Posted by: Diane Zinna, American Red Cross, Senior Associate, Safe and Well Linking
The American Red Cross Safe and Well program allows individuals in a disaster area to inform friends and relatives in other parts of the country that they are safe and have a safe place to stay. Similarly, family and friends from around the country can log on to the Safe and Well website to check on the status of individuals in an area that has been hit by a disaster. Shown here is Red Cross Safe and Well counselor and a resident of the Red Cross shelter in Garner, NC. (Photo by Daniel Cima/American Red Cross)
It might sound counterintuitive - if people’s cell phones are out, what are the chances they will be able to register themselves on a website? That’s what makes the American Red Cross’s approach to family reunification so special. Our dedicated volunteers are present on the ground after a disaster strikes to provide supported registration on the Safe and Well Website (www.redcross.org/safeandwell). They help people register on the site and capture registrations any way they can.
During the Alabama disaster response, registrations have been collected mostly via paper forms for back-data entry, but we have many strategies for getting the job done. The presence of Safe and Well volunteers in a disaster-affected community helps people connect with their loved ones, but it also allows those volunteers to be eyes and ears on the ground for operation headquarters. As they travel in outlying areas, they are in a position to gather information about unmet needs. They can bring that information back to the disaster relief operation headquarters and make sure it receives the attention it deserves.
The inquiries coming in from the public have made their way to me via our call centers and local Red Cross chapters. We have even had two requests from prison chaplains looking to give peace of mind to men serving time far from their tornado-ravaged hometowns. I work in the Red Cross Disaster Operations Center, and each morning I receive a consolidated report from our call centers with new cases for our field teams.
Looking through those call logs gives me a glimpse of the conversations our tireless Red Cross call agents have had with those in the affected areas. I have seen many call records indicating that the agent helped a worried family member conduct a search on the Safe and Well website for a missing loved one. It gives me such joy to see that someone’s fears were alleviated in a moment when they heard that a note was posted on Safe and Well saying their loved one was okay.
There are times, however, when the person’s name is not found in our registry. If the sought person has a serious, pre-existing health or mental health condition, Safe and Well volunteers can conduct a search for that person in the community. My role at national headquarters is to speak with the people seeking their loved ones, gather as much information as I can, and send the cases down to the teams we have working on the ground. Field teams drive for hours and hours through affected communities. They knock on doors, speak with neighbors, and check local shelters for information about missing people. So far our determined and passionate teams have resolved 62 of our 64 cases. If you have not been able to locate a loved one on the Safe and Well Website, and if that person had a pre-existing medical condition, know that you can initiate a search request by contacting your local American Red Cross chapter.
Editor’s Note: You can also access Safe and Well on your mobile phone, at www.redcross.org/safeandwell. The American Red Cross is one of the many voluntary agencies that help in times of disasters. For information on other organizations active during disasters, visit www.nvoad.org.