Thursday, March 13, 2008
Northern Westchester Bureau Chief
Are You Ready For A Disaster?
The Westchester Red Cross is giving out goody bags. Not the candy and toys variety, but goody bags filled with essentials needed in an emergency. This reporter attended a kick-off presentation by the local Red Cross of its Prepare Westchester program earlier this month and left with a personal disaster Go Bag filled with food rations, batteries, a flashlight, and other emergency items. The Red Cross will be hosting a series of disaster preparedness programs throughout the County in upcoming months. Anyone who attends will walk away with their own Go Bag of personal survival gear, and a wealth of information on what to do before, during, and after an emergency.
Last year’s flood in Mamaroneck, the tornado in Mt. Pleasant in 2006, and multiple house/apartment fires in several Westchester localities in the past few years (such as the one this winter displacing 50 families in White Plains) have left local residents with an increased awareness that disasters can strike anywhere, at any time. Abigail Adams (yes, a direct descendant of that Abigail Adams), the Director of communications for the Westchester Chapter of the American Red Cross, told The Guardian that “most people have a strong feeling of denial, feel that disasters can’t happen to me. But disasters are non-discriminatory. They can hit at any time to anybody, regardless of economics”.
The Red Cross presentation noted that disasters can be from both natural causes - hurricanes, floods, tornadoes, blizzards - and also man-made fires, crashes, derailments, explosions. Emergencies can strike an entire community or just one individual, but the Red Cross noted that the skills needed to deal with emergencies apply to everyone regardless of the situation. “ The skills and knowledge are transferable” Robert Sena, the Director of Preparedness for the Westchester Chapter noted.
Director Adams stressed, “Everyone needs some simple tools to give them the confidence to respond to and recover from any type of emergency. They’ll make better choices, and proceed in a more appropriate manner”. The Red Cross information materials note three types of tools for individuals to prepare for an emergency:
1. Get a kit - emergency survival kit;
2. Make a Plan - escape route, meeting place, contact person;
3. Be Informed - life-saving training, emergency broadcast system.
Sena agreed that dealing with disasters include not just the response to the emergency, but the recovery process as well. Sena noted that “the job of the professional responders is aided by having the community informed and prepared. It makes their job easier.”
Adams stressed the importance of an individual plan to aid first responders: “One of the best things to do is to establish a meeting place – make sure that everybody knows where to go to meet when disaster strikes. This is critical for the first responders so they don’t have to go into a building looking for somebody who’s already out.” Sena added, “When a first responder knows the occupants are all safe, then they can concentrate on putting out the fire and dealing with the emergency.” Meeting places can be as simple as a tree in the front yard for a house emergency, or a family member’s house in a regional disaster.
The Red Cross works with all levels of first responders when dealing with emergencies, from municipalities, to fire and police departments, to local hospitals, to FEMA. Mayor Trifiletti of Mamaroneck praised the local chapter’s response to the severe flooding in the town and officially declared March 2007 as Red Cross Month in “recognition of their role and assistance provided by the American Red Cross to residents in light of the recent flood which occurred between March 2-4, 2007. The Village received an incredible response from many of the involved agencies: Police Department, Fire Department, Emergency Medical Services, and Department of Public Works.
The Red Cross worked around the clock in conjunction with the Village and Con Edison, with a command center set up at Hook & Ladder Firehouse on Mamaroneck Avenue. e coordination and response was phenomenal and everyone did a terrific job”. (Source: March 12, 2007 minutes – Village of Mamaroneck, Board of Trustees meeting).
March 2008 is National Red Cross Month. According to Adams, the Westchester chapter has made it their mission this month to “get out there and encourage everybody to take the three steps to prepare for an emergency. The steps are not expensive and it’s basic stuff. This information is useful across the board, even for personal emergencies”. Sena noted, “We are trying to get this word out to as many people as possible. We are going to businesses, senior centers, Rotary clubs, and local mom’s groups”.
In 2007, the Westchester Red Cross responded to 98 local disasters and provided shelter, food, clothing, and mental health counseling to 367 families in our community. In addition to its emergency responses, the local Red Cross also provided emergency training programs in CPR and first aid, child care and babysitting classes, and lifesaving courses. Locally, the Red Cross offers over 600 programs for our community.
A dedicated team of eight volunteers in the local Call to Care program provide sixty homebound seniors with weekly check-in calls. The local chapter also conducts an international tracing program. In 2007, the Westchester Red Cross helped reconnect 17 local families with loved ones in foreign lands. As part of the Armed Forces Emergency Services, the local chapter also provided service to 290 members of the armed services last year. e Red Cross worldwide network reaches service members wherever they are to communicate critical news such as a birth, death or illness. e Westchester chapter also sends video messages to members of our armed forces. (Source: Red Cross 2007 Annual Report).
Note: According to Adams, the armed forces emergency services was established as a Congressional mandate, but Congress provides no funding to the Red Cross to provide this critical service. Both Adams and Sena offered several recommendations for local residents to be prepared for an emergency. They recommend residents prepare kits but to make sure that “they don’t weigh you down. We have a backpack
available that you can put on and keep your hands free and be mobile in an emergency. We encourage people to take it a step further: get trained in first aid and CPR.” Sena notes that “one of the questions we should all ask ourselves is ‘can I save a life?’ If you take our courses, you will arm yourself with those skills. And we are very flexible, not only do we offer courses at our facility, but we will offer them at businesses, schools, and organizations at their convenience”.
Note: This reporter asked the local Red Cross to conduct CPR and first aid courses at Reader’s Digest when she was employed there as a global auditor. “We are a resource for the community,” Adams stressed. In addition to taking life-saving courses and preparing an emergency kit, the Red Cross notes several other steps residents can take:
• put house numbers and lights outside homes;
• have all family members carry an emergency contact card;
• train children to know their phone number and home address;
• have a contact person to check in with in an emergency. (Adams recommends that this person should be out of the area, in case local phone lines do not work in the disaster). Make sure the contact person can calmly deal with an emergency and knows what information to obtain from each family member (e.g. their location, condition).
• practice emergency plans and escapes and train family members on how to dial 911 (speak slowly and clearly and never hang up until the emergency operator tells you to).
• put copies of personal identification, insurance information, prescriptions in the survival kit, along with extra glasses/contact lenses and cash. Over 96% of the local staff at the Westchester chapter are volunteers. The Red Cross is a resource to our community in times of a disaster; it is manned by community residents. To reach local residents, the members of the local chapter will be going to train stations and shopping malls this month to inform them of the life-saving training and programs available. In addition, anyone wishing to attend or host one of the Prepare Westchester programs and obtain a Go Bag of their own can call the local Red Cross chapter at 914-