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Iowa Red Cross' Schaffer is ever eager to help

Iowa Red Cross, Tornado App Demonstration, Leslie Schaffer shows new app photo

Leslie Schaffer of the Greater Iowa chapter of the American Red Cross displays the iPad version of the agency's new tornado app, which helps users track and prepare for twisters. Courtesy: The Des Moines Register

People are so generous and they’re always looking for ways to help.

Leslie Schaffer finds little that’s more rewarding than mobilizing a team of people to care for others in crisis.

Schaffer is the executive director and chief executive officer of the Greater Iowa Regional Office of the American Red Cross.

Last year in the Greater Iowa chapter, 354 trained volunteers helped provide food, shelter, clothing, medical necessities and emotional support after 162 incidents in the state.

Trained volunteers also travel across the country and around the world, of course, to help victims of disasters, like the tornado that devastated Moore, Okla., on May 20.

Schaffer doesn’t miss an opportunity to showcase the work the Red Cross does, or to talk about new ways it’s reaching out to people.

She’s enthusiastic about two new free mobile device applications the organization is offering. One is a tornado warning app that works like a weather radio through the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. It allows the viewer to track tornado activity anywhere. The other is a first-aid app that offers advice for treating injuries.

Those apps, plus others for dealing with hurricanes, wildfires and earthquakes and a shelter finder app, work on Apple and Android devices.

The Des Moines Register asked Schaffer to talk about how people can help the American Red Cross and to give an overview of the way the agency’s volunteers work to rebuild lives.

Q: In a natural disaster like the tornado in Moore, Okla., what help is needed most?

  • People are so generous and they’re always looking for ways to help. Sometimes it’s a really tough message to hear that clothing is not needed.
  • In disasters, the infrastructure is so devastated and destroyed that there’s really no way to accept (items). What they need is the ability to have cash to go out and buy what they need.

    Q: How many volunteers from this chapter respond to disasters around the nation each year?

  • This year, superstorm Sandy had a huge (local) response. It really just depends on the scope of the disaster. We try to manage things at the local level as much as we can, because it costs money to move people around.
  • Q: How long do volunteers work at a disaster scene?

  • We ask volunteers when they are deployed to go to the disaster area at least two weeks, if not three weeks. After about three weeks, it tends to be very stressful. We have them come home for a week or so. Sometimes they volunteer to go back. It’s great to have people who have that kind of flexibility.
  • Q: How many American Red Cross volunteers from the Greater Iowa chapter are in Moore now?

  • Just one (as of Thursday). They’re still trying to make that assessment as far as what they need. We don’t move people to that area until there’s a request from that area for people.
  • For 2½ days they were doing search and rescue; they were trying to find people alive. You don’t want to add people there. You always want to wait until things settle down a little bit and there’s a really clear assessment of needs.

    Q: Why do you love your job?

  • There are so many things that are compelling about the Red Cross. The ability to save someone’s life is kind of affirming.
  • To me it’s an amazing process where you’ve got devastation, you’ve got families separated and loss of life, and you can bring in this structure that is disciplined and ready to help, and it’s just geared to help that community respond to that disaster. That’s pretty cool.