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Red Cross Strives to Help Disaster's Vulnerable Population
Date:10/20/2009

WASHINGTON, Oct. 20 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- In testimony to a U.S. House of Representatives Committee, the American Red Cross offered recommendations on ways to better meet the needs of every community member affected by disaster, especially those with special requirements.

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Trevor Riggen, Red Cross senior director of disaster services testified Tuesday as to how the Red Cross is meeting the needs of the very young, the elderly, and those with disabilities. While there is no "one size fits all" answer, the Red Cross has put in place plans to help this most vulnerable population.

"Our nation continues to make improvements in our ability to respond to and recover from disasters," Riggen said. "As a nation, we are better prepared for disasters than at any time in our history."

During a disaster, children may feel ill at ease in a shelter. Their daily routine is disrupted. The Red Cross has special help for children during this traumatic time, such as special areas for families to sleep, and space in the shelter for family interaction and child care.

Partner organizations also lend a hand in caring for children after a disaster. Save the Children and Church of the Brethren Children's Disaster Services have agreements with the Red Cross to assist children in shelters. The Red Cross sets up the shelter, Save the Children sets up special safe spaces for kids and provides art materials, books, games and toys, and Church of the Brethren provides workers to run supervised activities for the children.

For example, during the ongoing relief effort in American Samoa, the Red Cross and Save the Children worked together to set up a play area in the convention center where families lined up to apply for Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) assistance. Special supplies were sent in, including diapers, baby formula, dolls and school supplies. Red Cross mental health and spiritual care specialists helped children deal with the loss of family members and classmates. Here is a special video showing the joint efforts of the Red Cross and Save the Children in American Samoa.

To help those with disabilities, the Red Cross can install temporary ramps and set up accessible bathroom facilities if a shelter does not meet accessibility standards. Items such as wheelchair transferable cots and commode chairs are now stockpiled to be used when needed.

Today the Red Cross has more than 5,000 licensed mental health professionals who volunteer as part of the mental health response during a disaster. All Red Cross disaster workers are trained in psychological first aid to identify stress symptoms in children and adults. And plans are in the works for a new course to train people how to increase their own resilience in a disaster.

In his testimony, Riggen made several recommendations on how to improve serving the needs of the very young, the elderly and others with additional needs after a disaster.

  • As government and local agencies plan for more permanent housing solutions, is it critical that families with children, the elderly, and people with disabilities be prioritized for assistance.
  • Children are best served if the regular routine of their day-to-day life can be restored as quickly as possible, and efforts should be made to ensure that schools can open as soon as possible.
  • Development of a National Recovery Framework should be accelerated. This important resource will help to coordinate the vast number of agencies willing to engage in recovery work and ensure the needs and differences of distinct populations are captured.
  • Children, the elderly, and people with disabilities must be considered as a distinct population and not as part of a larger "special needs" category.

About the American Red Cross:

The American Red Cross shelters, feeds and provides emotional support to victims of disasters; supplies nearly half of the nation's blood; teaches lifesaving skills; provides international humanitarian aid; and supports military members and their families. The Red Cross is a charitable organization -- not a government agency -- and depends on volunteers and the generosity of the American public to perform its mission. For more information, please visit www.redcross.org or join our blog at http://blog.redcross.org.

SOURCE American Red Cross


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SOURCE American Red Cross
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