guard in Milwaukee. (Photo by Justin Kern / American Red Cross)

We continue to work closely with public health officials to deliver our mission where and when it’s safe to do so. This work includes additional support and partnerships through the state Emergency Operations Center to address the needs of people during this evolving emergency.

Stay Safe and Help #EndHomeFires

The Red Cross is asking everyone to take simple steps to reduce the risk of a fire in your home and to help save lives. While many are home from work and school with their families, now is the perfect time to talk about home fire safety and practice your home fire escape plan.

  • Make sure everyone in the family knows how to get out of every room and how to get out of the home in two minutes or less.
  • Teach children the sound of a smoke alarm when you practice your home fire escape plan.
  • Select a meeting spot at a safe distance away from your home, such as a neighbor’s home or a tree in the front yard, so everyone knows where to meet.
  • Visit org/homefires for additional free resources and safety tips.

For additional COVID-19 (a.k.a. Coronavirus) safety tips and resources, click here.

‘People will get it done’: Q&A with Dave Nelson, government operations volunteer working on Coronavirus response

By Justin Kern, American Red Cross

With any large-scale disaster, there is a significant amount of work behind the scenes to set up food, shelter, assistance and more on the ground. Rarely has that “behind-the-scenes” effort been more vital than during the present COVID-19 pandemic. By its nature, this health emergency has resulted in isolation, social distancing and other remote efforts. This is where the strategy, networking and smarts of American Red Cross volunteers like Dave Nelson make a huge impact. From a post at the State Emergency Operations Center in Madison, as well as virtually, Nelson has led the Red Cross response to the Coronavirus emergency.

Nelson started at the Red Cross about eight years ago, including stints as a disaster action team volunteer and board president with the Northwest Wisconsin Chapter. Nelson, a retired finance officer for hospital systems who lives in Eau Claire with his wife, shares details on this unique Red Cross volunteer role – and one-of-a-kind disaster response.

Dave Nelson headshot

Dave Nelson

For starters, how do you kind of describe your volunteer role to friends or people on the street?

“I say that, ‘If we do our job here [in the Emergency Operations Center], that’s how we coordinate where to set up shelters, where our partners could use our assistance, and where people are most in need.”

What are some of the duties as a Government Operations volunteer?

“Where we usually work is in the E.O.C. [Emergency Operations Center]. That could be with the state, county or municipality. We coordinate the emergency response with all of the local authorities, including, like here with the state Department of Health Services, the National Guard, FEMA … all those types of agencies so there is a coordinated effort by all entities to provide the response needs in the places that it is most needed. … For Red Crossers, this role used to be called ‘Government Liaison.’”


Volunteers make the mission of the American Red Cross come to life. Find volunteer opportunities that fit your interests at redcross.org/volunteer.


Had you done this role before the Coronavirus response?

“First time I did this was during the Bad River Floods in 2016. For Hurricane Florence, I was the government operations [lead] in South Carolina for 15 counties in that response. I was at the Camp Fire in Paradise, California and last summer I was with the state of Oklahoma for flooding.”

Compare and contrast for us, the differences and similarities with a natural disaster like a hurricane in your role, and what’s happening with your role during this COVID-19 response.

Vol Dave Nelson at State EOC 3-16-20

Dave Nelson, at right in hat, on the first day at the State Emergency Operations Center in Madison.

“What is similar: I’m working with the federal, state and local authorities in the E.O.C. We also coordinate a lot with V.O.A.D. [Voluntary Organizations Active in Disasters] groups, too, to help find other resources where we all have a gap to fill. The players from the agency standpoint are pretty much the same. In hurricanes, for instance, the majority of our work is … supplies, feeding and sheltering of people. What makes this one very different is that we’re not doing any sheltering. We have special rules because we’re dealing with a pandemic, which is something not many of us have worked with before. The coordination becomes different. The state and counties are working on isolation shelters, more of a medical shelter and different from congregate shelters … Using Red Cross and FEMA resources, we helped put together a shelter operating manual with DHS so that they can operate and better understand the processes involved in operating shelters. DHS is taking the lead and we’re assisting, providing guidance, supplies and resources. They’re the health experts. It may seem small to anyone outside but it’s really under a whole different set of rules to ensure infection does not spread and medical needs are met.”

I’ve been at E.O.C.s in the past in Madison and this one was definitely different from day one. Can you share the differences from the perspective of where and how you’re working?

“We walk through medical screenings before we can even get into the [E.O.C.] building. We’ve been working, spaced apart somewhat … and we are now dispersing into what we call ‘Virtual E.O.C.’, using web access, phones, email. That is important [based on gathering guidelines], but we’ll be doing a lot more calling, relying on technology much more. People will get it done. These people in the E.O.C., they work hard and they take tasks seriously. Whatever needs to get done, gets done. And that’s the fun part, really, solving problems and executing the plan.”

A couple of weeks into this pandemic, what have been some of the early successes?

“Some of the blood drive need and safety information, getting that language passed along to help the state and governor’s office to support the need for blood drives and collection. The other big one for me was, on day two, getting involved with the isolation sheltering task force. I was able to find policy and standards manuals and intake forms as a start, based on Red Cross, FEMA things I know about sheltering, and contacts I had from other states already going these response issues in heavily impacted areas in California, where they’re a little ahead of Wisconsin in dealing with the COVID-19 response. Our team was able to then bring in a shelter expert, Barbara Gugel, to work full-time with the Isolation Task Force to develop and put that isolation sheltering process into place. It’s where your networking and working well with new people, treating each other well, really comes into play.”

This is a pretty unique role with the Red Cross. What qualities would you say help to have for someone who may want to get involved like you in government operations?

“You have to be even tempered. Don’t take anything personally, there is so much going on and people can get stressed, people are tired. If you can handle the pressure of working 12-to-15 hours a day and coordinate with numerous types of people, [those are] the skills you really need. Even if it’s a role that comes up once or twice a year, don’t get frustrated with that. At the end of the day, we’re here to help people the best we can. We play a very important role, and our government partners, our nonprofit partners, they all know that.”

You can make an impact in your community as a volunteer with the American Red Cross. Find volunteer opportunities that fit your passion at redcross.org/volunteer

Coronavirus: Safety and Readiness Tips for You

From the American Red Cross

ARC coronavirus safety 3-16-2020The American Red Cross is closely monitoring the outbreak of Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) and following the latest guidance from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC).

We know this is a stressful time and people want to know what they can do right now to protect themselves and their families. That’s why the Red Cross is highlighting some everyday health and preparedness steps that people in the U.S. can take now.

There are also special recommendations for people who may be at a higher risk which you can find below.

LIMIT THE SPREAD OF GERMS AND PREVENT INFECTION

The Red Cross recommends following common sense steps to help prevent the spread of any respiratory virus.

  • Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, especially after being in a public place, or after blowing your nose, coughing or sneezing. If soap and water are not readily available, use a hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth with unwashed hands.
  • Avoid close contact with people who are sick.
  • Put distance between yourself and other people if COVID-19 is spreading in your community.
  • Stay home if you are sick, except to get medical care.
  • Cover your nose and mouth with a tissue when coughing or sneezing; throw used tissues in the trash. If a tissue isn’t available, cough or sneeze into your elbow or sleeve, not your hands.
  • Clean and disinfect frequently touched surfaces daily. This includes tables, doorknobs, light switches, handles, desks, computers, phones, keyboards, sinks, toilets and countertops.
  • If surfaces are dirty, clean them – use detergent or soap and water prior to disinfection. Full information on how to disinfect found here.
  • Wear a facemask if you are sick. You should wear a facemask when you are around other people (e.g., sharing a room or vehicle) and before you enter a healthcare provider’s office.

GET YOUR HOUSEHOLD READY

There are things you can do right now to be ready for any emergency, and many of these same tips will help you prepare as the coronavirus situation continues to evolve in the U.S.

  • Have a supply of food staples and household supplies like laundry detergent and bathroom items, and diapers if you have small children.
  • Check to make sure you have at least a 30-day supply of your prescription medications, and have other health supplies on hand, including pain relievers, stomach remedies, cough and cold medicines, fluids with electrolytes and vitamins.
  • Know how your local public health agency will share information in your community and stay informed. Find more information here.
  • Learn how your children’s school or daycare, and your workplace will handle a possible outbreak. Create a plan in the event of any closings, event cancellations or postponements.
  • If you care for older adults or children, plan and prepare for caring for them, should they or you become sick.
  • Help family members and neighbors get prepared and share the safety messaging with those who may not have access to it.

According to the CDC, patients with COVID-19 have reportedly had mild to severe respiratory illness. Symptoms may appear 2-14 days after exposure and include fever, cough and shortness of breath. Call your doctor if you think you have been exposed to COVID-19 and develop symptoms.

WHO IS AT A HIGHER RISK?

COVID-19 is a new disease, which means scientists and public health experts are still learning how it spreads, the severity of illness it causes and to what extent it may spread in the U.S.

Early information shows that some people are at higher risk of getting very sick from this virus. This includes older adults and people who have serious chronic medical conditions like heart disease, diabetes and lung disease.

If you are at higher risk for serious illness from COVID-19 because of your age or a serious medical condition, it is extra important for you to take actions to avoid getting sick.

  • Take everyday precautions to keep space between yourself and others.
  • When you go out in public, keep away from others who are sick, limit close contact and wash your hands often.
  • Avoid crowds as much as possible.
  • Stock up on supplies.
    • Contact your healthcare provider to ask about obtaining extra necessary medications to have on hand in case there is an outbreak of COVID-19 in your community and you need to stay home for a prolonged period of time.
    • If you cannot get extra medications, consider using a mail-order option.
    • Be sure you have over-the-counter medicines and medical supplies (tissues, etc.) to treat fever and other symptoms. Most people will be able to recover from COVID-19 at home.
    • Have enough household items and groceries on hand so that you will be prepared to stay at home for a period of time.

During a COVID-19 outbreak in your community, stay home as much as possible. Full information for those at a higher risk is available here.

UP-TO-DATE INFORMATION

For the latest information, please visit the CDC website at cdc.gov/covid19.

If you live outside the United States, health and safety tips can be found through the World Health Organization and by following your local Red Cross or Red Crescent society’s social media channels.

Download Helpful Tip Sheets For Steps to Help Protect Against Coronavirus COVID-19. Available in multiple languages.
English | Spanish | French | Haitian | Chinese | Korean | Vietnamese | Tagalog