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Back-to-Back Disasters Keep Red Cross Busy in 2011


The American Red Cross was on the scene during what has been an extremely busy year for natural disasters in the United States. Across the country, thousands of people have been uprooted and lives forever changed.

Back in January, snowstorms closed roads, stranded travelers and knocked out power to large portions of the country. As the weeks and months went by, blizzards, wildfires, flooding, hurricanes, earthquakes and tornadoes took a toll on much of the country. The Red Cross helped provide relief, with food and shelter, clean-up supplies and emotional support.

Over the last nine months, the Red Cross launched 119 disaster relief operations across 42 states and territories to help people affected by fires, floods, hurricanes, tornadoes, and earthquakes. In response to these disasters, the Red Cross has deployed nearly 26,000 disaster workers who have helped victims by:

  • Opening 948 shelters providing more than 124,000 overnight stays
  • Providing nearly 70,000 health service contacts to replace medications and items like eyeglasses
  • Providing 60,000 mental health contacts to help comfort people
  • Handing out more than 2.6 million clean-up and comfort kits, along with other items like tarps, coolers, shovels
  • Serving more than 6.6 million meals and snacks

In order to respond to disasters across the country and open shelters as needed within hours of a disaster, the Red Cross works year round to identify more than 56,000 potential shelter sites ahead of time. In addition, disaster warehouses are located all across the country stocking supplies like cots and blankets to support as many as 500,000 people in shelters.

Working with partners like the Southern Baptist Convention, Salvation Army and others, the Red Cross can prepare and serve meals in communities affected by disaster in any part of the country. Using kitchens operated by these partners, local vendors and caterers and a supply of shelf-stable meals, the Red Cross has the capacity to serve a million meals a day if needed.

In an average year, the Red Cross spends about $450 million on disaster relief throughout the United States and around the world. This includes sheltering, feeding and relief supplies for the disasters we respond to and the cost of being ready to respond by maintaining warehouses, response vehicles and computer systems. It also includes immediate relief and recovery planning to help people affected by large disasters in other countries. Major disasters that impact entire communities – like Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee – add to the total cost of our response efforts.

Just as the Red Cross works every day to be ready to respond to emergencies, we urge people to get prepared too. Every person, business, school and house of worship should be prepared to take care of themselves and their neighbors in an emergency.

The three keys to preparedness are to build a kit, make a plan, and be informed.

An emergency preparedness kit should include enough supplies for at least three days. Supplies should include water (one gallon, per person, per day), nonperishable food, a flashlight, battery-powered or hand-crank radio, extra batteries, a first aid kit, a 7-day supply of medications, a multi-purpose tool, sanitation and personal hygiene items and copies of important personal documents. The Red Cross also recommends having at least two weeks worth of supplies at home.

All members of the household should work together on an emergency plan. Each person should know how to reach other members of the household. The plan should also include an out-of-area emergency contact person, and where everyone should meet if they can't go home.

People should also be informed about what types of disasters are most likely to occur where they live. It is also important to take a first aid and CPR/AED course—a vital component of disaster preparedness in case emergency help is delayed.

Getting prepared today can save lives and livelihoods when disaster strikes. People contact their local Red Cross chapter to learn what steps they should take to be ready when emergencies strike.