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As Winter Arrives, Alaska Red Cross Prepares for Inevitable Spring Flooding

Delivering disaster services in Alaska, one of the nation’s most disaster-prone states, is not easy. Half the state’s inhabitants are spread across a land mass more than twice the size of Texas, and many live in areas accessible only by water or air.

In Alaska’s harsh environment, the American Red Cross of Alaska is always in search of ways to serve those people living in the state’s isolated communities. Currently the Alaska Red Cross is working to identify at least one person in every region of the state who will become its liaison during the annual, and often devastating, spring flood season.

Disaster nurse recruitment is getting a boost from the Susan Hassmiller Nursing Award that is partially funding the recruitment and training of disaster nurses in isolated Alaskan communities. With Susan Hassmiller Nursing Award funds, Karyn Holt, Red Cross nurse volunteer, traveled to Bethel, Kotzebue, Juneau and Fairbanks to recruit and train spring flood season volunteers.

The American Red Cross of Alaska is recruiting a network of disaster nurse volunteers, including in this city of Bethel. Photo Credit: Karyn Holt

A Lesson from the Field

Bethel, a city of 6,000 located in the interior of Alaska, is the hub for 56 Alaskan villages. Accessible only by air or river, Bethel’s citizens rely on each other for survival, living and working together communally.

A handful of healthcare professionals staff Bethel’s clinic and hospital, and the Red Cross anticipated that one of these professionals could step up to serve as the spring floods volunteer. However, the person who became the popularly designated volunteer was not a nurse, but was, instead, a member of the Bethel City Council.

In turn, this city council member has helped gain new Red Cross nursing recruits in Bethel and has become the liaison for outlying communities, communicating their needs to the Red Cross. Now the Bethel-area network of Red Cross volunteers will be able to more fully assist during the flood season and during other disasters that may occur in their communities.

“This is a good lesson to our Red Cross chapter about how nurses work together in community and the approach we might use in recruiting future volunteers,” Holt said. “Community ties are broad and far reaching.”

Looking Forward

Chapter nurse volunteers plan to travel to three additional coastal cities this year: Nome, Ketchikan and Barrow. When the 2012 floods come to the North Country, and they will, Red Cross nurse volunteers will be trained and ready to help.