Being Prepared 221 Miles Offshore

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAMany types of emergencies can occur on an offshore oil rig, which is why Dan Workman’s employer requires him to be CPR and First Aid certified.

Dan works on a rig in the Gulf of Mexico located 221 miles offshore. For the past four years he has commuted from Palos Hills, Illinois to Texas to work three-week shifts on the rig. Dan has been re-certified several times now and says the training has definitely proved useful.

“When my co-workers get minor cuts and can’t help themselves, I bandage them up,” he said.

Dan has also witnessed more severe injuries. During one of his shifts, a fallen crane crushed a coworker’s pelvis and injured his leg. There’s a medic onboard to respond to emergency situations, but ensuring every worker is trained and prepared is vital. Dan has also been involved with the Red Cross blood services for many years by donating blood while in school and deployed in the military.

As a regular blood donor and knowing how to perform First Aid, Dan is prepared to save lives.

Story and photo by Kamryn McPike

Summit Tackles Topics of Recovery in Disaster Planning

Summit(1)If you consider the three phases of a disaster—prepare, respond, recover—the latter is probably the most challenging. That’s because after the storm has passed, the fires have been put out, and the roads are clear, there’s still so much work to do.

Recovery is a long-term process.  It can take months, even years.

The American Red Cross held it’s 5th Annual Disaster Preparedness Summit Aug. 21 in downtown Chicago where more than 200 leaders representing 85 business, government and community organizations gathered at the Booth School of Business at the University of Chicago , Gleacher Center so they can be prepared to partner and mobilize when disaster strikes.

The Summit focused on the recovery part in the disaster cycle, bringing together specialists who led recovery tactics in areas of infrastructure, economic development, transit, housing and human services.

Mike Foley, Chief Executive Officer North America Commercial and Regional Chairman of North America at Zurich, opened the Summit and emphasized resiliency in disaster preparedness, and the importance of multi-stakeholder coordination in disaster planning and recovery.

“Grounded in flood resiliency research, Zurich is collaborating with the insurance industry, business, academia, NGO’s and government organizations to develop strategies to drive resilience at the community level,” Foley said. “We believe Zurich and the insurance industry can add value to this discussion and work with the Red Cross to help communities understand and protect themselves from disaster risks, and in recovery.”

Here’s what other industry experts had to say.

Craig Hindman

Retired Executive Vice President, ITW

2014 Summit Co-Chair, American Red Cross, Greater Chicago Region Board of Directors

summit2Craig Hindman said this disaster preparedness summit helped foster the important networking of emergency professionals across a wide cross section of public and private industries.  Presentations of the old tried-and-true emergency response processes that are taken for granted were challenged with an open mind for a fresh approach.  The wide variety of speakers provided rare glimpses of their recovery efforts during actual disasters with hard lessons learned for all of us to take heed.  In the end, when disaster strikes, nobody is going to save us, we need to learn how to save ourselves.


Lane J. Roberts

Retired Chief of Police, City of Joplin, MO

summit3Police Chief Lane Roberts stressed the key to effective disaster preparedness boils down to three main concepts:  1) Stay in your own lane – this means emergency responders should only do what they are trained to do, and not overstep their bounds.  2) Reduce redundancy – this will help avoid wasting precious resources.  3) Get the government out of the way – government agencies are good at developing processes, but they should then get out of the way and let private businesses take over to get things done quickly.  Chief Roberts said non-profit organizations such as The American Red Cross are innovators and will do whatever it takes to immediately help those in need after disaster hits.


Tavares Williams

Community Emergency Response Manager, Cook County Department of Homeland Security and Emergency Management


Tavares Williams wants residents to know that as members of the community, they have to be an integral part of the disaster planning process.  Residents have an inherent interest in disaster preparedness because they are: 1) direct customers of the services provided by emergency response agencies, 2) constituents of governmental and non-profit agencies, and 3) direct stakeholders in the success of the plan. Williams said residents should also ask: what about me?  Am I, my neighbors, and my family all included in the disaster planning process?  If not, then they all should get involved.


Jimmy Thompson

IEMA Region IV, Regional Disaster Coordinator

JimmyThompsonJimmy Thompson stressed we must collaborate and promote public and private sector partnerships in order to help in the long term recovery process no matter what the size of the disaster – big or small.  We need to emphasize to our partners that the recovery is not over when the disaster is over, because the infrastructure rebuilding will need attention for several years to come.


Earl Zuelke

FEMA Region V, Federal Disaster Recovery Coordinator

15043986101_bbe4ffbc71_o (1)Earl Zuelke said when it comes to disaster preparedness, ask yourself – what can you do to lessen the impact of a disaster to your business, your community, and your own family.  First – think life safety.  Then – help the community recover economically, since Humpty Dumpty has to be put back together again.  The information on preparing for a disaster is available – you just have to act on it with a plan.  Unfortunately, the Midwest has one of the lowest percentage rates of the population who have taken the necessary steps to prepare for a disaster – this is primarily because this area of the country doesn’t have many major emergencies.  But we must get over the mindset that it won’t happen to us here, because disaster could strike when we are least prepared.


Harley Jones

Regional Chief Operations Officer, American Red Cross, Greater Chicago Region

summit 1Harley Jones (second from left) said disaster preparedness involves bringing the right people together including from government agencies, private companies, and non-profit organizations, and then making sure they are always thinking what they need to do in order to properly care for their employees, customers, and businesses. So if a disaster happens in their communities, these emergency responders will be better able to respond to victims in desperate need of assistance. It’s all about being ready to respond before a disaster happens, especially when you least expect it.


Story and Photos by Bob McCaffrey, American Red Cross Public Affairs Volunteer

More photos of the 2014 Disaster Preparedness Summit:




The Pillowcase Project: Kids sleep well knowing they’re prepared

Ten-year-old twins Isabella and Daniella have a lot in common, but they have different ideas about what to take in an emergency.

Isabella is packing a flashlight and batteries. Her sister is taking a toothbrush and toothpaste. All are good supplies if their family has to leave their house in a hurry, and both girls discovered a pillowcase is the perfect carrying case for all of it.

The twins and more than 50 of their fellow campers at Evanston’s Y.O.U. (Youth Organizations Umbrella) summer camp at Washington Elementary School this summer learned how to create an emergency kit using a pillowcase they decorated and personalized with colored markers. The American Red Cross program educates kids about natural hazards and coping skills using hands-on learning activities that blend art and science.

It’s called The Pillowcase Project. Y.O.U. Executive Director Seth Green said families of children who complete the program can sleep well knowing their household is more prepared.

“When children are in a safe, comfortable place they trust, they absorb ideas and thoughts to help them grow, learn and be empowered to persevere if confronted in moments of risk,” said Green. “The highlight is watching them connect that learning experience with the images and messages they draw on their pillowcase.”

Nine-year-old Margaret drew pictures of soap, a water bottle and a t-shirt on her pillowcase – necessities she wants underlined with words “I’m safe.” If her family ever has to leave her house at a moment’s notice, she’ll be ready.

“I learned a lot about what to do in emergencies that I didn’t know before,” she said. “When I go home I’m going to put this pillowcase right beside my bed.”

The Pillowcase Project was inspired by a story of college students in New Orleans carrying their belongings in pillowcases during the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.

In the Greater Chicago area, the Red Cross will teach more than 5,000 kids in grades 3 to 5 these preparedness skills through youth development programs including Y.O.U, the Chicago Police Department, Chicago Public Schools, and more throughout the region.

The Pillowcase Project emphasizes the importance of families developing an emergency communications plan, a fire evacuation plan and emergency contact cards. Children also learn about the science of natural disasters, the difference between storm warnings and watches, and dangerous weather patterns including thunderstorms, lightening and tornadoes.

At the end of the lesson, kids have fun using markers to color and personalize their pillowcase, which can easily carry emergency supplies during a disaster. The program is sponsored by Disney.

“Red Cross instructors take a scientific-based approach with hands-on activities, while at the same time, show children how to take a simple object—a pillowcase—and use it in an emergency if they have to evacuate their home,” said Fran Edwardson, Chief Executive Officer, American Red Cross, Greater Chicago Region. “Working with youth organizations, the Red Cross is helping children build confidence and learn coping skills in the event of an emergency.”

 Written by Patricia Kemp, Communications Manager, American Red Cross of Greater Chicago

Kamryn McPike, American Red Cross volunteer contributed to this story

Photos by Gerry Holmes, American Red Cross volunteer

For more photos of The Pillowcase Project:

Disaster Recovery Partners Weather the Storm

I first got to know Church World Service (CWS) during the severe storms and floods last spring that were so widespread that 49 Illinois counties received federal disaster declarations. I had just taken on my new responsibility for partner relations with the American Red Cross Greater Chicago Region.

CWS support for flood survivors started right away in the form of CWS Emergency Cleanup Buckets. The buckets arrived at the perfect time and we got them right out to flooded households. People really, really appreciated them.

So did our volunteers. The buckets are so visual, and our volunteers
asked, “Who’s behind these?” The buckets helped spur the interest of our volunteers in our partner relationships, including the long-time partnership between CWS and the American Red Cross nationally and in communities across the United States.

Early on, the CWS U.S. disaster response webinars and on-site “Recovery Tools and Training” workshops helped us lay the groundwork for long-term recovery following the floods.

039I got a lot of my first education through the CWS webinars. A lot of people sent me a lot of reading material about long-term recovery, but I didn’t have time to sit and read hundreds of pages during those first weeks responding to the flood disaster. But I could find an hour here and there to watch an archived webinar on the CWS website.

I’ve listened to the same CWS webinars over and over again and learned something new each time. The webinars also have been great for a lot of members of our local COADs – Community Organizations Active in Disaster.

Then in October there were three day-long CWS “Recovery Tools and Training” workshops, two in my region and one farther south, in Peoria. I can’t say enough good about them. CWS brought into our area really strong education, with presenters from CWS, Presbyterian Disaster Assistance, Lutheran Disaster Response, World Renew, FEMA and the American Red Cross, which also provided funding. It was so valuable to have the chance to talk with staff from these agencies, and really helpful in moving us forward in our long-term recovery.

The workshops really helped our local nongovernmental partners understand the disaster recovery process. For example, we have an organization that provides counseling services. They had no direct disaster experience. The workshop increased the staff’s confidence working with people recovering from flooding.

Floods are so difficult. They are not very visual. A lot of the damage is inside the house. It affects pockets here and there. One part of the city may be flooded and another part completely unaffected. A lot of people inside and outside our communities didn’t know we were experiencing such a large disaster.

Lisle ERV Run 4.29.13 009The Red Cross introduced a new Flood App this year. It’s helpful for families in areas prone to flooding so they can receive flood and flash flood watches and warning alerts. It’s free to download from the iTunes and Google Play app stores.

This new technology is great, but it’s also important for people to connect face-to-face with agencies that can help. The workshops brought us media attention for the recovery, letting members of the community know there were these needs in their area and introducing them to what long-term recovery involves.

Susanne Gilmore is the CWS Emergency Response Specialist who relates to Illinois, and she has been wonderful. She’s a great organizer, knows how to put on a really sharp training, keeps the schedule moving and makes sure it’s relevant for the group. And she’s a mentor to me. She is available whenever little questions arise and provides a lot of honest and wise support plus connection to other partners.

Because of a lot of CWS assistance we’ve been able to constantly move forward in recovery. CWS is dedicated to our needs even now after public attention has gone elsewhere.

I know as we move forward that if we need CWS they are still there.


Sara Echols is Partner and Emergency Management Agency Program Support Manager, American Red Cross Greater Chicago Region.



Spreading the Word: Restoring Family Links

RFLOutreach Mini-Grant volunteer lead, Whitney Trumble, and International Programs Support Manager, Michelle McSweeney, presented on the ‘Restoring Family Links’ (RFL) program at DePaul University’s Law School in April.

The event was hosted by DePaul’s Society for Asylum and Immigration Law (SAIL), a student organization that looks to expose law students to asylum and immigration law through guest speakers, presentations and firsthand experience in the Greater Chicago area.

Students from SAIL gathered during their lunch hour to gain perspective on the American Red Cross Restoring Family Links (RFL) program.

The Restoring Family Links program helps locate and restore communication between families separated internationally by conflict, disaster or other humanitarian emergencies. By using the global Red Cross network the American Red Cross assists more than 5,000 families trying to reconnect with their loved ones in the U.S. and around the world each year.

After receiving a mini-grant through the Red Cross, Whitney, together with a team of both new and experienced RFL members, developed a strategic plan to increase outreach in the Greater Chicago area. By connecting with local student groups, community organizations and public resources they are spreading awareness of RFL services.

DePaul’s Society for Asylum and Immigration Law provided an excellent outreach opportunity, as many of the students in attendance are also involved in DePaul University’s Asylum and Immigration Law Clinic (AILC) that works to assist clients on legal cases relating to asylum, justice or immigration issues. Students expressed that RFL services could be of use to clients they are now working with through the AILC.

Over the next few months, the Restoring Family Links outreach team will be scheduling more events like this one to increase knowledge on RFL services throughout the Greater Chicago region. The RFL team is specifically targeting Chicago neighborhoods with large immigrant and refugee populations such as Rogers Park, Pilsen, Uptown, Bridgeport, Humboldt Park and more. By focusing on these neighborhoods the outreach team hopes to connect with as many community members as possible, always with the ultimate goal of helping others reconnect with their loved ones throughout the world.

The Chicago Restoring Family Links team will be hosting a series of community events in Spring 2014 to share information on this program and how you can connect to the mission. If you are interested in attending one of the three upcoming events, please contact Mini-Grant Lead, Whitney Trumble at

To learn more about the Restoring Family Links program and to connect with the local program team, please visit us at

Written By: Michelle McSweeney

“Uplifted” – The Cycle of Gratitude by Red Cross Volunteers

Volunteer Pic“I volunteer to improve public health and educate the community,” said Jordan from Chicago Red Cross’s Disaster Health Services department.

Hallie, who works on dispatch services, says she volunteers with the Red Cross because she believes in the cause. “I see the impact Red Cross has on the community and I wanted to be part of it!”

“Volunteering with the Red Cross gives me a sense of purpose. It allows me to have more involvement in the greater community”, said Peg Gramas, who also shared that one of her favorite parts about volunteering with the Red Cross is the fact that she has many different avenues to contribute towards.

Every day our volunteers just like Jordan, Hallie and Peg, generously give their time, new ideas, and compassion to the Red Cross. In return, they carry inspiring stories with them and a feeling that they have helped another person in need. Whether it is through emotional and mental support after a disaster, helping at a blood drive, or even being a digital advocate, the actions of our volunteers is what makes the Red Cross vision come to life.  In honor of National Volunteer week this year (April 6-12, 2014) we are thanking all our volunteers and partners for their incredible work.

Volunteers at the Red Cross have the opportunity to teach first aid, CPR, swimming and other lifesaving skills; respond to disasters and reconnect families separated by disasters or conflict; support blood drives across the country; and help veterans, members of the military and their families in the U.S. and overseas. The Red Cross also welcomes youth, nurse, and group or corporate volunteer work.

By having such an open channel for involvement, our volunteer force continues to grow. We are uplifted by the dedication of our volunteers and they in turn hold immense pride by giving back to the community.

Phyllis Watkins, and Marcia Johnson, both client assistance follow up volunteers, said that one of the most inspiring parts of their work is getting positive responses from clients after a disaster.

“I love when I can make follow-up calls to people we’ve helped, and ask how they are doing”.  “I just help them along their way and get their positive feedback and gratitude for the Red Cross,” said Phyllis, who has been volunteering with the Red Cross for over 20 years. “I love knowing they are doing well in spite of the trauma they are going through.”

To learn more about becoming part of the dedicated Red Cross volunteer force visit: And again, in honor of National Volunteer week we thank all of our nearly 400,000 volunteers for their devoted work and service. Thank you for all you do!

Written by: Raquel Silva


Testing rides and saving lives at the Red Cross auto show blood drive

NICKAMANDAThis year’s harsh winter cancelled many blood drives, but the American Red Cross Bloodmobile rolled up at the 2014 Chicago Auto Show, which helped to keep up with the constant need for blood.

The Red Cross Bloodmobile, a mobile blood donation vehicle, served as an opportunity for spectators at the auto show at McCormick Place to shift gears from the buzz of high energy crowds and polished cars, to make a pit stop to donate blood and help save lives. Donors ranged from enthusiastic first timers to veteran frequent donors. The annual blood drive at the Chicago Auto Show is the largest in the region for the Red Cross.

Attendees lined up to donate blood, sharing smiles and laughter with family and friends. The spirit of sharing continued as donors told their stories, explaining what motivates them to give blood.

“I do it because it will save a life,” said first-time blood donor Nick Umgelder.

Umgelder and girlfriend, Amanda Rubino, said they were inspired by the lives they can help save. Amanda, a nurse, said seeing her patients reminds her that each donation makes a difference.

One experience that has stuck with Amanda was when she directly transferred blood to a patient of hers who had been diagnosed with cancer. Her patient needed blood transfusions that matched her rare blood type after each of her chemotherapy treatments. When Amanda, who also had the same rare blood type, directly transferred her blood to her patient, it was the last time the patient needed a transfusion after chemotherapy.  Amanda’s blood donation helped in her patient’s recovery so much that the patient gave her a locket as a gift of appreciation.

“We still keep in touch, and she is about to graduate college,” said Amanda.

PETERMARYMAZIUKThe opportunity to donate blood at the Auto Show began with the generous work of Dennis Buckley. In 1999, Buckley, director of marketing for the Chicago Automobile Trade Association, proposed the idea for a blood mobile as a concept vehicle on the floor of the Auto Show. Although others were initially unresponsive to the idea, the Auto Show blood drive is now one of the largest open community blood drive programs in the Chicagoland area. Buckley was a Red Cross Heroes Breakfast honoree and was presented with the Blood Services award posthumously.

Mary and Peter Maziuk’s personal experiences also remind them of the importance of blood donations.

Mary was diagnosed with Leukemia when she was two years old. Leukemia is a type of blood cancer that uses donated blood transfusions as treatment. Although Mary is not able to donate blood, her husband Peter said his wife’s stories motivated him to begin donating blood again.

“It’s a great ability–saving lives,” said Peter.

The Red Cross blood drive at the 2014 Auto Show was a fun way to come together for a good cause, but there’s always an opportunity to give blood. Call 1-800-RED CROSS (1-800-733-2767) or visit to make an appointment or for more information. All blood types are needed to ensure a reliable supply for patients.

Story by Raquel Silva. Photos by Diana Brokop

Young Heroes with Big Hearts

8659044340_d249022186_cEvery morning when Sue Johnson holds her son’s hand as they walk down the stairs, she feels a wave of emotions sweep over her.

Six-year-old Hunter Johnson was honored with the Youth Good Samaritan Award in 2010 at the Heroes Breakfast. Hunter took charge in a very grown-up situation when his mother’s health was in peril. He found her collapsed on the floor. Hunter remembered what his parents and teachers had taught him. He called 911 immediately. Hunter’s brave action protected his mother from harm that day.

“He’s my hero,” Sue said.

It is important to acknowledge heroes of all ages. The American Red Cross recognizes community members every year who have demonstrated heroism through extraordinary acts of courage or kindness. In addition to the many other heroes that will be awarded at the 12th annual Heroes Breakfast this spring, one young person will be awarded the Youth Good Samaritan Award.

If you know a young person with a big heart, we invite you to nominate them today. Candidates must live or work in Cook, DeKalb, DuPage, Grundy, Kankakee, Kane, Kendall, Lake, McHenry, or Will counties in Illinois, or Jasper, Lake or Newton counties in Indiana. The heroic action must have taken place after Jan. 1, 2013. Candidates who are chosen as Red Cross heroes will be honored at the Heroes Breakfast on April 30, 2014.

Acts of kindness and selflessness are characteristics of heroes no matter what their age is. When Brendan Leyden learned about children who are affected by epilepsy, he made it his mission to provide comfort and smiles. Brendan is the founder of Emmett Leyden’s Friends (E.L.F), an organization that provides youth affected by epilepsy with safe toys. Because of his dedication to serving others, Brendan received the Youth Good Samaritan Award in 2011.

Another hero that demonstrated an extreme act of bravery was Benjamin Groeper, 17, who won the youth award in 2012. He fearlessly jumped onto train tracks to save a man’s life. Groeper was waiting on the platform of the CTA Blue Line on his way home from work. He watched as a man fell face forward onto the tracks, while at least 40 bystanders waiting for the train witnessed in panic. Since the incident, Ben has inspired his Boy Scout troop to be ready to respond at a moment’s notice.

Last year, the American Red Cross recognized a another young hero with a huge heart. Acey Longley of Plainfield was honored with the youth award. When he was 7 years old, he began volunteering at his church’s soup kitchen. By age 8, he was an Illinois ambassador for Legos for Leukemia. Last year, 9-year-old Acey started his own charity, BEATS, that honors his late musician father’s memory by bringing instruments and iTunes cards to children in local hospitals.

Nominations are due Jan. 31. To nominate your hero, visit: or call 312-729-6388.

Written by: Diana Brokop and Raquel Silva

Pet First Aid: “They’re family.”

photoI’ve always lived with a pet in the house. I’ve loved them all, but Oliver cat was the first pet who was completely mine that I raised on my own.

Pets are our furry friends. Our constant companions. They’re family.  They love us unconditionally. In the helter-skelter of our busy lives, they slow us down and point out the simplicity of what pure joy looks like – food in the bowl, a new toy to play with, or a hug from us when we come home from school or work. When they hurt, we hurt. And when they die, so does a little piece of us.

Around 4 a.m. one morning Oliver crawled to me, his tiny heart racing fast. I cradled one hand under his head and my other hand around his heart. Then it stopped beating. He died in my arms before I reached the 24-hour vet. It’s been three years and I still miss my orange tabby cat.

That’s why today I downloaded the Red Cross Pet First Aid App. It tells you what to do during a medical emergency that’s specific to animals. It puts lifesaving information right in the hands of dog and cat owners so they can provide emergency care until veterinary assistance is available.

I love this App because pet owners can:

•  Create a pet profile including tag identification number, photos, list of medications and instructions.

•  Use the list of early warning signs to learn when to call their vet.

•  Use “click-to-call” to contact their vet.

•  Find emergency pet care facilities or alternate vets with the “animal hospital locator.”imagesCAJ8TBV2

During a disaster, caring for animals is always a concern when you have to evacuate. For dogs like golden retriever, Sagimo, the Red Cross was a welcomed community presence when relief teams arrived to help during the Colorado wildfires last summer.

I met many pet owners, like Derek Gentry, who fled his South Fork home with his dog, Inca. Many animal rescue shelters will take pets and you can find them on this App so everyone in your family can find a safe place to go during an emergency.

Two years ago, I adopted Arthur, whom I affectionately call “Mr. A.” He’s my buddy.

I believe he can live a long life with me.

Written by Patricia Kemp, Communications Manager for the American Red Cross of Greater Chicago. 

Johnson Family is thankful for the Red Cross this holiday season

IMG_4986Shanquell Johnson was in the kitchen prepping a turkey dinner for her family on the eve of Thanksgiving.

“Then the whole house went black, and then flames came through the walls,” she said.

Shanquell, her brother, and her four children, 15-year-old Shavon, 12-year-old twins Jachi and Jacruri, and 10-year-old Jakyla left everything behind and ran outside. They moved into their home in the Roseland neighborhood on Chicago’s South Side the month before. A few weeks earlier, everything was on the upswing for the Johnson family. They were unpacked and settled and looking forward to the spending time together in their home during the holidays.

“We lost everything in the fire,” said Shanquell. “I’m still in a state of shock.”

Shanquell returned to her scorched and boarded up home on a cold December morning to salvage what few items were left scattered inside the ruins of her living room. Finding a new place for her children to live is the only item on her Christmas list now.

Like the Johnson family, so many people are in need this holiday season. But the Red Cross is there, responding to 3 to 4 home fires every day in the Chicago region to help families recover. Volunteers find shelter, food, clothing, replace medications and offer mental health services to talk people through the stress of coping with loss.

Shanquell and her children are staying with family and friends, but the night of the fire the Red Cross responded to help with her family’s immediate needs. Volunteers gave the Johnson family the means to purchase food and warm clothes like coats and socks and find a safe place to sleep.

“I’m thankful for that, otherwise we wouldn’t have had a place to go,” she said.

  Written by: Patricia Kemp