Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Responding to Jonas

The Greater New York Headquarters “Put to the Test”

By Stan Frank, American Red Cross

When the National Weather Service predicts a serious blizzard, the Red Cross mobilizes for wind damage, loss of power, flooding, home fires and the possibility of a large number of displaced residents.

Here’s a snapshot of how the Greater New York Region prepared in advance of Winter Storm Jonas and managed the effects of this historic weather event. (Thank you to Ronnie Rigos, Joe Spaccarelli, Liz Barker and Jessica Kirk for the photos.)
The Red Cross Emergency Operations Center was activated.
Red Cross volunteers and employees met continually to discuss plans and strategy.
Emergency relief supplies, including comfort kits, flood supplies
and blankets were mobilized for distribution.
Red Cross vehicles with plows were prepared for snow
removal in and around Red Cross locations.

Volunteer responder Tashi Penjor and his Red Cross colleagues helped displaced residents on Saturday morning at a multiple-alarm fire in Queens in the middle of the blizzard.
The massive 4-alarm fire on 9th Ave. displaced several families
who were comforted by the Red Cross.
Following 4-alarm fire on 9th Ave., a Red Cross Emergency Response
\Vehicle was dispatched to assist affected residents and first responders.
Long Island Red Cross Board Member and Public Affairs volunteer Craig Cooper shared
vital preparedness and safety information with the media.
In between fires and other incidents, Red Cross volunteers helped
dig out fire hydrants buried under the snow near the Hell's Kitchen HQ.

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

In Case You Missed It - Jan 25

Red Cross Volunteer Tashi P. responding to disasters during the Blizzard of 2016.
Over the last 7 days, the Greater New York Red Cross provided emergency assistance to 101 adults and 28 children following 39 local disasters. Here are some highlights from last week and a preview of upcoming activities (see below).

Last Week in Review

Upcoming Events and Opportunities
  • Jan 27, 29: Red Cross blood drive; 1 to 7pm; 520 West 49th Street, Manhattan. Schedule an appointment to donate today.
  • Jan 30: ABC7’s Bill Ritter will be hosting the station’s annual Operation 7 Save-a-Life campaign program at 7pm. Tune in to see the Red Cross Home Fire Preparedness Campaign featured.
  • Feb 6: The #GetAlarmedNYC campaign to help save lives by installing free smoke alarms in the community will make its way to West Brighton, Port Richmond and Randall Manor (Staten Island) next month. Volunteer or sign up for a free smoke alarm installation at

The Emergency Communications Center

The Red Cross Information and Response HUB

by Stan Frank, American Red Cross

Every day the Greater NY Red Cross Emergency Communications Center (ECC) located on the second floor in an unassuming 4-story building on West 49th Street, a few blocks from midtown Manhattan, performs some of the most important functions needed to shelter, feed and provide emotional support to victims of disasters.

Via state-of-the-art communication systems, ECC reps monitor 24/7, 365 days a year.
The ECC serves the Greater New York Region, an area with a population in excess of 12.9 million residents. In addition to the eight million people in New York City’s five boroughs, the Center serves the Metro New York North area (1.8 million people) in Greenwich Conn., West Point, Orange, Putnam and Westchester Counties; and serves 2.8 million people in Nassau and Suffolk Counties on Long Island. The Center also responds to calls for assistance from more than two dozen cities and towns in the Eastern New York State Region with an additional population of 2.5 million residents.

Chris Mercado, a ten-year veteran of the Red Cross, manages the ECC.

“The Center is the source of all information and the starting point for all response activity for the Red Cross in Greater New York,” he says. 

Chris Mercado, a 10-year Red Cross veteran, manages the ECC.
Chris staffs the Center with highly-trained and dedicated employees and volunteers. ECC representatives maintain 8-hour shifts around the clock at the Center.

The Center is outfitted with the latest, state-of-the-art audiovisual and IT systems and helps coordinate the Red Cross response in Greater NY to 7 to 10 disasters every day, including home fires, floods, water main breaks, building collapses, severe weather events and other emergencies. On 9/11, the Center (at the time located in their previous HQ near Lincoln Center) was among the first to send responders to the terrorist attack at the World Trade Center. The ECC has back-up communication systems. If electrical power is lost, a self-sustaining power generator can maintain power for 48 hours. The Center can also activate satellite phones if necessary; and if cellular power is lost, the Center has its own FCC-licensed ham radio station to communicate with field operations.

In large-scale emergencies, the Ham Radio Station 
can communicate with field operations.
One or two ECC representatives are on duty at all times, surrounded by an array of TV screens, computer monitors, telephones and fire scanners. The TV screens are always tuned in to local and national news stations to monitor for breaking news. One computer is used for incoming and outgoing Breaking News Network email messages; other computers are used by the reps on duty to draft detailed reports on every reported incident. The reports are sent 24/7 to senior Red Cross staff and include the current status of all incidents (e.g. the number of buildings and families affected), the current actions being taken by Red Cross staff (e.g. sheltering activities, plans for feeding and housing displaced people) and future Red Cross actions planned (e.g. future casework plans and longer-term feeding/sheltering plans).

The emergency scanners are small desk-top devices which link directly to the FDNY. If a fire occurs anywhere in the five boroughs, the reps on duty actually hear the Fire Department dispatcher report it to the local fire department and the Red Cross responders deploy accordingly. If the incident is a minor one such as a minor kitchen fire, the reps will wait for more information from the responding fire department team on the scene. If it is a more serious incident or if the Fire Department calls the ECC directly for assistance, the reps spring into action.

First, the ECC rep notifies the Disaster Relief teams located on the 2nd floor staging area to deploy to the emergency. Each team consists of one to three trained volunteers on call 24/7. They immediately procure the appropriate Red Cross vehicle or vehicles located in the basement garage and drive to the scene of the emergency. 

Tiara Youmans, Red Cross Response Manager, with volunteer responders 
(Phil Cogan, Jason Lee, Odelia Lee and Ashley Barrueco) ready to respond to emergency calls.
The type of vehicle selected will depend on the nature of the emergency. Small vans are equipped with comfort kits, clean-up kits, personal hygiene kits, blankets, clothing, snacks and water. For more serious emergencies such as multiple-alarm fires or large-scale flooding, the Disaster Relief teams will use larger vehicles such as ERVs (Emergency Response Vehicles) which are outfitted with larger quantities of emergency supplies as well as emergency generators. The ERVs are equipped not only to assist disaster victims but also first responders who often remain on site for extended periods of time. If needed, a highly-sophisticated Red Cross Field Communications Vehicle is sent out to assist operations and maintain communications with emergency personnel.

ERVs and other Red Cross emergency vehicles are at the ready at all times.
Red Cross vehicles are stocked with a variety of relief supplies.
In all cases, the ECC representative coordinates the activities of the Disaster Relief teams and keeps Red Cross leadership aware of the field activities as they develop. In many instances, the heads of Logistics, Mass Care, Health, Mental Health, Staffing and Operations Management will go to the scene of the emergency to assist with relief operations. 

Kerenine LeVeque and Emma Tomias-Soto on duty in the ECC.
In addition to monitoring and responding to emergency calls, the ECC reps are also kept busy with calls for information or assistance from numerous NYC agencies such as the NYC Office of Emergency Management (OEM), the NYC Housing Preservation and Development Department (HPD), the New York Department of Buildings (DOB) and other NYC agencies and community partners seeking Red Cross assistance. Approximately 100 other non-emergency calls are received daily from the general public for information or help on everything from blood donations, to sheltering questions, to transportation questions. In the event of high call volume, additional volunteers are brought in to staff the ECC.

Asked what she likes most about her job as an Emergency Communications Rep, Karenine LeVeque, who joined the Red Cross after being motivated by the Red Cross’ work in Haiti during and after the devastating earthquake there in 2010, said:

”To me, there is nothing more fulfilling than helping someone in need when they have gone through a disaster and lost all hope. As an ECC rep, I feel fulfilled every day knowing I have helped someone in trouble and brought a ray of hope into their lives.”

Monday, January 18, 2016

In Case You Missed It - Jan 18

For MLK Jr. Day, the Red Cross and HOPE Worldwide returned to Harlem to install smoke alarms.
(Photo: Lori-Ann Pizzarelli)
Over the last 7 days, the Greater New York Red Cross provided emergency assistance to 129 adults and 23 children following 56 local disasters. Here are some highlights from last week and a preview of upcoming activities (see below).

Last Week in Review

Upcoming Events and Opportunities
  • Jan 19, 21: Red Cross blood drive; 1 to 7pm; 520 West 49th Street, Manhattan. Schedule an appointment to donate today.
  • Jan 23: The Red Cross “Restoring Family Links” program and many other city agencies will be on hand at the Family Resource Day taking place at P.S. 24, 427 38th St, Brooklyn, N.Y. from 9am to 1pm, to provide many services for immigrant families. 
  • Jan 24: ABC7’s Bill Ritter will be hosting the station’s annual Operation 7 Save-a-Life campaign program at 7:30 pm. Tune in to see the Red Cross Home Fire Preparedness Campaign featured.. 
  • Feb 6: The #GetAlarmedNYC campaign to help save lives by installing free smoke alarms in the community will make its way to West Brighton, Staten Island next month. Volunteer or sign up for a free smoke alarm installation at

Thursday, January 14, 2016

January is busy for Red Cross Volunteers

As we ring in the New Year, “fire season” is well under way in the American Red Cross Greater New York region. As the cold weather kicks in our amazing Red Cross volunteers get busier and busier.

Here is a quick snap shot of our volunteers in action on January 14th when we responded to thirteen emergencies helping more than 70 people. This included a large house fire in Long Beach, Long Island and a fire in a 5 story building on the Grand Concourse in the Bronx.

Our amazing volunteers stayed late into the night making sure these families had a warm place to stay, and the comfort and care they need to begin their road to recovery.

Stay warm everybody and if you see a Red Cross volunteer today please thank them for everything they do to help New Yorkers on these long cold January nights.

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Days Before Christmas, Volunteers Offer Comfort in Freeport

By Amanda Rothenberg, American Red Cross Intern

What should have been an average day turned into heartache for Deyanissa Bonifacio, a young mother of two, when she watched her home burn through a cloud of smoke. It was only two days before Christmas when a devastating fire in Freeport, N.Y destroyed her home. Red Cross volunteer Bruce Vesloski and his team of responders rushed to the scene, covered Deyanissa with blankets and warm clothing and comforted her during her time of need. A week later, we sat down with Deyanissa to discuss her experience on that fateful day.

The Bonifacio home in Freeport after the fire
Can you walk us through what happened the day of the fire?

It was in the morning. I basically did what I do every day, just woke up. I went to take a shower. When I went in the shower I felt like it smelled a weird smell. I got out of the shower, I go into the room and the room was already on fire. I had to run outside in a towel. I was screaming for help and these two girls stopped and gave me some clothes that they had in their car. Then the Red Cross came.

How was the Red Cross able to help you?

They gave me some basics: underwear, socks, stuff like that, sweaters and jackets. Whatever they could help me with. They gave me a gift card. I stayed at the hotel they provided me for three days. They helped me out, made it a little bit easier, because Christmas was coming. And on top of that, the communication between me and Bruce, even though that already happened… I still communicate with him, I still call him.

How are your daughters?

My daughter goes to school right across the street from the house so she saw what happened; she just didn’t know it was our house. But with everything that happened, they’re not really, as you would say, there. I understand, it’s a lot, everything at once, in the blink of an eye.

What did it mean to you to know that there were people there to help you?

That was really nice. It makes you feel like there are other people who care out there, that they don’t have to be blood or anything. The Red Cross was really helpful; they help you from the heart. It’s not only at that time; maybe you need an answer, you can call them. They helped me. They help a lot of people… I just want to thank you guys for everything. It’s not like you’re by yourself in the world. There are people who care. There are people who can give you a hand when you most need it, when you fall down and you have to get up.

Monday, January 11, 2016

In Case You Missed It - Jan 11

Red Cross volunteers providing support to first responders and residents in
Mt. Vernon after a fire. (Photo: Caroline Sherwin)
Over the last 7 days, the Greater New York Red Cross provided emergency assistance to 88 adults and 31 children following 58 local disasters. Here are some highlights from last week and a preview of upcoming activities (see below).

Last Week in Review

Josh Lockwood, #RedCross CEO stopped by #Harlem #GetAlarmedNYC install day to thanks our great and dedicated volunteers! Join our team and come help us save lives. Visit today!
Posted by American Red Cross in Greater New York on Saturday, January 9, 2016

Upcoming Events and Opportunities
  • Win a Deluxe Emergency Preparedness Kit by taking the online emergency preparedness training. You’ll be automatically entered to win. This contest is open to residents of New York City, Long Island, Orange, Sullivan, Rockland, Putnam and Westchester Counties. Four winners will be chosen each month (notified via email).
  • Jan 11, 13: Red Cross blood drive; 1 to 7pm; 520 West 49th Street, Manhattan. Schedule an appointment to donate today.
  • Jan 13, 19: Join the #GetAlarmedNYC campaign to help save lives by attending a Home Fire Safety Academy training on Jan 13 and 19. Red Cross Volunteers can sign up here and new comers will need to sign up here first.
  • Jan 15: The town of Freeport and employees of National Grid will be partnering with the Red Cross to install free smoke alarms in the community.
  • Jan 24: ABC 7’s Bill Ritter will be hosting the local news channel’s annual Operation 7 Save-a-Life campaign program at 7:30 pm. Tune in and check out the Red Cross participation in the special.

Thursday, January 7, 2016

Finding Care and Love After Disaster

On November 30, Brooklyn resident Elsie Rodriguez was beginning her workday when she received a frantic call from her elderly mother. The apartment they lived in together was on fire. Rodriguez immediately rushed home.

When she arrived on scene, she found her mother visibly shaken but unharmed. The building’s residents had gathered at a school across the street where the Red Cross was offering assistance. Preferring to stay with family, Rodriguez and her mother declined their offer of emergency housing and stayed with her sister in Queens.

As for the state of their apartment, their home for the past 40 years, the damage was considerable.

“Nearly everything was destroyed.” Rodriguez recalled.

The next few days would be challenging. Trips to salvage belongings from the apartment and the stress over their uncertain living situation compounded their anxiety. That’s when they were reminded to follow up with the Red Cross.

On her mother’s 80th birthday, a week after the fire, they made the trip to the local Red Cross in Hell's Kitchen and met with their caseworker Lilliam Rivera-Cruz.

With tremendous compassion and reassurance, Lilliam gave them referrals to a local city agency for housing along with clear instructions on what to do next. She also provided them with a debit card to buy food, clothes and other personal items.

Another item they received was a teddy bear; this was meant as a special gesture for Rodriguez’s mother on her birthday. It was this gift that brought a smile to their faces for the first time since the fire.

Seeing her mother clutch the bear, Rodriguez remarked, “Lilliam, is like a family member. The way she conducts herself with caring and love; it really touches us. When she came to my mom, her heart just poured into us, and that’s what you need in a time like this.”

That small teddy bear meant more to the two women than Lilliam could have imagined; it served as a reminder that they were not alone.

Before leaving the Red Cross, Rodriguez spoke of the impact of loosing everything to a fire, “You feel hopeless you don’t know what to do. But today there’s hope.”

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

#GetAlarmedNYC: Looking Back and Moving Forward

By Stan Frank, American Red Cross Greater NY Region

Last year, the American Red Cross in Greater New York joined with the FDNY, Mayor de Blasio, Speaker Viverito and New York City Council Members to launch the #GetAlarmedNYC Campaign, the most ambitious smoke detector campaign in the country. The campaign has a goal of installing up to 100,000 smoke alarms across New York City. The reason is simple: Smoke Alarms Save Lives!

#GetAlarmedNYC, which will run for two years, targets communities with a history of fires or fire deaths in the five boroughs of New York.

Since the campaign launched in the second half of 2015, Red Cross volunteers have installed thousands of free smoke alarms in all five boroughs. The majority of these lifesaving devices were installed during large-scale community events in Bushwick, Brooklyn on October 24; in the Highbridge section of the Bronx on November 14; and in Jackson Heights, Queens on December 5. Red Cross volunteers are scheduled to visit Harlem on January 9 and West Brighton, Staten Island on February 6.

For this campaign, Kidde has donated the state-of-the-art combination smoke/carbon monoxide alarms with built-in sealed batteries that will last for 10 years. Funds for the program are being provided by the City Council, the FDNY Foundation and Red Cross donors.

The key to success in this campaign is the hard work that the trained and dedicated Red Cross volunteers do. They are the ones installing the alarms in homes and apartments and providing important fire education training and educational materials to residents.

A Red Cross volunteer reviewing home fire
escape plans with a Queens family  
On a large-scale installation day, 20 or more teams of 2 or 3 Red Cross volunteers each fan out across a neighborhood. The teams first visit the residences that previously requested an installation. Appointments can be requested by calling 311, 877-RED CROSS or visiting our website, When a Red Cross volunteer arrives at a home, he or she assesses fire risks in the house or apartment, tests existing alarms, replaces batteries if necessary and installs new Kidde alarms as needed. In a small apartment, one or two alarms are usually adequate; in larger homes, more alarms may be required. Once the installations are complete, the volunteers distribute fire safety materials and assist residents in completing home fire escape plans.

While some teams are completing installations, other teams canvas the neighborhood and follow up on leads provided by residents. Usually, once a resident sees how simple and effective installations are, word spreads quickly in the neighborhood and other neighbors and friends request installations. In addition, the Red Cross often works with local groups, churches, elected officials, community leaders, building superintendents and property owner associations to generate leads.

The importance of alarm installations cannot be overstated. In 2014, 68 people died in fires across the five boroughs of New York. Many more were severely injured. The FDNY’s Bureau of Fire Investigations has determined that “up to 70 percent of fire deaths in recent years have occurred in residences where there was no working smoke alarm…either with no alarm present, or missing or dead batteries in a device.”
In short, every fire alarm installed is a potential life saving device!
Help us save lives by volunteering for the #GetAlarmedNYC campaign in your community.

Upcoming events:
  • Harlem (Manhattan): Saturday, January 9, 9:00 a.m. – 4:00 p.m.
  • West Brighton (Staten Island): Saturday, February 6, 9:00 a.m. - 4:00 p.m.
  • Bed-Sty (Brooklyn): Saturday, March 5, 9:00 a.m. - 4:00 p.m.
  • Port Richmond (Staten Island): Saturday, March 19, 9:00 a.m. - 4:00 p.m.
  • St. Albans (Queens): Saturday, April 16, 9:00 a.m. - 4:00 p.m.
  • Melrose (Bronx): Saturday, April 30, 9:00 a.m. - 4:00 p.m.
  • Washington Heights (Manhattan): Saturday, May 14, 9:00 a.m. - 4:00 p.m.
Remember, residents can also sign up to have a smoke alarm installed at any time by calling 1-877-REDCROSS (Option *) or by visiting

Monday, January 4, 2016

In Case You Missed It - Jan 4

Red Cross staff and volunteers in Times Square before New Year's celebration providing support to thousands of police, fire and emergency responders with coffee, hot chocolate, tea, snacks and smiles. (Photo: Vivian Moy)
Over the last 7 days, the Greater New York Red Cross provided emergency assistance to 101 adults and 37 children following 39 local disasters. Here are some highlights from last week and a preview of upcoming activities (see below).

Last Week in Review

Upcoming Events and Opportunities