NEWPORT CITY – Every day in the United States, the American Red Cross provides assistance to victims of man-made and natural disasters. Most of the people who respond are volunteers.
Statewide, the Red Cross has 250 volunteers, but only about 30 to 35 percent are able to respond to a given event. The chapter’s goal for this year is to add more people to its volunteer roster.
“Without the volunteers, there is really no Red Cross,” said Larry Crist, regional executive.
During a public meeting on Tuesday, Red Cross officials from Burlington pitched their organization. However, most of the people who attended are already involved with public service.
The local chapter responds to more than 100 emergencies a year. The most common emergency, at least in this region, is fires. This year, however, volunteers responded to various natural disasters such as Tropical Storm Irene.
The heart of what the Red Cross does is disaster response and emergency preparedness. Red Cross members don’t act as first responders, but as support for first responders and victims. Sometimes the media reports that the governor or emergency management opened shelters, however, according to Crist, that is not exactly true.
“They asked the Red Cross to open those shelters,” said Crist. “That’s what happens nationally as well. When the President opens X number of shelters, it’s really the American Red Cross that opens them and primarily staffs them with volunteers.”
There are few organizations that can open shelters in place of the Red Cross, says Crist. He said the state’s emergency operations plan for Vermont Yankee states if there is a radiological leak at the plant, the Red Cross needs to be prepared to house 10 percent of the evacuees. That amounts to about 3,000 people. That amount is about the same number as those evacuated the night Tropical Storm Irene hit the state.
Some communities opened their own shelters and asked the Red Cross to help. Some it could help, some it couldn’t, because it couldn’t get to the towns.
Anyone who wishes to volunteer to run a shelter has to attend at least one shelter training class.
The Red Cross provides services to Armed Forces. Founders of Red Cross International first had the desire to help wounded soldiers on the battlefield in Italy. That humanitarian effort continues today, which includes helping members of the military with such things as emergency leave requests and financial assistance so military personnel can get home in a time of crisis.
The health and safety mission is another component that’s been around for a long time. It originally started with swim lessons in the early part of the 20th century, but now includes CPR, first aid and use of an automatic external defibrillator.
“We want to empower people,” said Chief Operating Officer Doug Bishop. “We want to make sure they have the skills and training so, when it comes time, they have a comfort level and are willing to use the skills to help someone out.”
The Red Cross also likes to empower youth, primarily through lifeguard training and baby sitter training. The training, said Bishop, gives youth a sense of accomplishment and responsibility.