Some say information is power. Having access to information allows people to make decisions that can potentially save or change their lives.
In a tumultuous world, like the one we are living in today, with hurricanes, fires, and a pandemic threatening our lives and leaving hundreds of people vulnerable, information has never been more relevant. This is precisely what drives the Disaster Public Affairs Team (DPAT) to spread the word any chance they get.
“We want the community to know that the American Red Cross is out there 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, and 365 days a year, whether it’s in a COVID environment or not. We never stop,” says the Disaster Public Affairs Team Regional Lead, Clara Correa Geraci.
The main duty of DPAT is to communicate with the media any time a home fire occurs. Victims of home fires are first assisted by the Disaster Action Team that later shares the specifics of the event with DPAT. Immediately after, the team creates a press release regardless of the time of the occurrence.
“We work closely with the Disaster Action Team in charge of physically responding to the fire. Then, we communicate with the community via the media to report incidents whether they happen at 2:00 in the afternoon or 2:00 in the morning,” says Correa.
The workloads vary because it depends on the frequency of disasters. “Some days, we don’t send any press releases, but there are also days that I have to create six press releases on my guard,” Correa adds.
The team works in a rotating schedule to make sure there’s always someone on call within the South Florida Region compounded by four chapters: Palm Beach and Treasure Coast (Regional Headquarters), Broward County, Greater Miami and The Keys, and Florida Gulf Coast to Heartland.
Combined, these chapters serve a population of nearly 8 million people across 13 counties. DPAT started in Palm Beach County in 2006 and in 2019 went regional with the creation of teams for each chapter. Each team must report on the disasters (home fires) happening in their area.
Disaster Public Affairs Service Associate, Kelly Koch, is on call at night serving the Palm Beach and Treasure Coast chapter. As part of the team Correa leads, Koch explains the most rewarding part of her job is informing the community to provide a broader picture of the Red Cross mission in action.
“I want people to know we are here to help. Sometimes people don’t see the things we do on a daily basis,” Koch says.
She works shifts from 7 p.m. to 7 a.m. three nights per week. “I conduct my normal life until I get a call from the Disaster Action Team confirming a fire. At that moment, I have to stop what I’m doing and take the location, the number of people involved and other important data to make a press release that I send to the news outlets based on the area of occurrence,” explains Koch, who joined the Red Cross as a volunteer 30 years ago.
Both prior to and during the pandemic, DPAT is heavily involved in promoting disaster preparedness and prevention throughout the region. Due to the pandemic, they have had to transition their in-person promotion to virtual.
“When we send press releases, the media sometimes reaches out to us to ask questions about the response and I am able to assist them,” states Correa who covers the daytime shift on weekdays.
Nevertheless, her position never stops. “If my team needs assistance or has a question, they can call me day or night,” says Correa.
She executes her duties happily and has been doing so since she joined the American Red Cross in 2004. Her reward is the response she gets from the public, a sentiment that Kelly Koch shares.
They both agree their job goes way beyond sending a press release. What keeps them coming back is the positive and long-term impact they make for the community.
Correa saw the significance of her work in the words of an 80-year-old man who shared his Red Cross story with her while she was deployed to Louisiana last year for a disaster.
“I was working on my computer when someone reached out to me to say thank you. It was a very emotional encounter because he remembered with tears in his eyes what happened many years ago when the Red Cross helped him find his two-year-old nephew, who almost died in a home fire but thankfully survived. I do what I do because of stories like that.”
If you would like to learn more about helping your community by becoming a Disaster Public Affairs Team volunteer or if you’re interested in other volunteer opportunities, please visit redcross.org/sflvolunteer to join the Red Cross today!
Written by Diana Bello Aristizábal