Written by Robert Rufer, American Red Cross of Coachella Valley/Morongo Basin
Preparation. It’s all about preparation.
So much of what the American Red Cross does is unseen by the public. It’s called preparedness. The Red Cross succeeds by being prepared. By doing all those things behind the scenes that don’t make the headlines. The Red Cross operates all year doing what they do, not just when there is a fire or a disaster.
Chris Ellsworth currently serves as the Disaster Action Team Supervisor and Disaster Services Technology Lead for the American Red Cross of Coachella Valley/Morongo Basin, doing much of the behind-the-scenes work required by the organization.
“Why does a big organization exist to do disaster relief?” Ellsworth asks. “Because you have to be prepared to respond to a disaster. You can’t just say ‘Oh a disaster happened.’ You have to say ‘I need to have vehicles. I need to have stuff. Cots, food, clean up kits, pillow cases. All this has to be already manufactured, packaged, stored, prepared and distributed to get to that situation. You can’t just say, ‘Can we get 10,000 cots tomorrow?’ A manufacturer can’t just snap his fingers and have 10,000 cots delivered to [the relief operation for Hurricane] Harvey. You need to have 10,000 cots produced and sitting in a warehouse in Texas ready to be used.’”
He continues, “That’s what a national organization such as the Red Cross can provide. We have the resources to respond because we’ve taken time to build those up over the years of our operations.”
This is vital work to the Red Cross, but isn’t necessarily something that makes the nightly news.
Ellsworth tells this story: Two elderly gentlemen share a mobile home in Morongo Valley. One had severe mobility issues because he had lost a leg. He occupied the back bedroom.
He quotes the client, “Yeah, couple weeks back the Red Cross came through our community and did these smoke alarms and talked to us about evacuation plans. It got me thinking. My friend is severely disabled. If there was a fire, I would not be able to get him out of the house in time. He would die. Because you guys came through with the Sound the Alarm event and talked to me about being prepared, I rearranged my house for my friend to live near the front door of the house.”
Ellsworth says, “So they had thought about how to respond because the Red Cross had been there. They had changed how they live to better respond to a potential disaster.”
And they did have a fire. Fortunately, both were out of town when it struck.
Returning to their damaged home, the client said, “If you guys had not come through and we would have been home that night, my friend would have been dead in his bed. There was no way I could have gotten him out.”
As Ellsworth says, “It is one of those stories that really shows why community outreach and the smoke alarm kind of events are important. You may never hear about them, but you look back and go: ‘Wow, we really do something.’”
Ellsworth moved to the Coachella Valley about six years ago because it is close enough to his business interests in Los Angeles and yet not too far from his family in Phoenix, where he grew up. And also because it is close to nature where he hikes with a local hiking club and camps.
An avid hiker, Ellsworth has seen wildfire burn areas up close. The Willow Creek Trail, which was closed because of the Mountain Fire five or six years ago, just re-opened last November.
“You think that the fire burns everything within the borders. Everything inside the burn area. Yet, there were areas that were untouched. Fires don’t get everything. They get some things. That really opened my eyes.”
Ellsworth likes being part of the community that is the Red Cross. That there is a place for everyone. “If you have a desire to help, I’m sure we can find a spot for you,” he says.
“One of our volunteers out here is retired from managing technology for a county and is now deployed to larger relief operations throughout the U.S. to run the computers.”
If your hobby is ham radio, the Red Cross needs you because often in a major disaster the power and infrastructure is down so cell phones no longer function.
Or maybe you want to get out of your day-to-day job and do something completely different, like the doctor who drives a fork lift.
“What keeps me here? The impact we’re having on the individuals we help,” says Ellsworth. “The support provided to people who are displaced. You are providing a definite need. That warm fuzzy feeling you get when you help someone who needed it.”
Ellsworth encourages everyone to take stock of their own situation. “In case of emergency, do you know where your spouse works? If your spouse doesn’t answer their phone, do you know how to get a hold of their boss or their co-workers? Think of other ways to get a hold of that person. How am I going to respond to an emergency? What would I have to do? Who do I need to call? It’s not a fun thing to think about, but it is something that everyone should do.”
Because remember – it’s all about preparation.
For more information on how you can prepare yourself and your family for disasters big and small, visit preparesocal.org.