Serving the community is at the heart of what we do at the American Red Cross Southern California Region. Disasters don’t stop during the coronavirus outbreak – and neither does the work of the Red Cross. As wildfire season approaches, the goal of the Red Cross remains to provide comfort and support to anyone in need after a disaster. To do this, we’ve created protocols to help keep everyone safe in this new environment.
The Red Cross continues to plan for wildfire season – as we do every year – and our mission continues, with some adjustments on how we deliver our services. Our top priority is the safety of our workforce and the clients we serve. Our teams have been trained on how to respond in the COVID environment, to include virtual response connecting with our clients and social distancing if we respond in person, as we do almost daily for home fires.
At a time when the nation is practicing social distancing, the Red Cross has shifted to providing many disaster relief services virtually, including mental health support and financial assistance, thanks to investments in items like laptops, wireless hotspots and mobile devices.
The local Red Cross continues to work closely with our community and state partners throughout the region, including public health and emergency management partners, to plan for various disaster scenarios as well as identify opportunities for how our community can become involved and train to help should we have a large-scale disaster. During disaster responses, the Red Cross coordinates closely with all levels of government. For example, we work hand-in-hand with public health officials and have a Red Cross representative at County Emergency Ops Centers during wildfires.
The provision of life-sustaining sheltering and feeding in wildfires and other disasters is a mission focus for the Red Cross, and we have adjusted our planning to make sure we can safely deliver those essential services. Generally, instead of opening shelters, we’re prioritizing individual hotel rooms or dormitory-style rooms to make sure people have a safe place to stay if they can’t return home after a disaster. This includes working with hotels in advance of disasters to understand room availability. We continually coordinate and connect with hundreds of local hotels and partners throughout the region to continue to build this capacity.
Disasters require flexibility and planning for a number of variables – and sheltering is no different. Geographies, capacity, location in relation to damaged areas and room availability all impact hotel capacity after a disaster. This is why we have backup plans to open congregate shelters, as we know there will be times when it is not possible to solely use hotel rooms during wildfires and other emergencies.
To that end, our teams have worked hard to review our existing shelter partnership agreements, reviewing hundreds of sheltering sites to ensure these sites are suitable to accommodate the needs of evacuees while providing the ability for evacuees and shelter workers to maintain social distancing. Planning teams also continue to communicate with our partners on Red Cross plans should we need to activate their services.
We’ve also put in place additional safety precautions in case we need to open emergency shelters at the request of local officials, or if hotels or dormitories aren’t an option. How we serve our clients could look a little different, which might include large campgrounds or smaller, more spread out congregant shelters, which would aid in social distancing.
Congregate shelters would also have advanced safety measures. Our Disaster Cycle Services team will work with local public health authorities to set up a health screening process for everyone coming into the shelter, provide masks, add additional space between cots and use enhanced cleaning and disinfecting practices and use of personal protective equipment.
Feeding of residents displaced by disasters will also be done differently – for example, with individual drop-off or pickup of meals rather than the usual “cafeteria style” food distribution to aid in social distancing. Other services we provide for shelter residents, including Disaster Health, Disaster Mental Health and recovery casework, could be done virtually or in a socially-distanced manner.
Even while we’re preparing for large disasters, every day we continue to respond to devastating home fires throughout the region as well, by providing families who have lost everything with the support they need in the midst of this pandemic.
To help keep everyone safe and follow social distancing guidelines, our Red Cross volunteers are working with local fire departments to connect with families by phone or video calls, offering a sympathetic ear and linking them to available support, such as providing hotel stays and emergency financial assistance.
Even though the current environment may look different than anything we’ve faced before, one thing remains the same: our commitment to providing help and hope to those in need.
How to Help
Financial donations help us deliver our mission all year round. Help the Red Cross deliver its mission during this public health emergency by donating at redcross.org. Donations enable us to continue delivering our lifesaving work, both today and in the days ahead. Your gift is a commitment to helping people affected by disasters big and small.
You can also help by scheduling an appointment to donate blood. If you are healthy and feeling well, please make an appointment to donate in the weeks ahead by using the Red Cross Blood Donor App, visiting RedCrossBlood.org or calling 1-800-RED CROSS.
Be prepared and stay informed – for wildfire preparedness information, coronavirus safety tips and more, visit redcross.org. Follow the local Red Cross on Facebook and Twitter for the latest news, disaster updates and more from throughout the Southern California Region, including San Diego, Orange, Riverside, San Bernardino and Imperial Counties.