A New Approach to Disaster Response

by Krystal Smith, staff contributor, American Red Cross North Texas Region

With stay-at-home orders and social distancing practices as a result of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, every business and person is finding ways to adapt to the changing environment. The American Red Cross and our response to disasters is no different.

Red Cross volunteers drove through impacted areas to assess damage.

Three weeks ago today, on March 19, 2020, in the midst of this global public health crisis, severe storms swept across North Texas causing seven tornadoes and severe flooding.

Our priority is, and has always been, the safety of our workforce and the communities we serve. We knew, even during a pandemic, emergencies don’t stop and neither does the work of the American Red Cross. The resiliency and determination of Red Cross volunteers is unwavering, and each volunteer stepped up to provide the same care, comfort and compassion needed after a disaster, while still practicing safe social distancing.

Recognizing severe weather in the forecast, the Red Cross connected with government and community partners before the storm’s arrival to identify all resources available should the need arise. Volunteers monitored the weather situation and posted social media alerts to keep residents informed before and during the storm.

Immediately afterward, the Red Cross began receiving phone calls from those affected. Virtual teams answered the phone calls while other team members quickly moved to assess the storm damage.

Red Cross volunteers traveled one person per vehicle and had two vehicles follow each other to survey the damage caused by the storms. Each pair would pull over and communicate by phone to document the degree to which each area and home was affected by the storm.

When necessary, Red Cross volunteers used a small window crack to provide assistance while minimizing personal contact.

Red Cross team members answering the phones used FaceTime, Facebook Messenger and other online platforms to connect face-to-face with those affected while keeping everyone safe through social distancing. By using everyday technology, volunteers were able to verify the damage and documentation needed to quickly provide residence assistance. If the individual was unable to use technology, a a Red Cross volunteer would meet with the person while still minimizing personal contact.

In total, the storms displaced more than 85 people who each received resources to meet their immediate needs, including financial assistance for accommodations, food, water, toiletries, and health and mental health services that can be provided over the phone.  

While virtual face-to-face conversations may not be as comforting as a hug, having a safe way to connect volunteers and those affected made all the difference to both parties. It helped provide the personal touch to restore hope and the assurance that the Red Cross is here to help.

Since March 1, 2020, the American Red Cross North Texas region has helped more than 700 people affected by local disasters, including home fires. While our physical presence may not be the same, the emergency help we provide will continue. Working closely with public health officials to ensure the safety of local communities and our workforce, the American Red Cross will continue providing the help and hope people need when disasters strike.

Learn how you can help virtually support your community at redcross.org/volunteer.

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