In the aftermath of the Asiana Airline incident, many of those affected faced the additional stress of not knowing if their family knew what had happened to them, or if they were safe.
One of the roles of the Red Cross is to track down, reassure and bring together the families of those affected by a disaster regardless of where they live in the world and what language they speak.
Colleen Sasso, Red Cross Client Services Lead for San Mateo County and the Manager of Health Services during the Asiana Response, was responsible for assisting the airline with family reunification and passenger tracking after the July 6 crash-landing at the San Francisco International Airport (SFO).
“[In these types of incidents] one of our roles is to do whatever we can to help family members get in touch with each other. It’s an international service and we try very hard to get people connected. It’s a hard task but we’re very committed to that,” Colleen explained.
When Colleen got the call to help after the Asiana Airline incident at SFO, she headed straight to the Burlingame office to coordinate her team of volunteers, not knowing the scale of the disaster or how many had been injured.
“As the numbers of those injured in the crash unfolded, we were fortunate it was not a huge number of casualties. So over the next day or two there was a sense of relief the injuries were less than they could have been,” Colleen said.
Colleen and her team experienced several challenges each day as local hospitals were reluctant to give out important information about patients’ conditions, information which Colleen needed to pass on to anxious relatives. Language was also a barrier, as many of the victims were Chinese or Korean nationals who spoke little English. Bilingual volunteers were able to translate and alleviate some of the communication barriers.
Colleen, who has been a volunteer for four and a half years, is now working toward educating local hospital staff about the work of the Red Cross to encourage better communication in the event of another disaster in the area.
Colleen, a Daly City resident, is a registered nurse working part-time, who decided to volunteer for the Red Cross after retiring from her career position.
“The Red Cross is an amazing organization that provides amazing services. It’s very gratifying to go out, when people are distraught, and we get their lives back on track, it’s very rewarding,” she explained.
Learn more about volunteering at redcross.org/ca/san-francisco/volunteer.