Restoring Family Links Helps Families Torn Apart by the Holocaust

Georgia Hunter Family pic

Holocaust Remembrance Day Is April 16, 2015

A special event on April 16 from 4PM to 6PM will commemorate the day and cap a program aimed at encouraging Holocaust survivors to share their stories with youth. The program, held in Washington, D.C., is also available online. For more information about the program and to register for the April 16 live-stream event, visit 

Restoring Family Links Helps Woman Learn Her Family’s Holocaust History

On June 6, 1944, Allied forces stormed the beaches of Normandy, France, and attacked Adolf Hitler’s German forces in World War II. Thousands of American, British, and Canadian forces lost their lives in the intense fighting, but eventually the Allied forces won the battle. This marked a turning point in World War II, putting a crack in Hitler’s control of France. One year later, the Germans would surrender, ending the war in Europe and later in the Pacific and putting an end to the Holocaust.

When remembering the Holocaust this month and the millions who lost their lives, let’s take a moment to also remember how the Red Cross has helped our nation and the world heal from this tragedy. The American Red Cross has been providing tracing services for victims of WWII and the Nazi regime since 1939. Following the release of WWII documents to the Red Cross in 1989, the American Red Cross opened its Holocaust and War Victims Tracing Center (HWVTC), in Baltimore, Maryland, in 1990 to facilitate Holocaust Tracing requests. Over the years, the American Red Cross has worked with the international Red Cross network to reconnect family members separated by conflict, war and disaster. Since 1990, the American Red Cross has helped more than 45,000 families locate or find information about people separated by the Holocaust.

While the American Red Cross Holocaust and War Victims Tracing Center closed in 2012, all WWII related casework was transitioned to the Restoring Family Links Program at Red Cross national headquarters in Washington, D.C., where services continue.

How The American Red Cross Helps

Search for missing family members

Get documentation on the wartime and post-wartime experiences of family members or yourself. Access is provided to the complete records of the International Tracing Service and hundreds of other archives.

Obtain documents pertaining to:

  • Deportation
  • Internment
  • Evacuation to former Soviet territories
  • Forced and slave labor
  • Other records needed for restitution

Georgia Hunter’s Story Illustrates What Uncovering One’s Family History Can Mean

Georgia Hunter Family pic

For Georgia Hunter, finding out about her unusual family history began when she was given a homework assignment by a high school English teacher. The assignment was to do an “I-Search” to look back at her ancestry.  Her mother suggested she begin her search by speaking with her grandmother. Little did Georgia know what that conversation would reveal. Georgia’s grandfather had recently died and the story her grandmother began to share was not something she had ever imagined. She learned that her grandfather was both Polish and Jewish, not something she remembered having heard before. She was struck by how difficult his life had been. Georgia’s grandmother encouraged her to speak to her grandfather’s siblings to find more pieces of the story. Her interest was sparked well beyond that high school project and in 2000, when Georgia was a new college graduate, she found herself at a family reunion on Martha’s Vineyard attended by all of her grandfather’s siblings, her grandmother and various cousins and relatives she had not met before. Georgia recalls sitting at the table listening to snippets of stories about her grandfather and the other siblings and how they survived the war with determination, courage, cleverness and amazing good fortune. It is a story that spans five continents and has many twists and turns.

Georgia continued to collect family stories, traveling many miles to put to put them all together. She found the memories had holes here and there; understandably after all the time that had passed, many details are fuzzy and pieces forgotten.

Georgia contacted the Polish Red Cross by mail in 2011, in hopes of tracking down family records. Though several years passed, last fall an envelope filled with documents arrived at the local Red Cross office in Bridgeport, Connecticut. Georgia received a call from a Restoring Family Links caseworker in Connecticut and soon received the records sent by the Polish Red Cross. They included birth certificates from a Registry Office in Radom (the family’s hometown in Poland); applications for identification cards during Radom’s Nazi occupation, marked with the seal of the Supreme Council of Elders of the Jewish Population; and a record of a sibling registered as a survivor in 1946 with the Jewish Historical Institute in Warsaw. These records, from all over Poland, not just the family’s hometown of Radom, provide a few more pieces of history, forgotten no longer,  now documented, tangible.

There are fewer and fewer Holocaust survivors left to tell their stories so now is the time to preserve the memories and encourage those of future generations to search for the missing pieces. The American Red Cross Restoring Family Links program provides tracing services for Holocaust survivors and their families, working to provide hope, information and answers. Family tracing services are free of charge. For more information contact your local Red Cross at 1-800-REDCROSS.

Left to right: Jan Radke, Senior Director of Military and International Services with the American Red Cross Connecticut and Rhode Island Region and Connecticut resident Georgia Hunter hold family history documents provided to Georgia through the American Red Cross Restoring Family Links program.

Left to right: Jan Radke, Senior Director of Military and International Services with the American Red Cross Connecticut and Rhode Island Region and Connecticut resident Georgia Hunter hold family history documents provided to Georgia through the American Red Cross Restoring Family Links program.

To learn more about Georgia’s story, visit her website at For more on the Restoring Family Links program, visit

Call To Action: Help the American Red Cross Vaccinate Against Measles!

Measels Rubella Banner 950x280-act-LP-a-spot-4

photo: Measles and Rubella Initiative


By Red Cross volunteer Emily Esposito

With the recent outbreak of measles in the United States, vaccination and disease prevention has become a topic of discussion in the news, medical communities and living rooms across the county. There is no better time to talk about measles and rubella vaccinations and how to protect children from these serious infectious diseases.

Although Measles was eliminated from the U.S. in 2000, outbreaks like this most recent one can happen when unvaccinated people travel to the United States. Because the measles is so contagious (more than 90 percent of unvaccinated people exposed to Measles will get the disease) it is critical to vaccinate against measles.

The American Red Cross has worked to vaccinate against and eliminate the disease for the past 15 years as part of its Measles and Rubella Initiative. This Initiative, led by the American Red Cross and its global partners, aims to ensure that no child dies from Measles or is born with Congenital Rubella Syndrome. Under this Initiative, the Red Cross has helped vaccinate over a billion children around the world!MRubellaInitiativeLogo754x349

What can you do to help vaccinate children? You can donate to the Red Cross and learn more at the Measles & Rubella Initiative’s website:

You can alRed Cross Vaccinate a Village logoso learn about and participate in the Vaccinate a Village program that raises funds for and awareness of the Measles and Rubella Initiative. This is a perfect way for children and youth to become help their peers across the world.

To take action and learn more click here!

Red Cross Honors Heroes in Stamford January 30


Each year, the American Red Cross Connecticut Chapter honors community heroes that make a difference in the lives of others. This year’s honorees are profiled here. The Heroes Breakfast is Friday, January 30, at 7:30 a.m. at the Stamford Marriott Hotel & Spa, 243 Tresser Boulevard in Stamford. Our Emcee is Tom Appleby, News Director and Anchor with News 12 Connecticut. Statewide Presenting Sponsor of the Heroes Breakfast is Wells Fargo.

For more information or tickets, click here.

Workplace Hero – GE

GE Logo

GE is being honored for its commitment to supporting American Red Cross disaster relief work and programs as well as its outstanding philanthropic and volunteer commitment to communities across Connecticut and the nation.

GE has been one of the most generous supporters of the American Red Cross Annual Disaster Giving Program, helping the Red Cross respond immediately to help people affected by disasters anywhere, any time. GE has been one of the most valuable partners, supporting the Red Cross capacity to respond when needed.

GE employees are generous as well, supporting the Red Cross with volunteer hours and gifts of blood donations.

Locally, GE employees have helped to package disaster relief supplies and provided stuffed animals for children affected by disaster. And Global HR Operations Leader Susan Beauregard serves on the Board of the Connecticut Chapter, lending time and skills to Red Cross operations here in the state.

In the last six months alone, GE employees have donated more than 1,500 units of lifesaving blood. And in the past five years, GE employees have donated more than 30,000 units of blood at more than 1,000 drives across the nation. And GE employees gave more than $350,000 last year to support American Red Cross disaster relief.

“GE understands that resilient communities rely on the active participation of business partners as well as individuals,” said American Red Cross Connecticut and Rhode Island Region CEO Mario Bruno. “They set a high bar in corporate leadership that helps to make our communities better, safer places to live and work.”


Military Hero – Alfred Meadows

Alfred Meadows (3)Alfred Meadows, of Huntington, is a U.S. Army veteran and Purple Heart Medal recipient who served in both the Republic of Korea and Vietnam conflicts. He is also the founder of “Operation Gift Cards,” which has presented more than 17,000 thank you kits valued at more than $800,000 to wounded troops and military support groups.

Since October 2005, Operation Gift Cards volunteers have made 114 visits to wounded troops and their families at the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland. They have presented gift certificates from the “PX” military department store; donated goods, including Girl Scout cookies, refurbished laptop computers and corporate gift certificates; as well as specific “wish list” items requested by patients. Nearly 300 representatives from 70 co-sponsoring organizations have participated in the visits.

Although Meadows has been an advocate for veterans for more than 30 years, Operation Gift Cards is the largest and longest-running project he has been involved with. Meadows said he feels “honored and thankful” that Operation Gift Cards has received recognition. He said the program has been the ongoing effort of not only an extremely dedicated committee, but also a group of 275 volunteers who have participated in the two-day trips to visit the wounded troops, as well as the thousands of individual donors, and the 70 organizations who have contributed funds and items.

These donations have been delivered to several facilities and partners at Walter Reed, including the Red Cross office there and have been distributed to many people, brightening their stay at the facility.

Mossberg LogoSponsored by O.F. Mossberg & Sons


Life Saving Heroes – David Ellis, Ian Chasnow, Joseph Bairaktaris, Jr.

David Ellis & Joseph Bairaktaris Jr. (3)The quick thinking and collaborative actions of Town of Westport employees David Ellis, Ian Chasnow and Joseph Bairaktaris Jr., saved the life of co-worker “Doc” Kashka who suffered a heart attack at work.

On the evening of May 31 2014, Joseph Bairaktaris, Jr., and David Ellis were working the main gate at the Ned Dimes Marina on Compo Beach. Joseph took a walk to the marina across the play fields and basketball courts. Encountering Doc on his walk, Bairaktaris stopped and talked briefly, Kashka joking as he normally does.

After their conversation, Bairaktaris started to walk toward the marina across the parking lot. He reports that he then heard a woman talking on her phone who seemed worried about something. Bairaktaris says the woman began to run toward the basketball courts, so he followed.

Upon reaching the courts, he found Doc Kashka lying on the ground with people around him. Ian Chasnow was giving Kashka chest compressions. Bairaktaris, who recently completed his Emergency Medical Technician training, rushed to help with CPR so Chasnow could take a break. Their Supervisor, David Ellis, called 911 and also rushed to help with CPR. After approximately 10 minutes, emergency responders arrived with an AED and began care.

In a citation honoring the men for their actions in saving their colleague, Westport First Selectman James Marpe cited the group’s swift and professional actions displaying “extraordinary composure.”

In the face of a dire situation, Marpe said, Ellis, Chasnow and Bairaktaris saved the life of their co-worker, demonstrating calm, presence of mind and “a high level of excellence” that has made Westport “forever grateful.”

Wells Fargo

Sponsored by Wells Fargo


Water Safety Hero – Brenda Morataya

Brenda Morataya (4)Nineteen-year-old Brenda Morataya’s lifeguard training and skills saved a swimmer’s life. Morataya, a second-year business student at UConn-Stamford and aspiring prosecutor, was working as a lifeguard at Cummings Beach in Stamford last August when she pulled a drowning 16-year-old New Jersey resident from the water.

Late in the afternoon of August 6, Morataya noticed a teen bobbing in the water offshore. A story in the Stamford Daily Voice reported that the teen, not a strong swimmer, had been spotted by his younger brother who was swimming toward him when Morataya, not yet sure of any danger, said her training told her to investigate the situation and she entered the water. She soon learned the swimmer was in distress and told the Stamford Daily Voice, “I did what I had to do. I just did what my natural instinct was.”

Morataya reached the boy, who was disoriented and breathing with difficulty due to the amount of water he had swallowed. Morataya reached under the teen’s arms and brought him to shore. Two other lifeguards, Richard Glass and Leann Moy, helped in the rescue. The teen was rushed to Stamford Hospital where he received care and has since recovered.

Carmody Law

Sponsored by Carmody Torrance Sandak & Hennessey LLP


Community Resilience Hero – City of Norwalk

CITYSEALThe City of Norwalk has done an outstanding job creating multiple programs to better support its citizens and infrastructure in preparedness, response, and recovery – key milestones in the disaster cycle. The City’s commitment to building a resilient community has made it a strong and valued partner in the development and implementation of readiness and response programs.

The City of Norwalk was selected as a pilot site for the American Red Cross Pillowcase Project for schoolchildren. The project uses age-appropriate instruction and materials to help elementary school students in grades 3-5 prepare for disasters and share educational information with their families and friends to support family and community preparedness. Students receive a sturdy pillowcase that they decorate and personalize during the program and upon completion are encouraged to take the pillowcase home and build their personal emergency supplies kit.

The City of Norwalk involves all local departments in monthly safety meetings to allow for better preparedness and coordination throughout the community. The City has made great strides to increase volunteerism and community information sharing. The new Emergency Operations Center was the premier site for the Disaster Boot Camp trainings sponsored by the Red Cross in partnership with VolunteerSquare to increase trained volunteer responders for the Red Cross and other area organizations.

The Norwalk Office of Emergency Management and Police Department also maintain a strong presence in social media to push more real-time information to citizens in an emergency. Additionally, the City of Norwalk maintains a Long-Term Recovery Committee since Hurricane Sandy affected the area two years ago and continues to identify and meet individual and community needs.

“The City’s commitment to building a safer, more resilient community and its willingness to work with partners to support this goal makes them an outstanding partner,” said American Red Cross Senior Director of Emergency Services Kristen Binau. “Norwalk is helping ensure a safer future for its residents.”


Spirit of the Red Cross – Echo Hose Hook and Ladder Company 1

echohosefireco.The work of Echo Hose Hook and Ladder Company 1 during and after a major fire on Howe Avenue in Shelton last January saved and changed the lives of people living in the multi-unit building. The 150-year old mixed-use building burned to the ground on a freezing winter night.

Echo Hose Captain Mike Plavcan recounted the events of that freezing night when the Shelton firefighters were dispatched near midnight on January 5 for an activated alarm within a mixed occupancy building. Upon arrival, units were alerted to a broken water pipe in the building, but soon after discovered a basement fire in one of the businesses. Heavy smoke billowed out of multiple apartments above the businesses. Multiple occupants were trapped inside the apartments.

A coordinated effort was made by all crewmembers to successfully evacuate a total of 28 residents. Five of those residents were directly rescued and the other 23 were assisted to safety within the first few moments of the rapidly progressing fire, which had spread throughout the walls and all floors of the -old building, speeded by the balloon-frame wood construction.

Shelton Firefighters and many mutual aid firefighters from nearby communities contributed significantly fighting the early morning fire, but the direct actions of the Echo Hose members kept a devastating fire from becoming a tragedy. Plavcan said the quick, decisive and courageous actions of the Echo Hose members were instrumental in the survival of the trapped residents.

Following the massive blaze, the members of the Echo Hose began relief efforts for the victims displaced at the fire. The Howe Avenue Relief Fund was started after the firehouse was inundated with donations of food, clothes, gift cards and money to help the 28 people who were displaced.

Plavcan says the members of the Echo Hose Hook and Ladder “are very grateful to be nominated for this award.” He notes that, while the firefighters see the response as part of their work, they are nevertheless “very grateful to be nominated” for the award. He says the Howe Avenue fire is one that the firefighters will not forget, “not because of how bad the fire was, but because of the tremendous outreach by the community” following the fire.

Protect Yourself From Wind and Cold: Red Cross Tips

The National Weather Service has issued a wind chill advisory for the entire state for tonight and tomorrow morning. Wind chills of 10 below zero and more in different parts of the state could cause frostbite as a result of prolonged exposure. Take steps to prevent exposure by limiting time outside and dressing appropriately when you do go outside. Our friends at the Wisconsin Chapters of the American Red Cross, who know a thing or two about extremely cold weather, have put together some good information on frostbite and hypothermia. We are sharing that here to help you avoid serious harm.

Frostbite and Hypothermia 
Frostbite and hypothermia are cold-related emergencies that may quickly become life or limb threatening. Preventing cold-related emergencies includes not starting an activity in, on or around cold water unless you know you can get help quickly in an emergency. Be aware of the wind chill. Dress appropriately and avoid staying in the cold too long. Wear a hat – preferably one that also covers your ears – and gloves when appropriate with layers of clothing. Drink plenty of warm fluids or warm water but avoid caffeine and alcohol. Stay active to maintain body heat. Take frequent breaks from the cold. Avoid unnecessary exposure of any part of the body to the cold. Get out of the cold immediately if the signals of hypothermia or frostbite appear.

Frostbite is the freezing of a specific body part such as fingers, toes, the nose or ear lobes. Wind chill can affect the amount of time you may safely remain outside in cold weather.

NOAA Wind Chill Chart

Wind chill contributes to frostbite risk.

Signals of frostbite include lack of feeling in the affected area; skin that appears waxy, is cold to the touch, or is discolored (flushed, white or gray, yellow or blue).


Frostbite image

Frostbite damage to skin.

What to do for frostbite:

  • Move the person to a warm place.
  • Handle the area gently; never rub the affected area.
  • Warm gently by soaking the affected area in warm water (100–105 degrees F) until it appears red and feels warm.
  • Loosely bandage the area with dry, sterile dressings.
  • If the person’s fingers or toes are frostbitten, place dry, sterile gauze between them to keep them separated.
  • Avoid breaking any blisters.
  • Do not allow the affected area to refreeze.
  • Seek professional medical care as soon as possible.

Hypothermia is another cold-related emergency. Hypothermia may quickly become life threatening. Hypothermia is caused by the cooling of the body caused by the failure of the body’s warming system. The goals of first aid are to restore normal body temperature and to care for any conditions while waiting for EMS personnel.

Signals of hypothermia include shivering, numbness, glassy stare; apathy, weakness, impaired judgment; loss of consciousness.

What to do for hypothermia:

  • Call 911.
  • Gently move the person to a warm place.
  • Monitor breathing and circulation.
  • Give rescue breathing and CPR if needed.
  • Remove any wet clothing and dry the person.
  • Warm the person slowly by wrapping in blankets or by putting dry clothing on the person. Hot water bottles and chemical hot packs may be used when first wrapped in a towel or blanket before applying. Do not warm the person too quickly, such as by immersing him or her in warm water. Rapid warming may cause dangerous heart arrhythmias. Warm the core first (trunk, abdomen), not the extremities (hands, feet). This is important to mention because most people will try to warm hands and feet first and that can cause shock.

Fall Back Safely When You Reset Your Clocks


We turn the clocks back on Saturday night, marking the end of Daylight Saving Time. When the clocks “fall back,” it’s a great time to fall back on some important safety routines.

Replace batteries in your smoke and carbon monoxide alarms. If you have a smoke alarm with removable batteries, it’s a good idea to replace them regularly. Doing it when you “fall back” or “spring forward” assures that you have an easy-to-remember date to change batteries and check your smoke alarm. If your alarms are older, it’s a good idea to consider replacing them. Smoke alarms should be replaced every 10 years. Many newer models have permanent, long-life batteries. When you need to replace the batteries, you simply replace the unit, assuring you always have a functioning smoke alarm. When installing a new smoke alarm, write in marker on the alarm the date it was installed.

Remember, that you should have a smoke alarm on each level of your home, in hallways outside bedrooms and one in each bedroom. Follow the manufacturer’s instructions when installing your alarms. More information about smoke alarms is available here.

When you’ve tested your alarms, replaced the batteries or updated the smoke alarms, spend some time reviewing your emergency preparedness.

Check your emergency supplies kit. Make sure that any first aid and food items are not expired and in need of replacement. Test and replace if needed the batteries in your portable radio and flashlights. Use the Red Cross emergency supplies kit checklist to make sure you have the items you need in your kit.

Check and practice your escape and communications plans. In the event of a home fire, you might only have two minutes to escape your home. If you and your family are organized and know the plan, it can help reduce panic, speed escape and save lives. Do you know multiple escape routes from the rooms in your home? Do you have pre-arranged spots to meet safely outside? Do you have a communication plan to reach each other or someone else in an emergency? Check out our resources for developing a disaster preparedness plan.

Use technology to help you prepare and stay informed. Red Cross apps for your smartphone can help with first aid, storm preparedness and much more. Check them out and download the free apps today!

Think International Humanitarian Law Doesn’t Matter to You? Think Again!


photo: American Red Cross


by Emily Esposito

According to a recent American Red Cross Survey, only about half of adults and less than a quarter of young Americans are familiar with the Geneva Conventions and International Humanitarian Law (IHL). Maybe even more surprising, more than half of adults and our nation’s youth think that torturing enemy soldiers is acceptable at least some of the time. And more than a third of Americans (young people included) believe that torturing a captured American soldier is acceptable at least sometimes.

You might ask why IHL should matter to you or if it should matter that most Americans don’t know what IHL is. Americans serving in the military or living abroad could be protected under IHL. The American Red Cross has information and resources to help you understand what IHL is and how it affects you.

What is IHL? IHL is a set of rules that regulates the conduct of armed conflict to protect civilians, aid workers, prisoners of war, and wounded soldiers. Most of these rules are listed in the Geneva Conventions, drafted after WWII and ratified by most countries, including the United States.

Does IHL Matter?  IHL protects people affected by conflict across the globe. While fighting and war on American soil hasn’t taken place in years, that doesn’t mean Americans aren’t immune to conflict and war crimes. Most of us know at least one American soldier who is or could be deployed to fight in a conflict abroad or an American living abroad (think study abroad students, aid workers, diplomats, etc.) that could all be protected under IHL should a conflict erupt.

If armed conflict broke out in your country, civilians not taking part in the conflict (likely your own family) would be protected against violence, would not be taken hostage and could receive aid from a Red Cross society. Do you have family members or friends in the military? Under the Geneva Conventions, wounded soldiers would be given treatment and never tortured.

The U.S., along with many nations around the world, has ratified the Geneva Conventions and many of the subsequent protocols that update the Conventions. Whatever your views on torture or IHL, the U.S. has agreed to abide by certain principles under the Conventions. These principles help to preserve human life and protect civilians around the world. Humanitarian principles are at the core of the Red Cross mission; the Red Cross works to raise awareness of and respect for International Humanitarian Law through education programs and activities. To learn more about IHL, visit the American Red Cross IHL web page.

To volunteer for the Red Cross visit

Emily Esposito is an International and Military Services volunteer with the American Red Cross Connecticut and Rhode Island Region. 

Tropical Storm Arthur Reminds Us to Prepare

By Mario Bruno, CEO, American Red Cross Connecticut and Rhode Island Region

While we all look forward to the holiday weekend, Tropical Storm Arthur has formed in the Atlantic off the coast of Florida, becoming the first named storm of Hurricane season. Although the storm is not forecast to bring hurricane conditions our area, Arthur is a reminder that we are vulnerable to hurricanes and severe weather here in New England. So, while we may have a slightly wet Fourth of July, consider this an opportunity to check your readiness without the pressure of an impending storm.

You don’t have to think too far back to remember some major storms in our area. From the February 2013 blizzard, to Hurricane Sandy, the October snowstorm of 2011 and Hurricane Irene, we have seen weather disrupt our daily lives and cause serious property damage.

Some of these storms brought storm surges to coastal areas or downed trees. In several cases, prolonged power outages affected many communities. So take a few minutes to think about the impacts you faced at home or at work and consider how you can make yourself more resilient in the face of future storms.

Planning now will help you better cope with emergencies. The American Red Cross has information and tools to help you prepare. Most tasks are simple and can be broken down into smaller steps that won’t be a burden. Start with the three most basic building blocks – a kit, a plan and knowledge about the risks in your community:

  • Create an emergency preparedness kit with food and water, and other basic supplies for each family member to last at least three days. Remember to include essential medications, copies of important documents and special items for children and pets. 
  • Plan what to do in case you are separated from your family during an emergency and what to do if you have to evacuate. Coordinate with your child’s school, your work and community’s emergency plans.
  • Be informed about what disasters or emergencies may occur where you live, work, play and pray, and how to respond as safely as possible. Find out how local officials will contact you during a disaster and how you will get important information. 

To help you through those three steps, here are some resources: 

  • Download any of the Red Cross free disaster-specific mobile apps—particularly the Hurricane and First Aid apps—to get lifesaving preparedness information in the palm of your hand before and during emergencies. Red Cross apps can be found in the Apple App Store and the Google Play Store for Android by searching for American Red Cross or by going to
  • Visit the Preparedness section of for life-saving information, tools and tips to help you prepare for emergencies.  
  • Get free checklists and downloadable tips at
  • Use the Red Cross Ready Rating™ Program ( It’s a free, web-based program designed to help businesses, organizations and schools to become better prepared. Members complete a self assessment of their current readiness level and receive immediate, customized feedback with resources to improve preparedness. First Aid Emergency Drills help businesses train their staff for emergencies and disasters.  

Preparation is the best protection against the dangers of a hurricane or other disaster. A few simple steps now will pay big dividends when the next storm hits.

Are You Ready for Hurricane Season?

Volunteer Jason Harris writes today’s blog post. Jason, a new volunteer with the Red Cross, is putting some of his personal experience with hurricanes and his interest to good use in suggesting some basic ideas for personal preparedness.

Hurricane season began June 1. Are you ready? Have you made a Hurricane Preparedness List? Everyone should have a plan, no matter if you live on the coast or inland, because power outages can happen anywhere. I know it can seem a daunting task, but it doesn’t have to be. I’ve done it and will give you some tips to prepare based on my personal experiences. For details, I will provide links to online resources, because if I write about everything this blog post will start looking like a college term paper.

Check and organize your supplies in a space where they're easy to reach.

Check and organize supplies in an easy to reach space.

To get started, I thought about how I had prepared for storms in the past. I had gotten my water, batteries and non-perishable items together, but really not anything else. I know I didn’t get enough water to sustain me, my wife and our two cats. You don’t want to forget about your animals. They will need food and water as well. Before doing research for this post, I didn’t know you should have a three-day supply of water on-hand. This means a gallon of water per day per family member. During Hurricane Irene, my wife and I were without power for nine days. I used water from our bathtub, which we filled before losing power, to flush the toilet. I also retrieved water from the creek down the street to sustain our water supply. I didn’t drink the water from the creek, but it did come in handy for toilet water, stretching our drinking water supply. Remember also that you don’t have to purchase bottled water. You can easily fill empty containers or soda bottles before a storm.

Disaster Mitigation

Take time to know your risks and make a plan.

When you put together your non-perishable food items such as ready-to-eat canned meats, fruits and vegetables, make sure you have a manual can opener to open those cans since electric ones won’t work without power.

Another good device to have on hand is a multi-tool. The tool’s name says it all. These multi-tools can include a can opener, knife, pliers and a screwdriver to name just a few of the items you can find in this one awesome tool. If MacGyver was still airing on television, he would have replaced his Swiss Army knife with a modern multi-tool.

You will also need flashlights, a battery-powered or hand-crank radio and an extra supply of batteries for the flashlights and radio. If you have rechargeable batteries, make sure they are charged up before the storm hits. Make sure cell phones are charged as well. You may want to invest in a portable power station, the kind advertised for jumping car batteries. Many of these units come with an LED work light and USB power port, and can be useful for charging cell phones and tablet computers. I have used mine more to charge my cellphone and my wife’s phone more than to jump my car battery.

And here’s another tip that can easily be overlooked. Make sure to have cash on hand because if the power goes out, credit cards and ATMs will be useless.

My wife and I weathered our nine days after Hurricane Irene with a lot of books, flashlights and trips to our families’ houses, as they owned generators. We learned a lot, and will be better prepared next time.

If you want to make a plan, check out for more information. The Red Cross web page on Hurricanes will provide information to help you prepare for and cope with a hurricane. And there are lots of links to other resources like the Red Cross Hurricane App for your phone.

Red Cross Disaster Response Puts it All in Perspective

By Jennifer Callahan, Disaster Workforce Engagement Manager, American Red Cross Connecticut and Rhode Island Region

On Thursday, January 17, I was honored to be part of the Red Cross response to a partial building collapse in Meriden. The residents had been displaced the previous day and were housed by the City of Meriden. The City established a space at a local hotel where displaced residents could meet with Red Cross Disaster Action Team volunteers to assess other needs and provide some basic personal care items to the 17 families affected by the disaster.

The day was filled with surprises. Nothing can quite prepare you for the positive outlook some of our clients have, even in the face of such uncertainty. All of these families have lost belongings, some temporarily and some permanently. Each family is currently looking for a new place to live in the middle of the coldest winter in years. Disaster Action Team member Ginny Brezza and I met with a couple that has already been through a great deal of uncertainty and adversity. The gentleman has been facing many challenging health issues for over 20 years. He has conquered brain tumors for most of his life. This couple also has a 5-year-old son and a family who loves them very much. When Ginny and I complimented them on their positive outlook, they told us that when you’ve been through what they have been through, “this is nothing.” They had gone back into their apartment with a chaperone and retrieved the things that are impossible to replace: their wedding album, her grandmother’s engagement ring, her parents’ wedding album. They told us, “The rest is just stuff, and stuff can be replaced.” As we were wrapping up, we told the couple that we’re not worried about them at all, as their positive attitudes will surely carry the day for them. As our Red Cross team was leaving about an hour later, the gentleman was bringing two huge boxes of toys through the hotel lobby. When he saw us, he laughed and said, “See? We’re already getting presents!”

We had a rotating group of families in our Emergency Response Vehicle and at one point in the day volunteers Tom McKee, Ginny Brezza and I had a veritable comedy show going on. The clients appreciated our lightheartedness almost as much as we appreciated theirs. Sometimes a kind word or a laugh at just the right time makes all the difference.

I am grateful that I had the opportunity to witness the caring and compassionate nature of our volunteers firsthand and I look forward to many more opportunities to do so. My eyes filled with tears more than a few times, which I will consider an occupational hazard.

A big thank you to volunteers Ginny Brezza, Andrew Curtis, Lionel Dunlap, John Glendon, Barbara LaFreniere, Tom McKee, Laurie Murphy and Area 2 (South Central Connecticut) Senior Emergency Services Director Sue Parker for their great teamwork!

Area 2 Senior Emergency Services Director Sue Parker’s team included volunteers from both Area 2 and 3 (Central and Northern Connecticut), who worked as one cohesive team and got the job done. The fact that we managed to have some laughs and to talk about the news of the day helped a great deal, but I know that was only possible because we have the world’s best volunteers. It is our volunteers who make us the greatest organization on earth. Thank you for stepping up day after day and night after night. We would be nothing without your dedication and we salute the sacrifices you make in the service of those in need.

Get involved! To learn more about Red Cross volunteering, click here.

Help Now: Become a Red Cross Disaster Mental Health Volunteer

If you are a licensed mental health professional with a desire to help people, the American Red Cross has a fulfilling volunteer opportunity for you. Join us to support people who have been impacted by residential fires, disasters and other emergencies.

American Red Cross disaster response includes an important emotional support and mental health component aimed at helping people to cope with the emotionally difficult nature of disasters and to begin their own recovery.

There are a variety of ways to help and time commitments to choose from. The first step? Register and learn more here.