Partner in Preparedness Spotlight: I Didn’t Know the Red Cross Did All That!

September 28, 2012 in

Today's em4SF blog post comes to us by Rob Stengel, DEM's Emergency Services Planner and resident expert on mass care and shelter and who works closely with the American Red Cross, Bay Area Chapter in a variety of capabilities.


A while back, I received an email with an Excel spreadsheet attached that listed the number of responses for FY 12 by our local County Office of the Bay Area American Red Cross. On the spreadsheet were 58 entries, each with a date and address along with other details about the response. What struck me about the spreadsheet was the realization that while the Red Cross had a direct and very personal connection to each of the 58 incidents, probably 98 percent of our wider community has no idea of the role that the American Red Cross plays on a daily basis in responding to local emergency incidents where persons are displaced from their home.

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These emergency displacements are generally the result of residential fires, but small flood events, police actions, power outages, and even water main breaks have also resulted in displaced persons and triggered a Red Cross response. Regardless of the time of day, and regardless of the location, the Red Cross responds – not 80 percent of the time, not 95 percent of the time, they respond in each and every instance when there is a need for Red Cross services. In fact, many of these incidents seem to occur during evening and early morning hours while the rest of us are sleeping, and they often occur in areas of the City where we might not be fully comfortable walking around back alleys to reach an SRO unit at 1 in the morning.

Red Cross responses are volunteer lead; in fact 98 percent of the Red Cross workforce is comprised of volunteers. These dedicated neighbors faithfully respond when any San Franciscan is unable to return to their home due to a disaster. In addition to operating shelters, the Red Cross often provides assistance that we might never associate with the Red Cross. Whether it is helping someone to move their belongings to a new residence, retrieving a lost wheel chair, providing mental health services or replacing a pair of glasses or medication destroyed by a fire, the Red Cross service parameters seem to grow proportionately with the need.

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Often the Red Cross response will be augmented by the City’s Human Services Agency, Emergency Response Coordinator, Ben Amyes. Ben will work with Red Cross volunteers, typically at the incident scene, to bring City resources, or more specialized resources, into play, as required to meet the care and shelter needs of displaced and affected persons. We all know the Red Cross is front and center for the big national disaster incidents, but how many are aware that approximately $276,000 was spent by our SF County Red Cross in FY12 on local response operations here in the City to help 559 San Francisco residents displaced by emergency incidents. The funds were used to cover temporary housing costs (generally hotel accommodations), pay for sheltering costs, taxi fares, individual/family cash assistance (which can be hundreds of dollars), and a range of other emergency assistance costs. As a nonprofit organization, the Red Cross raises funds from the private sector, but it is important to understand that this 24/7 daily response to local residents is done without any financial reimbursement from the City, the State, insurance companies or any other responsible party or branch of government.

Going back to those 58 entries, a good question to ask is what would have happened if the Red Cross did not respond? As a community, we are grateful that we have the Red Cross as part of our emergency response network. They touch many lives in our community often when those lives are at greatest need.