Monday, August 31, 2015

2013 Colorado Floods

On Sept. 9, 2013, rain began falling in a historic downpour that would ultimately result in flooding across more than a third of Colorado’s counties. Boulder County received a year’s worth of rainfall in a matter of days. The Red Cross sprang into action immediately and, despite the challenges of flooded roadways and damaged infrastructure, provided shelter, food and comfort for thousands of evacuees.

As the floodwaters receded, compassionate Red Cross volunteers fanned out to affected communities to deliver clean-up supplies, water, health services and counseling, while caseworkers met with displaced residents to ensure they had a roof over their heads, food and help planning out their journey to recovery.

The Red Cross continued to work closely with communities to help them recover over the months and years that followed.

Below is a library of links to stories about the various ways that the Red Cross helped.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Red Cross 'Family' Welcomed Katrina Diaspora from Coast to Coast - Including Here in Colorado

This week, in honor of the 10 years that have passed since Hurricane Katrina struck, we are remembering those whose lives were impacted, honoring the resiliency of the community, thanking those who stepped up to help and reflecting on lessons learned.

By Leila Roche
Ten years after Hurricane Katrina, most people remember the super-shelters and massive on-the-ground response in Louisiana and neighboring states – but many don’t realize that people evacuated all the way to Colorado (and beyond) to receive help and emergency relief.

Katrina made landfall Aug. 26, 2015. In the days following Katrina, survivors of the hurricane were bused across the country to find new jobs and homes. While a deluge of resources and volunteers were pouring into Louisiana and the surrounding areas in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, Colorado Springs volunteer Tony Dal was one of the volunteers preparing a warm welcome for those coming to Colorado to start new lives.

Tony Dal Lago has been a Red Cross volunteer for about 15 years.
During Katrina, he helped evacuees who came to Colorado Springs
rebuild their lives and welcomed them into the community with open arms. 
“National [Red Cross] told the chapters to be prepared for evacuees, and we took note and did what we do best,” Tony said. “Just because we weren’t in Louisiana didn’t mean that we couldn’t be prepared to help here in the Springs. The Red Cross family was here to take care of them.”

The nationwide network of Red Cross chapters and volunteers made it possible for the Red Cross to mobilize a widespread response that helped Katrina evacuees from coast to coast.

“Some people were in a Red Cross shelter out there, and from there they were bused to different parts of the country,” Tony said. “The Red Cross family took care of them in the immediate evacuation area, and when they were transferred elsewhere the Red Cross was still there. Our ‘family’ was still there to care for them.”

The Red Cross partnered with other government and nonprofit organizations to set up a Consolidated Resource Center at America the Beautiful Park in downtown Colorado Springs, where evacuees arrived for assistance – needing everything from monetary assistance and clothing to jobs and housing. A similar effort took place at Lowry Air Force base in Denver.

“I’ll never forget that first big bus of people,” Tony said. “People were being bused in from New Orleans. They’d lost everything. You might think they’d be in bad spirits, but coming off that bus most of them were in good spirits. I think they saw we were there waiting for them. We were ready. And we wanted to help them right then.”

Part of Tony’s role during the Katrina at-home response was instructing new client caseworkers and supervising them at the Consolidated Resource Center for the Katrina evacuees that were bused to Colorado Springs.

During the Katrina response, Tony worked 6-hour Red Cross volunteer shifts on top of working his full-time job. Tony, who has been volunteering for about 15 years with the Red Cross and has responded to numerous natural disasters, says giving back is a primary function of being a part of a community – and that’s why it’s a priority for him despite working full time and having a family.

“You can tell a lot by a community and how they respond to a disaster,” Tony said. “For me, I wanted to give back to the community. I’d been in the military for over 23 years and decided to make Colorado Springs home. But that’s not just buying a house. I wanted to put down roots and give back to the community. For me, that is this area. And if someone drives into Colorado Springs, they become part of the community. [Katrina survivors] were being bused under very inauspicious circumstances, but it didn’t matter. They were a part of the community the minute they stepped off that bus, and it was my job to help them.”

According to estimates from the Current Population Survey, approximately 1.5 million people 16 years and older left their residences in Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama because of Hurricane Katrina. Of those who evacuated, about 410,000 had not returned to their homes by October 2006. Many found homes in new states, including Colorado.

“Not everyone who came stayed,” Tony said. “Some did stay. But some went back home eventually. And others relocated. It didn’t impact what I was doing though. What was important was that the community open their arms to those in need and provide assistance as best we could.”

In the aftermath of hurricanes Katrina, Rita and Wilma, the Red Cross provided 13,200 families long-term recovery planning and advocacy services from trained Red Cross case managers. More than 200 organizations in more than 30 states received funding for recovery-related needs. And more than 8,200 families received recovery financial assistance that enabled them to return to home or work.

“The Red Cross is a family,” Tony said. “We’re here to provide a hand up. The goal is to get them to a point where they can start to recover on their own with whatever help we can provide them. We want to help them get over the shock, stand up on own and start moving forward – whether it’s Katrina or an apartment fire. We’re here to help our community.”

Read more stories and learn how the Red Cross responded to Hurricane Katrina: . 

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Colorado Springs Volunteer Worked 'Just to Bring a Smile to Those in Need' in Wake of Katrina

This week, in honor of the 10 years that have passed since Hurricane Katrina struck, we are remembering those whose lives were impacted, honoring the resiliency of the community, thanking those who stepped up to help and reflecting on lessons learned.

By Leila Roche
Roger Bram delivers clean-up kits after the Black Forest Fire
in 2013. He has been a Red Cross volunteer for a decade.
Roger Bram, a Red Cross volunteer now living in Colorado Springs, celebrated his 10-year anniversary as a volunteer two weeks ago. In 2005, he went to his local chapter for more information and was signed up within hours. Little did he know that two weeks later, he would be tapped for his very first deployment: Hurricane Katrina. A decade and more than 20 deployments later, he still remembers it as the worst disaster he’s witnessed.

“Nothing can prepare you for that kind of devastation,” Roger said. “The town looked like a war zone. Everything was all over the place. All I could think was, ‘How do people survive this?’”

Hurricane Katrina made landfall on August 29, 2005. It became our country’s costliest natural disaster and one of the five deadliest hurricanes. Its effects were further worsened when Hurricane Rita made landfall on the Texas-Louisiana coasts less than a month later.

Roger was deployed soon after Katrina hit and spent six weeks in Louisiana. Much of his time was spent was a courier, driving volunteers between Baton Rouge and Lake Charles, La., where he was stationed for his few weeks prior to Rita hitting. Driving I-10 for hours each day gave him a unique vantage point. The water was still receding and the landscape was ever changing – revealing fresh devastation every day.

“Pieces of the buildings were on the ground … busted windows everywhere … Half the bridges and freeways were shut down because of the high water still,” he said.

When Rita hit just weeks after Katrina, the Lake Charles volunteers – including Roger – were evacuated from their hotel to Alexandria, La. On one of his drives, he went back to see the hotel at which he had stayed.

Roger Bram high-fives a soldier's son
while volunteering an exercise in Colorado Springs.
“It was a mess,” he said. “I’d never seen anything like it. Boats were all over. The hotel room windows were busted out.”

For Roger, the devastation he saw around him served to reinforce the mission of the Red Cross.
“Each day, I’d wake up and say it’s going to be a great day,” he said. “People would ask why am I in such a good mood. I would tell them I was still alive and breathing. You can’t be prepared for anything [like what we saw in Louisiana.] But they needed our help. That was it.”

During his six weeks there, he celebrated a birthday in the shelters and helped countless people – not just get from point a to point b. But he did what he could to help raise others’ spirits so they could continue to serve.

“I just wanted to bring a smile to people’s faces,” he said. “Whether it was a client or a fellow volunteer, if I can bring a smile to their face I know their troubles are gone for even a split second. That’s what we’re there for.”

Read more stories and learn how the Red Cross responded to Hurricane Katrina: . 

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Local Volunteer Helped Katrina Survivors Find Homes, Jobs -- and Hope

This week, in honor of the 10 years that have passed since Hurricane Katrina struck, we are remembering those whose lives were impacted, honoring the resiliency of the community, thanking those who stepped up to help, and reflecting on lessons learned.

By Leila Roche
In her more than 50 years as a Red Cross volunteer, Carol Clark had seen her fair share of disasters. Carol, who lives in Pueblo, was deployed to New York after 9-11, chased Hurricane Floyd around the southern states, and was even flown to Guam to help victims of Typhoon Paka. Now retired, she had been deployed to disasters locally and throughout the world since beginning disaster response in the ‘80s. But the devastation that made landfall in southeast Louisiana on August 29, 2005, was one of the worst she’d seen.

“Katrina was at the top of the list [of worst disasters I’d seen],” Carol said. “Just the sheer magnitude of the people involved was unbelievable. A shelter of 5,000 ceases to be a shelter. It’s a small city.”
It’s no surprise – given that Katrina is still currently ranked the third most intense tropical cyclone to make landfall in the U.S., behind only the 1935 Labor Day hurricane and Hurricane Camille in 1969. A decade later, it is still our country’s costliest natural disaster, as well as one of the five deadliest hurricanes.
This photo that Carol took from the second level of the
convention center shows just a small portion of the
5,000 people who were sheltered there.

In preparation for the storm, Carol and a team of Colorado volunteers were pre-staged in Houston, Texas. After the storm made landfall, they drove to Baton Rouge, Louisiana, where she was deployed for three weeks.

“I’ll never forget all the buses on our way in,” she said. “They were putting survivors on Greyhound buses. Hundreds of buses were passing us going the opposite direction. There were hundreds. It was just bus after bus after bus. We wondered if there would be anyone left in Baton Rouge.”

There was – more than she could have fathomed.

“When I walked into the Riverside Convention Center, seeing the size of the first shelter was utterly overwhelming,” Carol said. “It made you just stop dead in your tracks. It was row after row of cots. And then I found out that was just the first shelter. There were two more.”

The shelters housed over 5,000 people who were there for the “long haul,” she said. More like small cities, they had everything from schools to vaccination clinics to churches.

Carol’s job was to help survivors find new jobs and homes. She matched people with sponsors, in some cases requiring people to move across the country. But there was just nothing left for them in Baton Rouge, she said.

“People had lost absolutely everything,” Carol said. “It’s hard for us to imagine – losing everything. But there were no homes for them to return to. No jobs for them to return to. It wiped out their home, their schools, their place of business. They lost everything – in some cases their entire sense of being.”
Carol Clark, pictured here with Pueblo volunteer Don Espinosa. 

Her deployment lasted three weeks. She had one day off. And her days were 12-14 hours of work. She got sick twice. But every hour spent working was well worth it, she said.

“The reward of finding someone a home – a hope – was invaluable,” she said.

One family in particular stood out to her. The father was a math teacher, the mother also an educator. They had two daughters. And “they just wanted to get out so desperately,” she said. After a few days of interviews and negotiations, she was finally able to find them new jobs and a new home in a different state. After searching for them in the shelter, she finally found them to tell them the good news.

“I had the tickets in my hand when I told them the good news, and they jumped up and gave me a huge hug,” she said. “Their bags were packed in less than five minutes, and they were gone.”

Carol continued: “People were so thankful when I could help them get out of their situation in the shelters – I was happy to help them leave and find a better place to start their new life.”

In response to Katrina and Hurricanes Rita and Wilma --which followed closely -- the Red Cross set up more than 1,400 emergency shelters in 31 states and the District of Columbia, with overnight stays totaling more than 3.8 million. Nearly 68 million hot meals and snacks were served to evacuees and responders. More than 1.4 million families — about 4 million people — received emergency assistance to purchase urgently needed items such as food, clothing, diapers and other essentials. And nearly 250,000 Americans volunteered to support disaster survivors.

“Each day you’re helping someone,” Carol said. “You work with good people doing the Red Cross mission. If you can’t help each other when you’re in need, we’re going down a bad road.”

Monday, August 24, 2015

Volunteers Reflect on the Love they Shared in Response to Hurricane Katrina

This week, in honor of the 10 years that have passed since Hurricane Katrina struck, we are remembering those whose lives were impacted, honoring the resiliency of the community, thanking those who stepped up to help, and reflecting on lessons learned and applied in the decade since.

Story and photos by Janet Koelling

Hurricane Katrina caused widespread devastation and loss.  When the Red Cross announced they needed 40,000 volunteers, it perked the attention of Ft. Collins resident Connie Hoffer. As a recently retired nurse, Connie stepped forth to offer her skills, took part in preparatory Red Cross courses, and within a few days, was deployed to Baton Rouge, Louisiana.

Connie’s husband, Roger Hoffer, a retired college professor, also wanted to help with the Katrina recovery effort.  When he learned that the Red Cross needed client case workers, he willingly volunteered.  Though he had no previous experience in this type of work, he received Red Cross training and began his Katrina service in Hattiesburg, Mississippi.  Evacuees from Gulfport Mississippi, and from other devastated Mississippi areas, were being relocated to shelters in Hattiesburg.

Roger remembers, “Each morning, 500 people were waiting in line to get help. Twenty volunteers were doing client case work. We determined immediate needs for food, clothing, and housing, and provided aid accordingly.”

Roger describes a woman in tears, whose home was severely damaged. While she had worked tirelessly to seal the front door to avoid flooding, the hurricane tore the tar paper off her roof. What gratitude she expressed when she found the Red Cross could assist her in making the replacement.

Connie’s role was to assist people in meeting their medical needs. She visited with clients in the shelter to find out what medication they needed and called in prescriptions to be picked up at the pharmacy.

Occasionally, there are pro-bono offers for which the Red Cross makes referrals. A woman with very painfully infected teeth was grateful and relieved when Connie referred her to a local dentist who donated his services, and pulled the offending culprits. Another young mother had just come out of having a C-Section. Connie and the other medical personnel assured that the baby had appropriate care and feeding.

Another satisfying reward for Connie is the life-long friendships that have been formed by the team efforts adding, “Working toward a common goal is a very bonding experience,” Connie said.

Eventually, the Red Cross moved Roger to Baker, Louisiana, where he could join his wife Connie by working in the shelter’s kitchen. One morning when Roger offered a breakfast roll to a client, the man expressed what a great shelter it was. When asked what made it so, he replied, “It’s the love, man, the love.”

Both Roger and Connie’s lives have been changed by their Red Cross volunteer service. Since Katrina, they have responded to a dozen major national disasters. They also serve at local and regional shelters and recovery efforts.  The Hoffers teach Red Cross classes and have received various recognitions for their volunteer contributions. Recently, Connie was awarded the Clara Barton Honor Award for Meritorious Volunteer Leadership.  Both express their appreciation in living this chapter of their lives, saying, “It’s great to be a small part of a big, wonderful, complex organization like the Red Cross. Volunteering is very rewarding. It is wonderful to help others in need.”

Monday, August 17, 2015

Gov. Hickenlooper honors Red Cross and partners for Black Forest Fire Efforts

Photos and story by Thea Skinner
The Black Forest community, the American Red Cross, and their partners dedicated the Black Forest Fire Memorial during a ceremony August 15 -- a symbol of nurturing and rebuilding the community.

The Black Forest Fire of June 11, 2013, is considered the most destructive wildfire in Colorado history. The disaster resulted in two lives lost, burned 14,280 acres and destroyed about 486 homes.

“This community more than any banded together,” said Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper. “This community could have given up or lost hope, but they did not do that.”

The memorial dedicates the lives lost of Marc and Robin Herklotz, and displays a listing of 132 agencies that combined efforts to assist in disaster response and recovery. The structure, created out of wood reclaimed from burned trees, is complete with two Japanese trees located near the historic Black Forest Log House and pavilion.

Thomas Gonzalez, Executive Director of the Red Cross of Southeastern Colorado,
accepts a certificate of appreciation with Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper
during the Black Forest Fire Memorial Dedication Ceremony.

“The log house is a symbol of the community. Until you are there [in a disaster] you do not realize the gravity. I say this to all the first responders in Colorado we thank you for your sacrifice. The state is here with you to work to rebuild it,” said Governor Hickenlooper.

Red Cross representatives, serving through 90 percent volunteer efforts, received high regard. The Red Cross aided in restoring dignity and shelter to residents whose homes were damaged or burned.
“You don’t realize how many lives you have touched,” said Alphie Hutmacher, board member of Black Forest Together to Red Cross staff and volunteers.
The crowd at the Black Forest Fire Memorial Dedication Ceremony.

“[Red Cross worker] Sally Broomfield has been like a sister to me,” said Nancy Bracken, president of the Black Forest Community Foundation and co-founder of Black Forest Together.

Black Forest Together, a non-profit organization, among others, actively engaged the community during the disaster.

In response to the fire and other wildfires burning throughout Colorado in June 2013, the Red Cross and its partners provided a total of 11 separate shelters, distributed more than 40,000 clean-up items and recovery supplies, served more than 66,000 meals, made more than 4,500 health and mental health contacts with affected residents, registered 470 individuals in Safe and Well, distributed 2,200 comfort kits containing hygiene items, toothbrushes and other basic essentials. Read more about the Red Cross response in this report. 

Rich Harvey, presently serving in California fires, is of the Great Basin Incident Management Team 2, and served as incident commander for both the Waldo Canyon and Black Forest Fires.

“A fire like the Black Forest Fire or Waldo Canyon, is not fought by one person, one engine or one department, but by teamwork. Firefighters and the community united by common cause dedicated to their task, be it the working end of a hose or another command and general staff meeting,” said Harvey.

The memorial tribute is a testament to collaborative efforts of many.
 “It is too bad Waldo Canyon had to happen, but we all learned from it,” said Congressman Doug Lamborn from Colorado’s fifth district."Your spirit is a tribute to the lives lost.”

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Burundi Minister Who Escaped Genocide Reflects on Current Refugee Crisis

By Thea Skinner

Burundi has gone through three major waves of political upheaval in the past half-century that have resulted in hundreds of thousands of refugees fleeing their homeland. The first upheaval occurred in 1972, the second in 1994; the third is happening today as crisis once again strikes the country.

With both 1972 and 1994 genocides, today's unrest, some refugees of Burundi have made their way to the United States to resettle. Pastor Joseph Nsabimbona, a former Burundi refugee and genocide survivor of the 1990s, will speak to that journey at “Nothing But Weeping: Burundi on the Brink, Again,” an American Red Cross Lunch and Learn, on Wednesday, Aug. 19.

“My heart is heavy, grieving over what is happening in Burundi,” he said reflecting on the present political crisis.
Pastor Joseph Nsabimbona

The crisis has displaced more than 150,000 people  from Burundi into neighboring countries, and refugees have reached as far as Zambia.

Since April 2015, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) has provided aid including two vehicles and fuel, 130 first aid kits, communication radio support, three first aid mobile response teams, nine first aid posts staffed with more than 100 volunteers. Representatives of the ICRC have also visited those arrested to ensure humane treatment in line with international standards.

Pastor Nsabimbona is founder and president of A La Source Refugee Ministry in Aurora, a nonprofit aiding refugees through their journey. In March 2015, he planted The Sojourners Christ's Church ( with the purpose of ministering and helping the refugees, immigrants, and the community connect in unity to transform their hearts.

“We know it is a process, so we walk alongside refugees tutoring the adult, mentoring the youth, helping them in transition. We journey with them, it is our calling,” he said.

The similarities of the 1972, 1994, and present Burundi crisis are that all have political roots. All those political crises resulted in violence, killings of unarmed people and the first two were qualified of genocide. The challenges and sacrifices refugees face are monumental.

“Overnight, you lose all that you had, your life, your family, you go through trauma, you face the challenges that come with trying to settle into a new country. As a refugee, being relocated does not guarantee a better life,” Pastor Nsabimbona said.

The challenges refugees face don’t end when they resettle to safety, and part of Pastor Nsabimbona’s work is helping refugees as they continue on their journey. Children, women and the elderly often suffer the most. In fact, the ICRC reports that 60 percent of the refugees in the Nyagurusu camp are children.
“Some kids were born in refugee camps. We teach on the topic of identity helping them understand that we are not defined by what we went through. It is only a circumstance of condition,” he said. “When in a camp you are on the move, but when you are relocated that is when you start morning.”

 Refugees often arrive in their new host countries with nothing.
“A refugee has to be resilient and press on. In New York City, I survived on a dollar a day, squatting in East-Village. We had no heater, it was very difficult - another kind of war - A fight to survive in America,” Nsabimbona said.

In addition to facing the challenges of culture shock, post-tramatic stress disorder (PTSD) and economic challenges, many refugees have also been separated from their support systems: Their families.

The Red Cross assists working to reunite families through the Restoring Family Links program. Pastor Nsabimbona personally experienced family reunification after six years of separation that included visits to Canada and interviews at embassies and consulates that exhausted his pay checks.

Reconnecting families can be extremely challenging, but success is possible. Recently, two parents living in the Nyagurusu refugee camp – a camp of more than 50,000 refugees –were reunited with their children in a neighboring city with help from the ICRC.

Pastor Nsabimbona shares his experiences and insight at the American Red Cross Lunch and Learn: “Nothing But Weeping: Burundi on the Brink, Again” from Noon-1 p.m., Wednesday, Aug. 19 at the American Red Cross, 444 Sherman St., Denver. To RSVP, please call (303) 607-4785 or email

Sporting Clays Invitational Aims to Support Service to Armed Forces

Story by Jennifer Marsh/American Red Cross

Colorado shooting enthusiasts came together August 8 at the Peaceful Valley Scout Camp in Elbert, Colorado, to shoot clay pigeons out of the sky, enjoy the beautiful weather and raise money for the American Red Cross Service to Armed Forces Program.

This inaugural Sporting Clays Invitational was a great success and came together due to the hard work of Tom Gonzalez, Executive Director of the American Red Cross of Southeastern Colorado.   Approximately 100 people, including active duty Special Forces from Fort Carson and area first responders came out to try their luck at shooting clays. Some participated in warm-up games such as Flurry, 5-Stand and Crazy Quail.

Cliff Holtz, President of Humanitarian Services at
the American Red Cross stands with event coordinator
 Allyssa Taves and Executive Director Tom Gonzales at
the Shooting Clays Invitational. Photo by
Richard Firth/American Red Cross
Gen. Gene Renuart (Ret.) set the stage for the event, stating, "This is an excellent opportunity because we are having fun and raising money for the Service to Armed Forces program of the American Red Cross. The Red Cross was born on a battlefield and continues that tradition of service to the military through providing emergency communication services and support for active duty service members, families and veterans."

Shooting clays is an old sport.  In Britain, expert shooting of pheasant and grouse was a marker of one’s social breeding, as so much of the countryside where the birds were found was under the ownership of the village estate, and no one could legally hunt the birds without permission. Artificial targets meant that the sport could be opened up to a larger population.
The winning team takes aim at the Sporting Clays Invitational
Photo by Joan Green/American Red Cross

Among shooting sports, sporting clays is unique in that there are generally between 10-15 different stations each shooter must complete, each with a different challenge.  The scores for each station are tallied in order to find the winner, much like golf.  The Shooting Clays Invitational featured 15 different stations and squads were evaluated in six different classes. Congratulations to all participants.

Special thanks to Jim 'N Nicks BBQ and Phantom Canyon Brewery for the refreshments. Thank you also to all our sponsors, especially The El Pomar Foundation, The Anshutz Foundation, The Anshutz Corporation and Arrow Electronics.
Overall winning team Mark Sterile, Jeff Bishop, John Adams
and Tim Travis hold their awards at the Sporting
Clays Invitational. Photo by Richard Firth/American Red Cross
To see more photos of the Sporting Clays Invitational visit our Flickr album.

Friday, August 7, 2015

IHL Film Series: "Hotel Rwanda" Speaks to Region's Violent Past, Uncertain Present

Over the course of 100 days in 1994, between 500,000 and 1 million people were slaughtered by the Akazu, radicalized members of the Hutu ethnic group, in Rwanda. The early days of this Rwandan genocide form the backdrop of this month's International Humanitarian Law Film Series installment: Hotel Rwanda. The critically-acclaimed 2004 film details the plight of Paul Rusesabagina, a Hutu hotelier, as he works to save his Tutsi wife and the 1,200 people sheltered in his business. Although the bloodiest days of the Rwandan Civil War were more than two decades ago, the film's depiction of ethnic violence and government corruption finds new relevance today, as tensions again rise in the region, in neighboring Burundi.

Burundi's ethnic divisions arise from the same origins as Rwanda's, and in recent months, violence has been erupting in the region once again. With the legacy of Rwanda in living memory, the Burundi conflict is raising questions regarding the responsibilities and capabilities of other nations to provide help, of the obligations of international organizations to take action, and where the nearly 140,000 refugees who have fled the nation can find safety.

The International Committee of the Red Cross, now contending with the crisis in Burundi, was deeply involved with relief efforts during the Rwandan Civil War. The ICRC established a presence in Rwanda in 1990 that remains in place today, educating and enforcing International Humanitarian Law, restoring connections between families displaced by the conflict, and working to improve conditions for the nation's 57,000 detainees.

Following the film, a roundtable discussion will be held to talk through the themes of Hotel Rwanda, as well as to cover topics like genocide, international humanitarian law, and the role of supranational organizations in conflicts around the globe.

The IHL film series will screen Hotel Rwanda at 4 p.m., Thursday, Aug. 13, at the American Red Cross, 444 Sherman St., in Denver. To RSVP for the IHL Film Series, click here. For more information, contact Tim Bothe.

Monday, August 3, 2015

When is a Power Outage an Emergency?

By Patricia Billinger 
Today, we received a phone call from Lee Ann, a Conifer resident who was panicked and nearly in tears. Storms had caused power outages in several communities in Colorado, and her power company estimated that it could be several days before electricity was restored. Her boyfriend needs electricity to run his oxygen machine, she utilizes multiple sclerosis medications that need to be refrigerated, and their source of water is a well that relies on an electric pump. She was worried that the power outage could turn life-threatening.

“Power outages come and go, and usually within an hour we’re back up. This is two days,” Lee Ann said. “I was panicked. I was freaking out.”

Our disaster response on-call volunteer , Sean, asked Lee Ann various questions and calmly helped her make a plan so that the lack of electricity would not turn life-threatening. He connected her with an oxygen supplier who could provide backup tanks that don’t need power to deliver oxygen and helped her identify a way to keep her medications refrigerated by using a cooler and bags of ice. Lee Ann also realized she could use gallon jugs of purchased water to ensure they had enough water for drinking and sanitation. By the end of their conversation, Lee Ann had a plan and was no longer terrified for her boyfriend’s safety.
A hand-crank radio, flashlight and phone-charger
can come in handy in a power-outage.

“I think we got some things accomplished. Unfortunately we still don’t have power or water, but we got oxygen and that’s the main thing. You gotta breathe,” Lee Ann said.

Often, power outages accompany the broader destruction caused by natural disasters such as tornadoes and floods. In those cases, the Red Cross is already responding to provide safe shelter, food, comfort and other assistance to people fleeing for their safety.

But what about when the power goes out and homes aren’t otherwise affected? Is that still an emergency?

For most people, the answer is no: it’s an inconvenience, but lack of electricity doesn’t directly threaten safety. However, access to electricity can be life-essential for people with medical concerns. And everyone should have an emergency plan for what to do in the event of loss of power.

“When crises strike, people sometimes struggle to think through solutions due to the stress of the situation. That’s why having a plan is so important – you’ve thought of your solutions in advance and can simply implement and adjust them,” said George Sullivan, Director of Community Preparedness and Resilience for the Red Cross of Colorado and Wyoming. “Planning helps to prevent panicking.”

It’s much easier to think creatively and exhaustively about your needs and how you’ll meet them when you’re not under the crunch of necessity. Take a few minutes now to assess your own home and the needs of yourself and your loved ones. Answer these questions, and write them down somewhere:

  • What would you do to stay safe and comfortable during a power outage? What would you need? Items could include flashlights, back-up phone batteries, crank-radio, extra blankets, non-perishable food, water, hand-wipes, etc. 
  • Do you have a place to stay outside your neighborhood if the power will be out for an extended period? 
  • What if the weather was extremely hot? Extremely cold? 
  • What medications or medical needs do you or loved ones have that could be affected by a power outage? What is your plan to meet those needs?
  • How will you communicate and receive news? Do all of your devices rely on electricity?
When you plan ahead, the “power” is in your hands to stay safe and comfortable when the electricity is out.

For her part, Lee Ann encourages anyone on oxygen to ensure they have a two-day backup supply and recommends that everyone keep a supply of water on hand. She says she hopes others will learn from her experience and get prepared now – not when the power is out and it’s too late.

Find more tips and information here: .