So often in emergencies, the public relies on first responders to come to the aid of those in distress. These police officers, firefighters and EMTs are a familiar and welcome sight when things go bad. But there is another group of responders who are there each time during extraordinary events, natural disasters for instance, whose presence provides an assurance that the individual and family can soon return to a normal daily life.

The American Red Cross is the organization that provides compassionate care to those in need.

Yesterday in Palmdale, the Antelope Valley Humanitarian Leaders Mixer was held to bring together local leaders in the faith community, business, nonprofit agencies, education and city government to find ways to instill in the public the best practices to remain safe and secure in an emergency. The Antelope Valley is witness to any number of emergency situations through the year. Just last week, for instance, flash flooding inundated Acton resulting in severe damage to some homes, businesses and transportation corridors.

Once again, the Red Cross was there to calm nerves and to provide assistance to those in need.

Increasing ‘visibility’ of Red Cross

“We want to increase the visibility of the Antelope Valley Red Cross because it is crucial to reach a broad audience to inform them of services available in a time of emergency,” said Raul Claros, executive director of the Northern Valleys American Red Cross Los Angeles Region. Claros is beginning his second year in the position and said yesterday’s open house served as an opportunity to get residents involved with emergency preparedness.

“Having many community leaders present at the open house is vital to our core mission of informing the public of what services are available in time of need,” Claros said. “The Red Cross is an active and vibrant part of the community, and we must get the news out that we are here and ready to provide help when needed. Because you can never quite anticipate an emergency, good early preparedness and information about who to contact is an important asset.”

The Red Cross responds to approximately 70,000 disasters in the United States every year, ranging from home fires that affect a single family, to hurricanes that affect tens of thousands of persons, to earthquakes that may impact millions. In these events, the Red Cross provides shelter, food, health and mental health services that assist families and entire communities in getting back on their feet. The Red Cross is not a government agency. Rather, it serves as an essential part of the response when a disaster strikes by working in partnership with other agencies and organizations that provide services to disaster victims. The organization is more than a depository for blood—although this may be the most important and historically familiar aspect of its services—it represents a permanent body of mostly volunteers who step in to help in dire situations.

Volunteers are key component

“Ninety-six percent of Red Cross personnel are volunteers … ordinary people doing extraordinary work,” Claros explained. “The response and recovery to any emergency can be much more effective and positive by being active in a community. That’s why we need volunteers, and we hope that getting together this week in Palmdale we will encourage more persons to consider working with us on a regular basis.”

The Red Cross is the nation’s leading provider of health and safety courses, such as CPR, first aid and lifeguard training. Each year, more than 9 million Americans participate in these training programs, including first responders, educators—even babysitters—and, generally, people who want to be prepared to help others in an emergency. The Red Cross is part of the world’s largest humanitarian network with 13 million volunteers in 187 countries. Working together, they help respond to disasters and build safer communities in reaching more than 100 million people around the world.

In the United States, the Red Cross helps military members, veterans and their families prepare for, cope with, and respond to the challenges of military service. Emergency communications, training, support to wounded warriors and veterans, and access to community resources help an average of 150,000 military families and veterans each year. Of course, blood donations are the first thing a person thinks of about the Red Cross which is the nation’s largest single supplier of blood and blood products. Each year, nearly 4 million people donate blood through the Red Cross, helping to provide more than 40 percent of America’s blood supply.

The military care aspect of Red Cross’ work often serves as assistance to services provided by the United States Department of Veterans Affairs. Since 9/11, the Red Cross has served more than 1 million military families in the form of home comforts and critical services on bases and in military hospitals at home and around the world. Often these are emergency communications to tens of thousands of military members and their families. Military assistance can include emergency travel, burial of a loved one, and emergency food and shelter.

Assisting military members and families

The Red Cross has launched an online emergency message system for military families and service members to provide official verification of homefront emergencies, such as the death of a family member or the birth of a child. As well, military commanders often use Red Cross verification system to help them make decisions about whether or not to grant a troop emergency leave during a deployment. The Red Cross processes more than 1,000 calls a day from their emergency military hotline.

Claros emphasized that, like regular volunteers, blood donors are ordinary people who step in when needed. These persons can be students, factory and office workers, business executives, parents and grandparents—folks from every walk of life—who share a generous spirit and a desire to give back to the community and help others. Each year, approximately 5.6 million blood donations are collected by the Red Cross. Within that figure, about 3.3 million persons serve as volunteer blood donors who “roll up their sleeve” and give blood each year. More than 8 million transfusible blood products are distributed each year. As well, 2,700 American hospitals and transfusion centers receive Red Cross products each year. Many lifesaving medical treatments and procedures involve blood transfusions and would not be possible without a safe and reliable blood supply. The Red Cross was among the first organizations to develop and implement testing for many infectious diseases, including HIV and hepatitis B and C viruses.

The Red Cross announced last month that it has received 61,000 fewer blood donations than needed, causing a significant draw down in their supply. Red Cross officials say that donations typically decline during the summer months, but the problem is significantly worse this year. “Our blood donors are vital to our mission to have an adequate supply of blood on hand for medical personnel to use in an emergency,” Claros explained. “We encourage residents of the Antelope Valley to donate blood to have on hand in case of an emergency. It is crucial that people donate blood to meet the needs of patients everyday, and to be prepared for emergencies that require significant volumes of donated blood.”

Teaching the public preventative measures

The Red Cross is more than a operation tailored for emergency response. These days, a great deal of their work has to do with preventative measures. Take for instance the Aquatics Centennial Campaign which over the past four years has provided 50,000 sets of swim lessons (more than 400,000 individual lessons) in 88 communities across the country. The swim lessons are designed to empower children and adults with water safety knowledge and skills they can use to save their lives and others. They’ve also certified more than 1,000 lifeguards and water safety instructors through the campaign. Drowning is the second leading cause of unintentional injury or death for children, and fifth for people of all ages, according to the latest statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The Red Cross has issued a call for 35,000 volunteers this fall to install 100,000 free smoke alarms in more than 100 major cities nationwide. The “Sound The Alarm” campaign is a nationwide series of home fire and safety and smoke alarm installation events to be held Sept. 23 and again on Oct. 15, culminating hopefully in the Red Cross’ installation of the 1 millionth free smoke alarm since its Home Fire Campaign launched in 2014. The Home Fire Campaign features Red Cross volunteers and partners who canvass high-risk neighborhoods to install free smoke alarms, replace batteries in existing alarms, and help families create escape plans. Since 2014, Red Cross volunteers and members of more than 4,200 partner organizations have installed almost 900,000 smoke alarms in 10,700 cities and towns in all 50 states, serving almost 1 million people.

Your contribution goes a long way

Even pets are cared for. This week, the Red Cross announced its new Cat and Dog First Aid course to allow owners to know more about what to do in an emergency until veterinary care is available. People can access the course on their desktop or tablet at redcross.org/catdogfirstaid and go through the content at their own pace. It takes about a half-hour to complete the interactive course that includes information about how to determine a pet’s normal vital signs so that owners can notice if there are any irregularities. There are also step-by-step instructions and visual aids for what to do if a pet is choking, needs CPR, has a wound or is having a seizure. You can also learn about preventative care and get tips for a pet’s wellbeing.

Knowing what precautions to take during a disaster warning (i.e. impending storm or flooding) is an important strategy that can save lives. The Red Cross offers Community Disaster Education with a range of information from safety pamphlets, organizing community workshops, and media events that help people prevent, prepare and respond to disasters. The Red Cross actively advocates for disaster mitigation, or, reducing the loss of life and property from disasters while promoting long-term community preparedness. Volunteer training/coordination finds the Red Cross working with other voluntary agencies including community organizations and churches to get involved in disaster response.

The Red Cross offers long-term assistance to victims affected by a disaster. This aid can include building and home repair and ongoing services, as deemed appropriate to need. Red Cross disaster aid is provided free of charge, although fundraising appeals in communities help greatly to defray the costs for emergency services to families. Donating your time, resources, blood or cash to the Red Cross is one of the most noble gestures a person can offer.

To contribute to the American Red Cross Disaster Relief Fund, call (800) HELP-NOW. Internet users can make a secure credit card contribution by visiting RedCross.org.