Dispatch Communications for Local Disasters

by Whitney Daniela, American Red Cross Volunteer Contributor

Imagine your home just as it is right now, filled with special memories and all the personal items you cherish most. Then suddenly, in the blink of an eye, it is washed away in a flood or gone in a fire. While it is hard to fathom yourself in this situation, every day many people find themselves facing challenges just like these.

When a disaster strikes, it is often unexpected. Those affected are left scrabbling for help and answers with limited resources. There is an immediate need for necessities such as food, water, shelter, and clothing. This is where the Red Cross becomes a safe haven for so many.

Dispatchers work diligently to ensure that calls and request for help are not missed. Volunteers monitor phone lines 24 hours a day and watch carefully for other forms of communications that will inform of local residents requesting aid.

When a disaster, like a home fire, occurs, volunteers are speedy in their response and typically arrive at the scene within 1 to 2 hours. As they assess the situation, they wait to gain further details from the local fire departments and authorities who will determine if the dwelling is safe for the occupant to return. If it is found that a resident cannot move back into the property, the Red Cross will take the next step in helping them find a safe place to stay.

A question for many is how the dispatchers determine what support is needed in each individual case?

Annie Johnson, a Senior Dispatcher Program Manager in the Dallas metro area, works directly with dispatchers to help navigate victims during this process.

In speaking with her she informed,  “The Red Cross doesn’t decide what your needs are, our purpose is to assist and help you toward recovery, whatever that may be.”

The recovery process is thorough and consists of a detailed step-by-step checklist during each case. The list includes important processes such as ensuring people have a place to stay overnight, food, and clothing. The items provided are what the Red Cross calls “comfort kits.” The contents of the kits are essential after a disaster because it is the first step toward rebuilding for those left with very little.

“Comfort kits include toiletries and if a client doesn’t have clothes they will be given something to wear. Usually, the Red Cross dispatch trucks have some sort of clothing and first aid supplies to help those affected.” Johnson said.

To further help disaster victims, the Red Cross has built relationships with other local charities, churches and businesses, including some larger organizations like the AARP. Individuals do not have to have a prior connection with a company, like the AARP, to receive assistance.

Although separate organizations with their own rules and guidelines, the relationships the Red Cross has built with their various partners allows victims to be quickly connected to local hotels, food banks, and nonprofits that can help on the road to recovery.

In addition, the relationships the Red Cross has with government agencies and insurance companies enables the Red Cross to help people file insurance claims and learn more about the resources available to them. During a highly stressful situation, it can be challenging to contact each of these organizations separately, the Red Cross attempts to alleviate some of the stress by helping victims through the process on an individual basis and providing a checklist for next steps.

When contacting the Red Cross for assistance, it is preferred that the residents provide I.D. to prove who they are and where they live. If circumstances prevent them from having formal identification, there are other ways to gain the necessary verification.

“Often, people don’t have an I.D. because it was destroyed in the disaster. The dispatcher can speak to an apartment leasing office or review an insurance card as an additional method of verification.”

It is important to have a record of each person living in the home. These details ensure that everyone affected is given the care and support they need. This support comes from the Red Cross through the generosity of those within the community. Without them, many of the services provided would not be possible.

Local chapters are always looking for ways to get people involved with the Red Cross mission. To find out ways to use your talents and gifts to help serve those affected by a disaster, sign up to volunteer at redcross.org/volunteer or help support the mission financially at redcross.org/donate.

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