By Brett Ashley Hawkins
Most people are aware of the American Red Cross. They see their ads on TV and even donate blood to that organization, especially after a well-publicized disaster. Commuters traveling northbound on the 405 Freeway likely see the large mural of the American Red Cross (ARC) Greater Long Beach Chapter near the freeway’s Lakewood Boulevard exit.
However, most people probably wouldn’t be able to explain the organization’s function in emergency situations. Instead, their responses are usually boiled down to “they help others” or “they have blood drives at local schools and parishes.”
As a part of March being Red Cross Month, Nancy C. Kindelan, chief executive officer of the ARC’s Greater Long Beach Chapter, hosted an open house for donors and community members last week. In attendance were several volunteers and members of the board of directors, and Chief Alan Patalano of the Long Beach Fire Department. At the event, Jo Bracken, chairperson of the chapter’s board, opened a disaster-relief simulation by mentioning that a disaster’s occurrence is a matter of when it will happen rather than “if” it will happen.
“Our chapter covers nine cities of Artesia, Bellflower, Cerritos, Lakewood, Long Beach, Catalina Island, Hawaiian Gardens, Paramount, and Signal Hill,” Bracken said. “We all need to be prepared before a disaster happens, not after the fact.”
Patalano then recounted the chapter’s largest local disaster, the Paradise Garden apartment building fire of December 8, 2006, at 6478 Atlantic Ave. He noted that the fire department contacted the ARC for their services, and an on-call Disaster Action Team was deployed immediately. They arrived at the scene with several emergency-response vehicles and provided victims with any vital needs and assistance.
Meanwhile, a feeding team, a shelter team, and a logistics team quickly assembled a shelter at nearby Jordan High School. A trailer full of emergency supplies, such as flashlights, fire extinguishers, and several cots, arrived with them. A nurse’s station was also put together at the shelter. “There’s always a health-service representative in the shelter during a disaster,” said Karen Wells, a volunteer nurse for the ARC since 2008. “Whatever the needs are, we’re here to help.”
An animal shelter took in any pets belonging to victims. “Your pet also has to be prepared in case of an emergency,” said Willie Mussman, a community volunteer. “Your pets may not get into the shelter because they are not service animals. There are animal health requirements such as vaccinations in order for your pet to successfully enter an animal shelter in a disaster, so it’s best to be prepared for that situation.”
As soon as the disaster itself had subsided, the attention of the ARC was devoted completely to the case work and recovery of the victims involved. The case work for this disaster in particular began at Houghton Park.
A goal of the ARC is to achieve total preparedness for all– even the smallest of efforts can make a major impact in a disaster situation. “We prepare for earthquakes, floods, and other disasters,” Mussman said. “There’s preparation for the safety of your home, and not just in your actions [during a disaster].”
One of the classes the ARC provides is a cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) course. “If you just learn to do compressions, you can save somebody’s life,” said Cindy Martinez, the Health and Safety director for the chapter. “It can even save a pet’s life.”
To educate those who wish to be ready for future disasters, the ARC offers free disaster-preparedness training the third Thursday of every month from 6pm to 6:45pm at their building at 3150 E. 29th St. The training, which operates under the slogan “We can’t predict…. But we can prepare,” welcomes individuals, households, and groups to test their knowledge of disasters and give them safety tips for immediate use in the case of a disaster.