By Kaelin Harris, American Red Cross volunteer
The American Red Cross is a stronghold for alleviating human suffering and offering indispensable services to people all over the world. With the goal of protecting life and health, and ensuring every act of service is conducted with the utmost respect for all involved, Red Cross volunteers and staff epitomize service to others. The Red Cross, with its core beliefs centered on impartiality, neutrality, independence, unity, humanity, universality and voluntary service, has provided untold relief countless times, and given the opportunity to tell a story of volunteerism and how best to protect health and life, the Red Cross will definitely take that call!
September is National Preparedness Month, so learning why preparedness is important can stand everyone in good stead when it comes to knowing what to do in an emergency. Southern California has undoubtedly faced its share of emergency situations, especially with regards to wildfires and fire hazards. Understanding where to go, what to do and what resources are available to assist with preparedness is an invaluable service, and were it not for the giving hearts of all our volunteers and staff, we’d be hard pressed to achieve our ‘service-to-others’ mission.
Melissa Altman, Southern California Region Preparedness Manager, is among the many valued members of a worldwide team of compassionate individuals coming together to work for the betterment of people everywhere. As Regional Preparedness Manager, Melissa is tasked with everything related to preparing individuals for disasters – including ensuring community members know how to prepare for, respond to and recover from disasters. Melissa is also responsible for Disaster Action Team responses, and should a large event occur during her duty week, she would activate Red Cross response efforts. Melissa also helps in the areas of feeding, sheltering and logistics – a testament to her compassion and willingness to give of herself. This is what team work is about; this is what the Red Cross is about.
In light of National Preparedness Month being upon us, understanding the importance of being prepared for emergencies cannot be understated. “I believe in preparedness,” says Melissa. “I know that people will be safer and better equipped to handle a disaster if they take the steps to be prepared.”
When it comes to preparedness, everyone plays an important role. Everyone, from community members and volunteers to police and fire department personnel, play integral roles in mitigating the impact of emergencies. “Being prepared can help reduce fear and minimize losses that accompany disasters. It also helps ensure that you and your loved ones are better equipped to survive a disaster,” Melissa says. The ability to help yourself, your loved ones and neighbors can aide tremendously in an emergency that’s significant in size. While first responders and emergency personnel work tirelessly to help everyone impacted, they cannot be everywhere at the same time, and there could be instances where a community effort is required to bolster a response to disaster.
Given that California is prone to no-notice and short-notice disasters, such as earthquakes, landslides, flash floods, wildfires and more, Melissa emphasizes the need for the public to know how they will be notified of an emergency or disaster in their area. It allows them to plan their own response and what steps they will take, should they need to evacuate. Additionally, being prepared for home fires is critical. Each year, the Red Cross responds to over 60,000 disasters, and the vast majority of these are home fires. Melissa suggests families ensure they have working smoke alarms and test smoke alarms monthly, as well as have a plan to get out of their home in two minutes or less. Melissa takes her responsibilities seriously; there’s no doubt about that. It is therefore no surprise that one of Melissa’s most memorable moments with the Red Cross was a Sound the Alarm event in Chula Vista, during which 375 volunteers helped install 1,000 free smoke alarms in a single day. The local Red Cross can help you prepare for home fires by providing free smoke alarms and other helpful resources.
“It’s not a coincidence that all emergency agencies preach a similar message,” says Melissa. The message, she states, is: “Get a kit, make a plan [and] be informed.” Melissa advises that every survival kit should include essentials needed to survive for at least three days, and should include non-perishable food, water (at least a gallon per person, per day), medications, a first aid kit, a battery or hand-crank radio, and special items for children and pets, if needed. Further information about what to include in your kit and what you can do to prepare your family, can be found at redcross.org/prepare.
When asked what other resources the Red Cross provides to the public for emergency preparedness, Melissa’s response is an enthusiastic, “TONS!” On their website, the Red Cross provides information on how people can prepare for, respond to and recover from disasters. The Red Cross also offers free community preparedness presentations for youth, adults and even for businesses. Melissa says that programs for elementary school aged students, Prepare with Pedro (for grades K-2nd) and The Pillowcase Project (for grades 3-5), are part of helping people to be prepared from a young age. Lastly, the Red Cross offers free smoke alarm installations throughout Southern California. Visit SoundTheAlarm.org/SoCal to learn more.
Preparing for emergencies is an important thing to do. An entire month dedicated to raising awareness of the importance of preparedness means that the Red Cross will be pulling out all the stops – as per usual – to ensure that each and every member of the community is as safe as possible and has information on the resources available to them in their respective areas.
Melissa knows the difference preparedness can make. “The Red Cross mission got me into the Red Cross family, but the volunteers keep me coming back every day,” she says. With a heart so full of giving, it’s easy to see why the Red Cross has a reach that extends as far as it does. Thank you, Melissa for all that you do!
The Red Cross offers a variety of free resources and tools to help you be prepared for disasters and emergencies. To learn more, visit redcross.org/prepare or download the free Red Cross Emergency App.