Pied Pipers of Preparedness

February 12, 2008

If Franklin D. Roosevelt were alive and living in the San Francisco Bay Area today, he might say we have nothing to fear but lack of preparation.

Luckily, the Red Cross has an antidote to that fear in the form of its Prepare Bay Area initiative designed to get you—or someone who lives with you—ready for the next big disaster.

“Our goal is to train one person in every household,” says Emily White, Emergency Preparedness Education Manager for the American Red Cross Bay Area(ARCBA). “We have lots of great opportunities for volunteers who want to be trained as Red Cross ambassadors.”

Community preparedness specialist Emerson Chen serves the Red Cross through Volunteers in Service to America (VISTA), the national service program designed to fight poverty in America. 

“I heard about the Peace Corps in college and the cool projects people were doing all over the world, but I thought it would be hard to be away from home for two years,” says Chen. “Then I realized that many problems in each corner of the world also exist in the immigrant and impoverished communities in the U.S.”

Chen focuses on seniors and people with disabilities who “often lack the financial and mobile means to obtain all the disaster supplies recommended to the general population” and “have additional needs such as medication, hearing aids and collapsible canes.”

A med school applicant whose personal disaster kit includes Pop Tarts, chicken noodle soup, hand sanitizer and Mandarin Chinese novels, Chen plans to “work with underserved populations in health care—Latinos, Asians, low-income or people with disabilities. I hope to continue to be a Red Cross volunteer and serve in disaster relief as a medical professional.”

Vallejo Police Chaplain Carolyn Millard works with the Red Cross Ready program and Interchurch Disaster Relief Network to map out the best locations for spontaneous shelters, food and clothing distribution centers.

Millard, who also ministers in various correctional facilities, relishes “seeing the fear of disaster dissipate as we prepare our neighborhoods to be ready themselves and to respond to others in the event of a crisis.”

President of the Youth for Chinese Elderly (YCE) Club at Galileo Academy of Science & Technology, Jessica Sen joined the Red Cross when she moved here from China as an 11th grader.

“Disaster is unpredictable, especially earthquakes,” says Sen. “I like helping others get ready, particularly the vulnerable and monolingual elderly group. I’m glad that I can use my skills [in first aid, disaster preparedness, Cantonese and Mandarin] to serve the Asian community.”

Hoping to be the first in her family to attend college, Sen believes that volunteering makes teens more responsible, thoughtful and prepared for the future. “Teenagers are in a transition between childhood and adulthood. We need to find ourselves on the right path,” says Sen, who lives with her grandmother and works a part-time job.

“Spending time on meaningful volunteer activities is better than computer games.,” says Sen. “Fun volunteer events can fill the emptiness of teens and give them self-satisfaction and confidence. Volunteering presents a vision of our community–it helps us to be involved and to develop our citizenship.”

Insurance agent Maria Rivas, who is bilingual in English and Spanish, shares Sen’s sense of civic responsibility. As an AmericaCorps volunteer for the Red Cross, Rivas has driven countless miles to schools and churches to teach first aid, CPR and emergency preparedness.

“People should commit to volunteer and help take the message of emergency preparedness to their families, neighbors and co-workers,” says Rivas. “There are still a lot of people out there that need to hear that they need to start preparing today. It’s sad to say, but many of them do not have the slightest idea where to begin.”

Business continuity expert Patty Peper teaches companies to begin with their employees. “Well-prepared employees are much more likely to be available to fulfill their workplace roles in disaster response and recovery than ill-prepared ones,” says Peper, whose Red Cross employee preparedness classes are offered at no cost to Bay Area businesses. “Promoting employees’ personal preparedness strengthens overall community preparedness, which in turn lessens a disaster’s impact on business recovery.” 

“It’s one thing to increase awareness of the risks all of us living in the Bay Area face from disasters—earthquakes, wildfires, floods or even tsunami,” says Peper. “But the real satisfaction lies in empowering people with the realization that they can take concrete steps to protect themselves, their loved ones and their communities and to speed recovery from even the most devastating disaster.”

–Laura Svienty

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