American Red Cross Visits NORTHCOM, Discusses Wildfire Operations, Disaster Preparedness

By Air Force Master Sgt. Chuck Marsh NORAD-USNORTHCOM Public Affairs

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Several leaders from the Pikes Peak Chapter of the American Red Cross recently visited the North American Aerospace Defense Command and U.S. Northern Command headquarters building to discuss their operations during two major local wildfires and provide insight to their ‘disaster cycle’ of preparedness, response and recovery. Alternatively, they put out a request for volunteers as the 2014 wildfire season heats up.

“The life and soul of the American Red Cross are our volunteers,” said ARC Community Preparedness and Resilience Lead and military spouse Heather Kraus. “And we have a huge tie with the military, especially in this area and especially with the disasters that have happened here in the past few years.”  

Howard Donaldson, NORAD-USNORTHCOM judge advocate office and proponent for volunteering with the ARC, was the first guest speaker, testifying as a beneficiary of the assistance from the Pikes Peak Chapter of the American Red Cross in 2012 when wildfires ripped through Waldo Canyon, Colo., destroying his home and possessions.

“My wife, Sally, and I are so thankful to the ARC for being there when we needed them,” said Donaldson. “They parked out front of where our house used to be and provided us with snacks, water and moral support during that trying time.”

The Donaldson’s story is only one of hundreds who lost their homes and possessions in the deadly fires engulfing not just Waldo Canyon, but just a year later, Black Forest just north of Colorado Springs as well.

Donaldson spoke of preparedness stating he and his family were covered, but many weren’t – a message Kraus echoed. 

“We’ve seen a lot of people just not prepared for events such as the fires, but we are working hard to promote the ‘Be Red Cross Ready’ program with presentations, booth events and emergency drills nationwide,” said Kraus. “In the training we highlight the disaster cycle which contains three phases: Prepare, where we encourage people to take courses and be informed; Respond, where we encourage people to volunteer and use their expertise to help those in need, and finally Recover, which is difficult, but if they were to heed the preparations they are ready to move forward.

“We help people with their immediate needs, but we also help with long-term recovery,” said Kraus. “We move the right stuff to the right people at the right time. It sounds like logistics because it is. That’s what we do. And that’s where we need more of you – we have the equipment, but we always need more trained staff to help move and distribute goods.”

Pat Chappell, ARC National Headquarters Liaison Officer to NORAD-NORTHCOM, rhetorically asked the more than 20 attendees when they thought the right time to prepare was.

“It’s not in the middle of a disaster,” Chappell exclaimed. “That’s not the time to prepare or get ready for help. We are here now to be proactive and recruit for volunteers and get them trained. This briefing here at building two is us trying to spread the word that we’re here and to see who is interested in helping our community. For those of you who are, we’re here to train you.”

Bob Sommers, NORAD-NORTHCOM J9, ended the briefing telling the group that now is the time to get the training done, reflecting on his personal experience with watching the Black Forest fire.

“I remember looking outside and watching the initial plumes of dark grey smoke from the Black Forest Fire starting to show,” said Sommers. “It was amazing to me how fast the fire then blew up. That just cements to me how fast things go. Let’s train now on blue-sky days so we can be prepared for the grey-sky days.”

Today, the supporters, volunteers and employees of the American Red Cross provide care in five critical areas: people affected by disasters in America; support for members of the military and their families; blood collection, processing and distribution; health and safety education and training and international relief and development, and help is always welcomed.

Anyone interested in volunteering with the ARC can gather more information and sign up to volunteer online at www.redcross.org.