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Guest Column

August 28, 2010

Red Cross pushes for more disaster preparedness

Many people know the Red Cross for its disaster relief work or blood donations, but helping people be prepared for emergencies is another important part of our work.

The Red Cross is practicing what it preaches on preparedness, as we are working to be better ready to respond to disasters of all sizes -- down the street, across the country and around the world.

With a severe hurricane season predicted, the Red Cross is making a fundraising push now, asking for contributions that support our readiness for the 70,000 disasters the Red Cross responds to every year, whether they are hurricanes that affect millions of people here or abroad, floods that affect thousands, or a house fire that drives one family from its home.

In the service area covered by our four chapters alone, the Red Cross responded to 201 home fires and fifteen other disasters in our last fiscal year. Across New York state, the Red Cross has responded to 3,412 disasters.

While the news media has focused its attention on the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico and on Haiti, it's important to know that the American Red Cross has responded to 29 larger-scale disasters in the U.S. so far in 2010.

These have included floods in Tennessee, North Dakota, the mid-Atlantic and Northeast; tornadoes in the South and Midwest; and major fires in communities across the country.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration predicts between three to seven major hurricanes this year.

Major hurricanes are those Category 3, 4, and 5 storms that do the most damage -- such as Hurricanes Andrew, Katrina, Rita and Wilma -- with winds in excess of 100 miles per hour.

More than 35 million people live in regions vulnerable to Atlantic hurricanes, and many in the Gulf Coast region are already experiencing hardship as a result of the oil spill.

We are very worried about predictions of a severe hurricane season and the possibility that people will need to evacuate their homes for longer periods of time given the oil in the gulf.

While media and public attention comes when a hurricane makes landfall, what's often missed are the preparations made by the Red Cross to be ready to respond well before the hurricane hits. For example, the Red Cross already has pre-positioned equipment and materials near areas that could be hit by hurricanes. In addition, the Red Cross frequently moves supplies and people closer to an area threatened by a hurricane so they can be ready to respond quickly.

These preparations cost money. For example, as Hurricane Alex gathered strength in late June and threatened the gulf coast, the Red Cross deployed 133 people, 17 emergency response vehicles and kitchen equipment to south Texas and put other vehicles and crews on stand-by.

And these disaster preparations are on top of the other floods, tornadoes and fires that the Red Cross is already responding to on a nearly daily basis.

The Red Cross spends about $450 million a year responding to nearly 70,000 disasters across the country — floods, wildfires, tornados and home fires.

No other non-governmental organization can respond to disasters on the size and scale of the Red Cross -- but the Red Cross depends on donations from the American public to be ready. And we work hard to be excellent stewards of those donor dollars.

That's why we, the board chairs of our local American Red Cross chapters, along with other Red Cross chapters across the country, are asking for help for disaster relief, and we hope that the people of our region will respond. They can click, text or call to donate to the Red Cross to help people affected by disasters like hurricanes, floods, tornadoes, fires and earthquakes, as well as countless crises at home and around the world.

People who want to make a contribution can visit www.redcross.org, call 1-800-RedCross to support American Red Cross Disaster Response, or text REDCROSS to 90999 to make a $10 donation.

This column was written by the following: Keith Baumann, American Red Cross Sullivan Trail Chapter board chairman; Thomas Dorman, Tompkins County American Red Cross board chairman; Patrick Doyle, American Red Cross Southern Tier Chapter board chairman; and Nicole Hoodak, American Red Cross Greater Steuben County board chairman.

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