Monday, October 31, 2011

My Life in Disaster: I'm dreaming of a White ... HALLOWEEN?

It's Halloween, a day that thousands of kids look forward to all year long. It’s also the day after a weekend of record-breaking snow fall—in October.

Imagine the look on kids’ faces when mom wakes them up and says it's a Snow Day. Imagine the jubilation, the joy, the bouncing on beds, the squeals of delight as they ponder their luck.

Once the holidays have passed, a Snow Day is the only beacon of hope that gets kids through the winter doldrums. And to have a Snow Day to fall on the second-best day ever—Halloween—is like winning the lottery.

Now imagine the look on their faces as mom breaks the news: "Halloween will have to wait."

“WHAT?! NO!!”

Yes. And you can't blame this on your mother. On Mother Nature—yes. On Mom—no!

"But why?!”—a refrain heard across the Northeast.

Well, this weekend’s snowstorm downed trees and power lines, and caused major havoc. Thousands of people don't have power, so many streets will be dark. Trees have fallen and have yet to be cleared, so navigating in the dark will be hazardous. Most importantly, downed power lines will be a DANGER.

What is a mom to do? Well for one thing, heed the warnings. If your community has asked that Halloween activities be postponed, then postpone them. It's for your own safety and your children's.

You can go out in the yard and build a Snow-Jack-O-Lantern. You can stay in and tell ghost stories. And when the coast is clear—follow these Red Cross tips in order to have a safe Halloween—even if it is a few days late!

My Life in Disaster is a series of blog posts by Maha Awad, who is volunteering with the Red Cross and finding out first-hand what it means to be prepared for life’s many disasters.

Friday, October 28, 2011

CPR at Sea

The following story was submitted by James Kelly, a deckhand on tugboat when a medical emergency unexpectedly struck.
No matter how careful or well trained one may be, it is impossible to fully prepare for the unexpected; however, it is imperative that we all try. Recently I was working as one of two deckhands on a tugboat contracted to move oil barges along the East Coast when tragedy struck.

We were pushing a barge from New York to Virginia and were far offshore when the captain unsuccessfully tried contacting the bargeman on watch. He sent the other deckhand to find the attendant, who was unconscious in the barge's maintenance room. The deckhand reported back over the radio that the bargeman had been left with a scarcely perceptible breath and heartbeat due to the exhaust of a gas-powered generator. We were all stunned and knew not to move without the captain's orders.

The captain radioed the emergency to the Coast Guard. He put the mate in charge of the boat, then he and the engineer climbed onto the barge, hoping to resuscitate the unconscious bargeman.

Meanwhile the other deckhand and I were responsible for ensuring that each crewmember had what he needed during this emergency so that nobody would have to stop what they were doing for a second. This included providing supplies and relaying messages. Deckhands, being the least experienced onboard, generally carry out only what they are told to do and wait for orders, which we did as best we could, trying to put aside our uneasiness.

The U.S. Coast Guard requires all licensed seamen to be CPR certified. As a deckhand I am required to learn only basic CPR. With those who are more experienced always nearby, deckhands seldom put CPR into practice.

The captain and engineer took turns doing sets of chest compressions and intermittently breathing air into the man’s lungs before the coast guard arrived, but nothing more could be done.

Though we are taught to be aware that such accidents do occur, we were all deeply affected. However, I feel it was very important that we were properly trained. Each of us knew what our role was and how to carry it out level headedly. Because of our Red Cross training we were able to walk away from that experience with the feeling that we had done everything that was within our power.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

They can’t all be home, but we can bring a touch of home to them

By Sam Kille

 “Reveille, reveille, reveille. All hands heave out and trice up. Give the ship a good sweep down, forward and aft. Now reveille.”

That was the rude awakening I’d endure for six months while deployed as a Marine aboard the USS Newport, in the Mediterranean Sea, from 1991-92. But one morning I didn’t mind, as it was Christmas and we were docked in Barcelona, Spain.

Despite being an ocean and a continent away from home—I couldn’t wait for liberty call. Christmas in Spain, how cool was that going to be!

Or so I thought. My platoon-mates and I walked the famed Las Ramblas. Normally packed with tourists and locals alike, the mile long hub of vendors and street performers was eerily empty. And imagine our surprise to find all of the pubs closed—at home, there always seemed to be at least one place open for business!

But alas, different country, different culture and with nothing to do, we returned to the cold comfort of our ship and the realization that you just can’t beat being home for the holidays.

I missed a lot of holidays and family events while in the Marine Corps. Even stateside, there were the times that I was stuck on guard duty; joking about what I’d do if Santa tried to get past me.

Despite the camaraderie of my fellow Marines, and our best efforts to maintain morale, it could be downright depressing at times. Yet there were two words that almost always snapped us out of any funk: “Mail call!”

It’s hard to describe what it means to get a letter from home—and quite often, at least for me, it didn’t matter who the letter was from. Somehow, mail was a validation that what I was doing was important and recognized. This was especially true when receiving letters addressed “Any Service Member,” often from kids.

Sadly the events of September 11th, and the anthrax scare that followed, put a halt to unsolicited mail for security concerns. So when I found myself at sea on the USS Portland in 2002, any mail was restricted to family and friends. I was in Public Affairs at this point, so I constantly had to explain the policy and head off all the false emails about sending cards to places like Walter Reed Army Hospital, knowing that they would just be discarded.

Fast forward to 2007, my boots and utilities traded in for a Red Cross vest. The holidays were approaching and my chapter was getting calls from organizations and schools looking to send cards to the troops. I hated rehashing the policy but then it happened—an announcement was made about Holiday Mail for Heroes!

Now in its fifth year, Holiday Mail for Heroes is a joint effort between the American Red Cross and Pitney Bowes to enable all Americans to send greeting cards during the holiday season to members of our U.S. Armed Forces, veterans and their families—many of whom will be far away from home and serving in harm’s way.

The cards are initially sent to Pitney Bowes which has the means to screen them for hazardous materials. The Red Cross then mobilizes hundreds of volunteers to sort and box cards for delivery.

Knowing firsthand what it means to be far from home, I hope all of you can join in this effort. Please visit to read the guidelines, and then mail your cards by Dec. 9th to:

Holiday Mail for Heroes
PO Box 5456
Capitol Heights, MD 20791-5456

Additional ways to become involved with the campaign include connecting with fellow card senders through Facebook at and Twitter at using the hashtag #holidaymail.

Now, I’m betting the words “reveille, reveille, reveille” are just as unwelcomed in the military ranks as ever and there is nothing we can do about that; however, through Holiday Mail for Heroes, let’s heave to and make mail call better than ever!

Sam Kille is the Regional Director of Communications for the American Red Cross in Greater New York. He served in the Marine Corps from 1990 to 2003.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Burning Down the House

By Anita Salzberg

Are you out of your minds? You’re going to burn the house down! (Or, at the very least, the movie set.)

Long before I joined the Red Cross, this was my typical reaction to any scene in a movie or a TV show that featured a bubble bath, three dozen candles and a romantic liaison amid said bubble bath.

Kevin Costner and Susan Sarandon in Bull Durham? Yes, that was a hot scene (pun intended).

But as I watched, I couldn’t quite tear my mind away from the practicalities of how they were going to get into the tub and have a wild and crazy time without knocking over a half dozen or so candles and causing a fire. Yes, bathrooms are full of tile and porcelain. Still, towels, curtains and walls are plenty flammable.

And think about it—there were probably six guys with fire extinguishers standing on that movie set, just outside the frame, in case the wrong kind of sparks started to go flying.

Since this is Fire Safety Week, that’s my point. Many people think candles are exactly the right thing to reach for during a power outage (to say nothing of an amorous assignation). Turns out, they’re exactly the wrong thing.

Red Cross urges everyone to use only flashlights for emergency lighting, and to never use candles due to extreme risk of fire during a power outage. If Red Cross had thought of it, it would probably say the same about a romantic tryst in a tub.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

My Life in Disaster: Get Out and Stay Out! Then call 9-1-1

We are all extremely busy, and multitasking has become second nature. I can't remember the last time I cooked dinner without actually doing something else; talking on the phone, or opening bills, or checking email, and yes, that did include leaving the kitchen for a minute or two.

According to the Red Cross, unattended cooking is the cause of 90% of all kitchen fires, and cooking fires are the number one cause of home fires.

October is National Fire Prevention Month, and as if to emphasize the need for fire safety and prevention, the American Red Cross in Greater New York Region has already responded to close to 20 fires in the last week.

 A total of 93% of disasters responded to by the Red Cross are fire related. The Red Cross offers a fire prevention and safety checklist which is a must read. Print it out and give to a neighbor who doesn't have access to a computer. Translate it for them if you need to. You could help save a life.

Monday, October 3, 2011

My Life in Disaster: Support Breast Cancer Awareness – Give Blood!

It's already October. I love the change of seasons. I love the crisp, fall air in New York, and even the fall fashions. But October is bittersweet for me. It's the month when my family and I remember loved ones passed. I remember my father and my mother-in-law. We commemorate his death and her birthday in October. Both of them were ailing; my father with heart disease, my mother-in-law with breast cancer. Both of them suffered for many years, and both of them needed blood transfusions at one point in their treatment.

As a teenager and young adult I used to donate blood all the time. In college, when it came time to donate, I did, twice a year. As a newly employed college graduate, I donated, and even as a new mom I did. I don't know what happened, but I haven't donated blood in a very long time. It's not something I admit to enthusiastically. I even walked by a blood donation truck the other day, and guilt tugged at me, but I still didn't donate.

October is National Breast Cancer Awareness Month. More than 200,000 women will be diagnosed with the disease this year, as well as close to 2,000 men, according to the American Cancer Society. The nature of cancer treatments, which can include surgery, chemotherapy and radiation, may lead to the need for blood transfusions.

So I have committed myself to donating blood in October. The Red Cross allows you to make an appointment online. I can't think of a better way of honoring the memory of my loved ones than by helping to save a life.

My Life in Disaster is a series of blog posts by Maha Awad, who is volunteering with the Red Cross and finding out first-hand what it means to be prepared for life’s many disasters.