When disaster strikes, Red Cross responds

Volunteers organize items used for emergencies inside the main office at the Red Cross in Walla Walla.

Volunteers organize items used for emergencies inside the main office at the Red Cross in Walla Walla. Photo by Michael Lopez.

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WALLA WALLA — Extreme weather, earthquakes, fires and other disasters can happen anywhere. If your household or community is in trouble, it’s reassuring to know the American Red Cross has your back. The organization’s local chapter has a Disaster Action Team that can deploy and be on the scene within two hours.

Melissa Buckley, executive director of the Blue Mountain Chapter of the American Red Cross, and Cody Campbell, disaster program manager, explained the process. After a disaster, Emergency Services dispatch will call the Red Cross, alerting them to the problem. The on-call disaster team of two or more volunteers will be there to offer aid.

“We assess their needs right away,” Campbell said.

Any type of disaster is possible, said Buckley. This area has a fair number of wind storms. Floods have also disrupted the Valley, and it’s experienced several earthquakes. But the most common disasters that occur here are house fires, especially in the winter months, she said.

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Sue Bell, left, and Patty Choisser pack different items in cases for future emergencies inside the Red Cross Office in Walla Walla.

How to help

The first Thursday of each month at 5:30 p.m., the Red Cross hosts an orientation, open to anyone who’s considering volunteering or just wants more information. The session is free, held at the Red Cross office. Call for further details.

Red Cross in Walla Walla:

› 175 S. Park St.

› 509-525-7380

› Facebook: ubne.ws/1k8cDEM

› redcross.org

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Sometimes it’s a small house fire and all the resident needs are some groceries. If it’s a large house fire they will have major immediate needs, such as seasonal clothing and shoes. If they have young children or an infant, they’ll need diapers and formula. The family might need to be sheltered at a hotel for up to three days. And the needs increase if people are hurt.

The organization provided assistance following the Valley’s flooding in 1996. They also provide a canteen — refreshments for volunteer firefighters when they have been out on a fire call. When necessary, the organization refers people to other agencies.

Red Cross personnel can even be deployed internationally, if invited to help in a disaster situation.

“We can’t just go to help them because we want to,” said Buckley.

Their role after foreign disasters is typically different than it is for local emergencies. It involves more rebuilding than tending to victims’ immediate needs — for example, cleanup work following a hurricane.

“With those kinds of super storms it’s more of a recovery phase rather than responding. It’s about figuring out how to revive a community hit so hard,” said Campbell.

Wherever they’re active, Buckley said, Red Cross personnel stay focused on the organization’s primary mission: to prevent, prepare for and respond to emergencies.

Locally, the Red Cross operates with about 20 volunteers, with six on the Disaster Action Team. The organization is always looking for new volunteers. Training is free, in a classroom or online, and mentoring is always available from more experienced volunteers.

“We have a specific need for nurses,” Buckley said. “And mental health staff for a large-scale disaster,” Campbell added. “If we have to open a shelter we have to have a nurse there 24/7. And the shelter has to be open a minimum of three days.”

Volunteers gain a lot from giving to others in need.

“When you do good things, you feel good,” Buckley said.

Area Red Cross volunteers are making the community safer by being prepared to respond when called upon, said Campbell.

“If you end up on hard times, someone will be there,” he said.

Karlene Ponti is the U-B specialty publications writer. She can be reached at 509-526-8324 or karleneponti@wwub.com.

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