Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Twitter Offers Relief for Family in Ireland Worried About Littleton Senior

By Patricia Billinger 
In today’s information age, news travels fast about disasters happening all over the world. Less than 24 hours after a fire forced more than 130 seniors to evacuate from an apartment building in Littleton, family in Ireland had already heard the word and were worried for their relative, Pat O’Connor. Pat was among the seniors who evacuated, first to a temporary evacuation point and then to a Red Cross shelter set up in a church across the street from the apartment building.

 Pat is one of a family of 8 siblings (6 boys and 2 girls), most who still live in Ireland. According to his family, he has numerous nieces and nephews, as well as grand nieces and grand nephews in Ireland.

“I first learnt of the fire via a phone call from my dad (Pat's brother). Pat's partner’s daughter had sent a message to my cousin over here to tell him about the fire and the message was disseminated through the family from there,” said Leanne O’Connor, one of Pat’s nieces in Ireland.

Leanne and family members spot the news
feed on Twitter.
Many of the evacuated seniors were without a steady form of communication, having left behind cell phones when they evacuated, never owning cell phones, or – in the case of a few seniors with family overseas – not able to afford the high cost of placing international calls from a cell phone. Worried about the fate of her uncle, Leanne hopped on the internet to find out more.

“I Googled the fire and came across a news article that mentioned the Red Cross Denver with their tweets regarding the fire,” Leanne explained. Hungry for information and updates, she followed @redcrossdenver on Twitter.

The American Red Cross is often considered a national leader in using social media during emergencies – known in the industry as #SMEM – and makes it a regular practice to share informational updates, lifesaving tips and advice, and guidance on how to give and get help during disasters large and small. The 130-unit apartment evacuation in Littleton was no exception; local Red Cross staff and volunteers were active sharing information on Twitter, Facebook and

In addition to the updates posted to Twitter, Red Cross staff responded to Leanne’s inquiry on the social media platform and were able to confirm that that he was safely staying with a daughter.
A local Red Cross Twitter admin reaches out to Leanne
to add that extra touch of customer service.

Confirmed: He was safe and sound.

“The information that I was able to obtain from your Twitter account administrator was invaluable as it put our minds at ease over here in Ireland,” Leanne said. “I can not thank you enough!”

Leanne said Pat has been in contact with a few family members since the fire, although his contact has been limited due to the expense of making international calls from a cell phone.

“I'd just like to reiterate my thanks for all the information you were able to provide to extremely worried relatives in Ireland,” Leanne said. “The power of Twitter is just amazing!!”

Are you social media savvy and interested in using social media to save lives, help people during disasters and alleviate suffering? The Red Cross utilizes volunteers to help staff its social media efforts.Sign up to volunteer at 

Thursday, April 14, 2016

Threat of Severe Weather Looming over Eastern Colorado

SPC Day 2 Outlook valid for Friday, April 15, 2016
Hazardous weather is possible across much of eastern Colorado Friday afternoon and this weekend and we encourage everyone to take a look at their emergency plans and procedures to make sure they are ready for possible weather emergencies. According to NOAA Storm Prediction Center, “Severe storms with large hail, damaging winds, and a few tornadoes will be possible across parts of the central and southern high plains beginning in the late afternoon.” The area mentioned includes much of eastern Colorado (see graphic courtesy of

Meanwhile, according to the NOAA National Weather Service office in Boulder, CO, a Winter Storm Watch is in effect for the Front Range Foothills of Colorado for late Friday night through late Saturday night with the potential for heavy snow from the Palmer Divide to Wyoming.

So, what should you be doing today to prepare for the threat of severe weather tomorrow?

Screen shot of  Red Cross
Emergency app
“The single most important thing that a person can do to be better prepared for emergencies is to download the Red Cross Emergency app,” said Michael Masto, Regional Disaster Officer for the Red Cross of Colorado and Wyoming. “Once it is downloaded though people need to know how to use it.”

The Emergency app is a single ‘go-to’ source for everything from home fires to hurricanes. It includes content from a group of award-winning Red Cross apps with additional information about what to do in case of 14 different types of emergencies and disasters. Users can customize more than 35 emergency alerts based on their location and where loved ones live.

The all-inclusive Emergency app will provide you with instant access to emergency alerts, life-saving information, and ways to contact family and friends in one free, easy-to-use app for smart phones and tablets.
Screen shot of Family Safe feature
available in Red Cross
Emergency app

The app includes the “Family Safe” feature that allows the app user to notify loved ones who are in an area affected by an emergency or disaster. The recipient can instantly see the alert details as well as specific “what to do now” steps, and then respond with either “I’m safe” or “I’m not safe.”

To find out more about the Red Cross Emergency app and to download it  go to

We urge you to examine your family emergency plan, including your emergency communications plan before severe weather strikes. Take the time now because you might not have the time when severe weather strikes.

Below are some additional links that will help you to be better prepare and better informed about severe weather.

NOAA Storm Prediction Center (SPC) –
National Weather Service Northeast Colorado –
National Weather Service for Southeast Colorado –
Red Cross Emergency Preparedness Information - www.redcross.prg/prepare
Red Cross Emergency app –

Short video about the Red Cross
Emergency app

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Grad Student Majoring in Disaster Preparedness Prepares at Home

By Kelly Wheeler

Kristen Elzey
As a grad student at the University of Denver, Kristen Elzey is well-versed on the impact of disasters on victims -- her master's program is dedicated to trauma-focused clinical psychology. Yet when Kristen decided to become a Red Cross volunteer, she realized she was not prepared for a potential disaster in her own home.

After learning through Red Cross training that on average seven people die every day from a home fire and that smoke alarms cut the risk of death from a fire in half, Kristen decided to take advantage of the Red Cross Home Fire Campaign, whose goal is to reduce the number of home fire deaths and injuries by 25% by the end of 2019. Kristen did not have working smoke detectors in her rented Denver home, so Red Cross volunteers installed four alarms, which only took half an hour. This simple act has brought peace of mind to both Kristen and her roommate, a Denver Public School teacher.

Kristen says her work at the Red Cross as a ROC volunteer has been incredibly rewarding and she looks forward to performing disaster preparedness for refugees in the near future with a volunteer team in Colorado. Certainly her degree in international disaster psychology will well-equip her to help others in need both here and abroad.

You can help others in need of smoke alarms like Kristen by volunteering with the Home Fire Preparedness Campaign on May 14. Learn more.

How a Simple Phone Call Reduced Anxiety on Two Continents

by Patricia Billinger

Mrs. C is a gentle, quiet, positive woman who doesn’t like to draw attention to herself. That’s why she agreed to share her story, but asked not to share her name and photo. That’s also why she didn’t initially think to ask for help with a somewhat unusual need: help placing a call to Italy.

Mrs. C is petite, with dove grey hair and a soft, round, smiling face. Neatly coiffed and dressed in clean clothes that fit her small frame well, you wouldn’t know at first glance that she was an evacuee who had spent the past 7 nights in a Red Cross shelter.

The Red Cross shelter where Mrs. C has been staying.
Mrs. C is one of the 130 seniors who were displaced from their apartments last week due to an apartment fire. She has been staying at the Red Cross shelter in Littleton since then. And while she quickly met her physical needs at the shelter through hot meals, fresh clothes, and help obtaining medications, she didn’t know that the Red Cross could also help her with her other most pressing need. It wasn’t a physical need, but it was just as important: she hadn’t spoken with her family in over a week, and she was worried about their inability to reach her and that they would be anxious about her well being after such an extended period of silence.

Her fears came up during a conversation with a Red Cross caseworker who met with her to find out how she was doing and open a case to determine what disaster-related needs she had and how the Red Cross and other community agencies could help meet those needs. “Yesterday, I went to sign up for the case and I said I have two problems. This is one of them: I can’t get a hold of my kids. I don’t have a phone, and I don’t know how to do it,” Mrs. C recalled.

Mrs. C was born in the United States but traveled to Italy as a young adult. “I went to meet the Pope, then I met my husband, married and had kids and raised them,” she said. After living in Italy for 40 years, she returned to the United States with her family – but her daughter and son missed the home where they were raised, and they moved back to Italy. They stay in touch with regular calls and visits.

“Me and my kids call each other and leave each other messages. If I’m home, I answer. If they’re home, they answer. Otherwise we leave messages,” she explained. Without her land line, she doesn’t have a phone capable of making international calls, and she doesn’t have a computer so never emails her children. She knew her children would worry about her when they called her evacuated apartment and got no answer. “Once before this happened. They were working on the phones and the phones were off, and my kids were so worried when they couldn’t reach me. ‘Is she sick? Is she dead?’ they were calling several times a day trying to reach me. That’s why I was so worried about this!”

Mrs. C’s Red Cross caseworker quickly got the word delivered to the Colorado & Wyoming region’s Restoring Family Links (RFL) program. Restoring Family Links is an international Red Cross program that works to reconnect families separated by conflict, disaster and migration. The Colorado & Wyoming Region is a participant in the Red Cross Restoring Family Links phone program, which provides free phone calls between family members who have been separated. In Colorado, a Red Cross worker brings a cell phone to the local family member and connects the call to their loved ones abroad using Google Voice.

The Red Cross Restoring Family Links phone program
helps connect families separated by conflict, disaster and migration
At 9 a.m. the very next morning after Mrs. C met with a Red Cross caseworker, Red Cross International Services Manager Tim Bothe showed up at the shelter with a cell phone so she could call her daughter in Italy. He took her to a quiet room away from the rest of the shelter residents so she could place the international call.

“I was able to call them today. I left a message and said ‘I’m fine. They’re working on the phones so that’s why you can’t reach me.’ I’m going to write them a card about all this,” Mrs. C said, smiling and gesturing around her at the shelter. She leaned in to explain her little white lie: “I don’t want them going into hysterics over there…once they’ve heard my voice on the message, they can know I’m OK.”

It’s a testament to her character and positive attitude that Mrs. C was so worried about how her situation would affect her children.

“That was a big load off of my shoulders,” she said about being able to let her children know she’s doing fine.

And Mrs. C says she is doing fine. “They took my blood pressure this morning. It was good! They got me some medication for my eyes – eye drops. They gave me some clothes and a jacket and socks, and food every day,” she explained. “I don’t have any worries,” Mrs. C concluded with her characteristic soft smile.

When we think about disasters, we immediately gravitate to the physical needs: shelter. Food. Water. Clothing. Medications. One of the most pressing needs of disaster survivors is far less tangible, but equally important as all the rest: Communication. 

When people have to flee their homes quickly in the face of a fire, wildfire, flood or other disaster, they often find themselves missing critical links in their ability to communicate with loved ones. They may have forgotten or broken their phone or its charger, and may not have loved one’s phone numbers memorized. The Red Cross helps to reconnect people after disasters. 

We encourage you to take two steps today: make a family emergency communication plan, and support the Red Cross in our work helping people affected by disasters and emergencies.