Red Cross volunteers are buzzing around the medical tents at the Chicago Marathon. In the biggest tent, like a scene from M.A.S.H., rows of injured and exhausted runners recover in temporary cots from the previous twenty-six mile test. Spectators converge on Red Cross booths, desperately seeking their loved ones, fearing they’ve been injured or rushed to a hospital. The volunteers work with the Patient Connection program of Red Cross—set up to respond to mass disasters when they occur.
45,000 runners participated in the Chicago Marathon this year. With this many people pushing their bodies as far as they can go, you can imagine that quite a few drop out from exhaustion or injury. Even those who finish may not be capable of making it further than one of the cots in a medical tent. In cases like these, mothers and sons easily lose each other in the confusion. A woman might hear that her sister was injured, but has no idea where in this massive city she could be. That’s why Red Cross is here.
A man with his son approaches a volunteer at one of the tents. He’s heard that his wife, a runner, was being held in a medical tent, but can’t find her. “They said she might be sent to the emergency room!” he says. The volunteer takes down the runner’s name and checks the runner’s location in a computer system, which shows the exact tent and cot number where the woman is. She tells the man his wife has been found, and she’s being treated by the marathon’s team of trained medics. In 45 minutes, she’s on her feet and reunited with her family.
Volunteers on site enter the names of runners being sought by families into a computer system. Back at the Chicago Red Cross headquarters, Carol Mosley is on a computer in her office, with the “sought” list up on her screen, busily switching between websites, cross-checking the list with hospital admittances, tracking participants as they run, speaking to families on the phone. If a runner is admitted to the hospital, Carol contacts the person seeking them, and lets them know where to find their runner. Without this system in place, family members would be separated—they may find out that their runner has been hospitalized, but have no idea to which of the Chicago area hospitals they’ve been admitted.
The Chicago Marathon is a great opportunity for the Red Cross team to test out their ability to respond to large disasters where many people are hurt. Granted, we won’t get prior warning of a stadium collapse, or a train derailment, but the marathon gives volunteers an opportunity to implement their disaster response skills, and it’s reassuring to know that the systems in place have been put to the test. In the event of disaster, the primary concern is making sure loved ones are safe—Red Cross is here to help.
For more information on the Patient Connection program, visit:
Written by: Jonathan Bressler