My Hurricane Isaac deployment…

My name is Barbara Behling, the Chapter’s Communications Officer and I recently returned from my Hurricane Isaac deployment. On August 28, 2012 Isaac caused great damage and destruction: he also re-energized and mobilized communities.

With much anticipation, Isaac garnered strength while sitting in the Gulf Coast deciding if he would hit Tampa during the Republican National Convention or shift west and hit New Orleans, ironically on the seventh anniversary of Hurricane Katrina. Both presented logistical and emotional challenges. The story you may not have heard is that a few hours north of Louisiana, small inland towns such as Madisonville, Slidell and Baton Rouge were inundated with rain; up-to 16.5 inches fell in the same area in under 24-hours. For these small towns, this was much worse than Hurricane Katrina!

I learned of one lady whose house was filling fast with rain water. Afraid she and the children would drown inside, she perched her two children to her hips, their arms tightly around her neck. She started wading through the main street of town. Unbeknown to her, the man-hole covers blew-off due to the force of water. Within an instant, three lives were lost.

The forceful winds, torrential rain, flash flooding and threatening tornadoes were what Mother Nature handed us. What we gave back was just as powerful. The Red Cross mobilized 4,800 trained responders, each with a specific goal to help people. Each armed with skills, training and more compassion than you can ever know, we put our talents to work. We opened nearly 100 shelters, each a respite for those tired, hungry and emotionally drained. We partnered with groups such as the Southern Baptists, while they can cook from scratch hundreds of thousands of meals a day, they don’t have deliver vehicles. We do. In fact five Emergency Response Vehicles around Wisconsin were active in community feeding and outreach activities. Yes, our local volunteers drove our custom made vehicles, each with Wisconsin license plates to Florida, Mississippi and Louisiana. From each, our teams loaded, hauled and distributed meals at local community centers, shelters, schools, churches and throughout neighborhoods. You see when the Red Cross vehicle is coming down your street, you not only receive a hot meal, cold water and snacks, you are met with a Midwest smile. As one driver stated, “sometimes it’s not just about serving the food, you just have to stop and give them a hug too.”

Damage assessment worker marking the damage to this Louisiana home.

As our damage assessment, health services, emotional health professionals and folks like myself travel down impacted roads we meet people like George Moore, whose home was severely damaged. With the dignity and pride of serving his country, he adjusted his military hat and jacket and went to work cleaning-up. “I have survived everything, hurricanes, typhoons and serving in the military during WWII. Red Cross was there for me in 1945 and they are here for me today.”  With George’s physical challenges, it was if he mustered the strength to stand at attention when neighbors and people he never knew walked into his yard and began picking up the pieces. While we handed each ‘George’ we met free cleaning supplies and personal hygiene items, our gift is so much larger. It’s the people who stand behind us to make this happen. Whether you are deployed, supporting our Chapters at home or making an in-kind or financial gift, you were there too.

Each time I’m deployed, certain names and moments are forever engrained in my memory. I first talked with Tammy Morris, from the Madisonville, LA church. She called and asked if I could drive down to support their community outreach day.  When I said, “sure” I could hear her strong voice drop to a cracking, soft-spoken “the Red Cross is always here for us.”  I left my lodging before 6:00a.m on a Saturday. When our eyes met, we instantly hugged. She shared with my team the plan for the day. Nearly 40 community groups were gathering at the church and at the ball field by 9:00a.m.  Each group would be assigned jobs to help their community recover. Right on time, and if on cue, three American Red Cross box trucks arrived. Two hauled pre-packaged clean-up kits and water neatly stacked on pallets, one had bulk items such as shovels, racks, gloves, coolers, and more. Then as if on cue again, the doors flew open and dozens of kids in matching shirts formed an assembly line to unload the trucks. Another team stacked the materials in the church. As the disaster victims, arrived at the church, they were greeted with yet another team that carried the materials to their cars. In some cases, groups followed the resident home and began the process of bailing out water, ripping-out carpet, tearing down drywall and more.

Still back at the church, another team was serving hot meals, delivered by a fourth Red Cross vehicle. Each person was given a hot meal, water, sports drinks and snacks. People also stopped at this point, to sit, to share their story with our trained personnel. You see, part of the healing process is sharing your story. We had licensed mental health professionals ready to listen. We had nurses administering first aid to those with small injuries so it wouldn’t be a larger problem later. We also started ‘client case work’ which is a way to help the resident identify their next steps, determine if they have the resources to recovery, we listened and guided them into recovery.

So I could have a lasting reminder of Tammy, Madisonville and Isaac, I asked if Tammy would record a short message. She obliged. I’ll cherish her kindness, her ability to rally a community, and her sweet hug.

To view additional pictures from Hurricane Isaac click HERE.

Red Cross Helps Anxious Gulf Residents as Isaac Looms

Uncertainty resurfaces for people along Gulf Coast with Katrina anniversary

With Isaac poised to make landfall in the same areas of the Gulf Coast struck by Hurricane Katrina seven years ago, the American Red Cross has a series of tips for families and individuals in the region that may experience anxiety about the storm and anniversary.

“The combination of the approaching storm and Katrina anniversary will likely cause increased fear and unease for residents in New Orleans and along coastal communities as people relive difficult emotions,” said Rob Yin, manager of disaster mental health, American Red Cross. “It’s important that people remember to take care of themselves and make appropriate disaster preparations to stay safe which can also help to reduce stress. Don’t forget to reach out to others to offer or get help if you need it.”

Across multiple states along the Gulf, the Red Cross has launched a large disaster response as Isaac affects millions of lives with strong winds, heavy rain, flooding and coastal surges. Last night, nearly 800 people found a safe haven in 52 shelters open in five states. In addition, the Red Cross has mobilized 2,400 disaster workers, prepositioned 290,000 ready-to-eat meals and activated 187 emergency response vehicles from across the country to help. The Red Cross is also coordinating with multiple partners including a variety of civic groups, advocacy organizations, professional organizations and houses of worship to share their expertise and volunteers.

The Red Cross recommends that people be mindful that community members and disaster workers could experience anniversary reactions now or in the near future. Reactions can range from a mild upset for a day or two, to a stronger version with anxiety or depression. Most people will feel better within a week or two after the anniversary date as stress responses usually become less frequent and less severe over time.

Anniversary reactions could include:

  • Experiencing similar feelings and thoughts that occurred during the event like sadness, fearfulness or uncertainty;
  • Feeling the need to avoid events, places or people that are connected to the anniversary; 
  • Feeling nervous, on edge, jumpy or quick to anger;
  • Difficulty sleeping, focusing or concentrating; 
  • Experiencing fatigue, pain, headaches or stomachaches; and

The following actions can help families and individuals cope with anniversary stress reactions:

  • Stay informed and be prepared. If in the potential path of an approaching storm, pay attention to information and warnings from local authorities.
  • Make sure your disaster kit and plans are complete. Being prepared for storms can reduce stress;
  • Eat healthy. During times of stress it is important to maintain a balanced diet and drink plenty of water;
  • Get some rest. Giving your mind and body a break can help you cope with stress;
  • Stay connected with family and friends. Giving and receiving support is one of the most important things you can do;
  • Be patient with yourself and those around you. Recognize that people may need time to put their feelings and thoughts in order;
  • Stay positive. Remind yourself how you’ve successfully coped with stress in the past. Reach out when you need support, and help others when they need it.
  • Reach out to a Red Cross Disaster Mental Health or community mental health professional for support, if the actions above don’t help or to get more support. You can also contact the 24 hour National Disaster Distress Hotline at 1-800-985-5990.

Isaac is predicted to trigger a large and prolonged disaster response with major flooding across several states. People can call, click or text to donate by visiting http://www.redcross.org, calling 1-800-RED CROSS (1-800-733-2767) or texting REDCROSS to 90999 to make a $10 donation.

Emergency Response Vehicle Sent to Gulf Coast

By: Kris Schuller:  wearegreenbay.com – Click HERE for video of story.

GREEN BAY, WI (WFRV)  Wisconsin workers and volunteers are already heading south to help with storm damage from Tropical Storm Isaac.

The American Red Cross is busy  preparing  its response to the damage Isaac is expected to bring to the northern gulf coast. Fifteen-hundred disaster workers have been deployed to the area, ten of which are from Northeast Wisconsin. Monday evening – one of those volunteers left Green Bay, on a 16-hour drive to New Orleans.

As Tropical Storm Isaac races  toward the northern gulf coast, slowly growing in intensity, Dennis Nagan prepares for a 1-thousand mile trip, to deliver an emergency response vehicle, for use at  shelters in New Orleans.

“I’m  nervous, excited, got the call this morning, ” said Nagan. “It happened fast and we’re getting ready to go.”

So far Isaac has brought heavy rain, power outages and flooding to Florida. But with storm surges expected to reach 12-feet along the northern gulf coastline, many more may find themselves displaced. The mission of the vehicle is to aid in the distribution of food to disaster victims.

“We can take it to areas affected, so as people clean their homes they can get a little comfort, said Jody Weyers of the Lakeland Chapter of the American Red Cross in Green Bay.

The  emergency response vehicle is one of 150 such vehicles, owned by the National Red Cross and stored at local chapters across the country. With Tropical Storm Isaac expected to intensify in the coming days, a call came in from the national office this afternoon – requesting this vehicle be sent a.s.a.p.

“You are right out in front with people who really need the food, goods and supplies the Red Cross provides and I take it seriously, it’s an honor to do it.” said Nagan.

With 42 shelters currently in operation in Florida and evacuations ordered in low lying areas of Louisiana, the Red Cross expects more shelters will be opening soon. And by early tomorrow Nagan will be in the middle of it all, driving a vehicle which brings hope, by helping feed the hungry.

“Hopefully we won’t be needed, But if so, we’ll be there.”

Depending on the damage suffered, Nagan could be away from his family in Appleton for up to three weeks.

American Red Cross Opening Shelters in Florida as Isaac Moves North

People in Other Gulf Coast States Urged to Prepare for Storm

KEY WEST, Fl. — August 26, 2012 — A man braves 50 mile-per-hour winds as the significant storm Isaac approaches the coast of Key West. (Photo Credit: American Red Cross, James Williams)

WASHINGTON, August 26, 2012 —As Tropical Storm Isaac marches north, the American Red Cross opened shelters in Florida today and is prepared for widespread flooding and sheltering a large number of people throughout the state.

“The Red Cross is helping people in Florida who are being affected by the storm, and we urge those throughout the state and the Gulf Coast region who are in Isaac’s projected path to take preparedness steps now,” said Charley Shimanski, senior vice president of disaster services.  “The Red Cross is preparing for what could be a large disaster response across multiple states over the next several weeks.”

The Red Cross has deployed more than 1,000 disaster workers throughout Florida and has materials and supplies positioned for use, including pre-stocking 30,000 ready-to-eat meals in Florida and two mobile kitchens sent to the state.

With Isaac’s effects already being felt in parts of the state, people in Florida should stay informed on the storm’s progress from the National Weather Service. As the storm approaches, people should be prepared to evacuate if directed to do so by authorities.

As of noon, the Red Cross has nearly 20 shelters already open in Florida and is poised to open more as necessary. If someone needs to find a Red Cross shelter, they can download the Red Cross Hurricane app, visit redcross.org, call 1-800-RED CROSS (1-800-733-2767), or check their local television, radio and newspaper.

It’s also important to stay in touch with family and friends, and the Red Cross Safe and Well website is a secure and easy-to-use online tool that helps families connect during emergencies. To register, visit http://www.redcross.org or call 1-800-RED-CROSS (1-800-733-2767). This site also connects with the Twitter and Facebook accounts of users.

Meanwhile, the Red Cross also is mobilizing disaster workers, emergency vehicles, mobile kitchens and relief supplies to Alabama, Louisiana and Mississippi as Isaac is expected to move into that area in the next few days. The Red Cross is urging residents in areas that could be affected by the storm to be preparing now.

Isaac is expected to cause serious flooding throughout the region, and people can donate by visiting http://www.redcross.org, calling 1-800-RED CROSS (1-800-733-2767) or texting the word REDCROSS to 90999 to make a $10 donation.

About the American Red Cross:
The American Red Cross shelters, feeds and provides emotional support to victims of disasters; supplies more than 40 percent of the nation’s blood; teaches skills that save lives; provides international humanitarian aid; and supports military members and their families. The Red Cross is a not-for-profit organization that depends on volunteers and the generosity of the American public to perform its mission. For more information, please visit redcross.org or join our blog at blog.redcross.org.

Local Red Cross Volunteers Head to Florida Ahead of Isaac

By WBAY, By Bao Vang –  click HERE for video of story.
As Tropical Storm Isaac barrels toward Florida, the Red Cross is getting ready to open dozens of shelters across the Sunshine State.

Friday morning, trained disaster workers Betsy LeClair and Joel O’Connell from Two Rivers left from Austin Straubel Airport in Brown County to head to Tampa. They were checked in before the sun rose.

“My partner and I are flying to Tampa to prepare for the impending Hurricane that may or may not hit Florida,” O’Connell said.

They’re among 600 Red Cross volunteers across the country who have taken emergency response training classes to prepare to provide disaster relief.

“When Katrina hit, it was an eye opener for everybody,” said O’Connell. “It’s better to be well-prepared and not have to use your facilities than it is to try and scrape things together at the height of the storms.”

O’Connell and LeClair believe in Tampa they’ll be working to provide shelter and food to people evacuated from their homes.

“We’re quite a ways from the eye of the storm. We’ll be in an outlying area, because the people who are in danger will have been moved to the shelters,” O’Connell said.

Strangers helping strangers during disasters is what the Red Cross is all about, says volunteer director Jody Weyers.

“Volunteers for the American Red Cross are the heart of the organization. We are a volunteer-led organization. Without our volunteers, we wouldn’t be able to provide the programs or services that we do in the community,” Weyers said.

Two other volunteers from Fond du Lac also headed down to Florida to provide relief during the storm.

The Red Cross says it has 22 emergency response vehicles already in Florida and 28 more are headed to the state in preparation for the storm. They have dozens more on stand-by.

Tropical Storm Isaac is expected to hit the Dominican Republic and Haiti Friday. It’s expected to hit Cuba by the weekend and become a hurricane by Monday as it makes landfall.

Red Cross Ready To Help As Isaac Heads Toward Florida

WASHINGTON, Thursday, August 23, 2012 — Tropical Storm Isaac could make landfall in Florida in the next few days and the American Red Cross is getting ready to respond if needed.

The Red Cross is preparing to open dozens of shelters across Florida, and moving hundreds of trained disaster workers into the state. There are 22 Red Cross emergency response vehicles already in Florida and 28 more are moving into the state in advance of the storm with an additional 78 on stand-by if needed. The Red Cross is mobilizing five truckloads of disaster supplies to send to Florida and Red Cross disaster warehouses in Georgia and Mississippi are ready to ship emergency supplies if necessary.

 “As Isaac travels northward, we’re getting ready to help people in Florida,” said Charley Shimanski, senior vice president for Red Cross Disaster Services. “We urge folks who may be in the path of this storm to get prepared too – to check their emergency supplies, finalize their hurricane plans, and listen closely to local officials for updates on the storm.”

RED CROSS HURRICANE APP One step people should take now is to download the free Red Cross Hurricane App for mobile devices which puts real time information on hurricane safety at someone’s fingertips. The app features information on Red Cross shelters and a toolkit with a flashlight, strobe light and alarm. The one-touch “I’m Safe” button lets someone use social media outlets to tell family and friends they are okay. People across the country planning to travel to areas that could get hit with the storm can use the app to receive weather alerts. The Hurricane App can be found in the Apple App Store and the Google Play Store for Android by searching for American Red Cross.

GET READY Before the storm, people should prepare by taking the following steps:

  • Close windows, doors and hurricane shutters. If someone does not have hurricane shutters, they should close and board up their windows and doors with plywood.
  • Fill their vehicle’s gas tank.
  • Bring in anything that can be picked up by the wind, like outdoor furniture.
  • Turn the refrigerator and freezer to the coldest setting and keep closed as much as possible so food will last longer if the power goes out.

More information on what to do before, during and after a storm is available on the Red Cross web site.

 MEANWHILE IN HAITI, Red Cross workers from all over the world are closely coordinating preparedness efforts and plans to respond as Isaac approaches Hispaniola. Logistical support and cholera contingency plans have been activated for the north and northeast regions of Haiti, including positioning of relief and cholera prevention supplies. The Red Cross is supporting and equipping 55 community readiness committees in camps in Port au Prince with additional first aid supplies, having worked with these committees on an ongoing basis to identify evacuation routes and alternate safe spaces. The Haitian government is in charge of evacuation shelters in Haiti. The Red Cross works with the community to help them get ready for disasters and will respond to any needs Isaac creates.

HOW TO HELP If anyone would like to help, they can make a donation by visiting http://www.redcross.org, calling 1-800-RED CROSS (1-800-733-2767) or texting the word REDCROSS to 90999 to make a $10 donation. Contributions may also be sent to their local Red Cross chapter or to the American Red Cross, P.O. Box 37243, Washington, DC20013.

About the American Red Cross:
The American Red Cross shelters, feeds and provides emotional support to victims of disasters; supplies nearly half of the nation’s blood; teaches lifesaving skills; provides international humanitarian aid; and supports military members and their families. The Red Cross is a charitable organization — not a government agency — and depends on volunteers and the generosity of the American public to perform its mission. For more information, please visit www.redcross.org or join our blog at http://blog.redcross.org.