More than 160 members of the local American Red Cross workforce came together on July 6, to respond to the Asiana Airlines Flight 214 incident at the San Francisco International Airport (SFO). From the volunteers that provided food and beverages around the airfield to the first responders and investigators, to the volunteers providing direct support to the passengers and their families, the Red Cross provided one-on¬ one care to all involved.
As part of the Aviation Disaster Family Assistance Act, the Red Cross is responsible for providing emotional support, health services, and other services as requested by the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB). The Red Cross is also responsible for coordinating with partner agencies to provide additional support services, including, but not limited to, translation services, crisis counseling, and childcare.
In a letter sent by the NTSB Acting Chair Deborah A. P. Hersman, the agency thanked the Red Cross for their assistance.
"I speak for all of the members of the NTSB response team when I say that we were grateful for the generosity of time and energy provided by the professionals and volunteers of your organization."
Within hours of the incident, mobile feeding units were at the airport providing beverages, snacks, and meals to responders, investigators, and partner agencies. The Red Cross provided more than 2,300 meals and 3,600 snacks during the seven- day investigation on the tarmac. With the help of Cantonese, Mandarin, and Korean translators, Red Cross Disaster Health Services (DHS) volunteers quickly learned of the need for replacement medications and eyeglasses and worked to supply the items. The translators also helped Disaster Mental Health
(DMH) volunteers to provide emotional support services to some of the 305 souls and their families.
Emotional support was available at the airport within just a couple of hours of the incident and later at the NTSB's Family Assistance Center. Trained Red Cross volunteers helped families grieving for the three teenage girls who died. Several families, who needed to continue their travels, sought assistance with handling anxiety about flying.
"A lot of what we do is helping people with the emotions they are going through, which are very normal after such an unusual event," said Vicky Powell, Red Cross DMH Manager for the response.
Colleen Sasso, a Registered Nurse and the manager of more than a dozen DHS volunteers, assisted the airline and NTSB with family reunification, including the important task of tracking the locations and conditions of injured passengers.
"Our specific task is to do whatever we can to help family members get in touch with each other," Colleen explained. "It's an international service focused on letting the families know where their loved ones are and what their condition is. It's a hard task and we're very committed to it."
Olga Crowe, Red Cross Manager of Disaster Services in San Mateo County and Job Director for the Asiana response credits a strong relationship and collaboration the Red Cross has with SFO, San Mateo County, and other agencies and partners.
"We could not have done it alone, but together we were able to provide all the necessary services to those who needed it at the time when they needed it," she said proudly.
Every year members of the Red Cross workforce participate in an annual incident drill at SFO that helps all participating agencies understand each other's roles before there is an emergency.
"The exercise was vital to our response to the Asiana incident. It helped our workforce to stay on track with what services we needed to provide and ensured a smooth response during this very emotionally taxing event," Crowe said. "I could not be more proud of our team!"