Four months after a 6.4 magnitude earthquake shook southwestern Puerto Rico, the U.S. territory continues to experience serious seismic activity – the latest a 4.2 magnitude quake on March 30.
This latest quake hit during a month-long curfew enforced to curb spread of the coronavirus.
The January earthquake left an estimated 7,500 residents displaced. For American Red Cross Senior Engagement Specialist Victoria Donoso, the need for disaster assistance was too urgent to ignore.
It had been over 100 years since Puerto Ricans had experienced an earthquake of this magnitude. Houses made of cement to withstand hurricanes were defenseless against the tremors of a shaking earth.
“In this case, the biggest issue is the fear. People were fearful to go back into their homes, so they lost everything and just had to start again,” Victoria said.
She deployed to San Juan after being requested for the job by name. Her role was three weeks as assistant director of workforce, only one of two trained for disaster assessment and emergency assistance.
On the front lines of the natural disaster, a unique challenge she faced was navigating the waters where Red Cross services met Puerto Rican governance. Sheltering and feeding was being done by the local government, providing services to only 2,000 residents who secured a place within the shelters.
“People that were being counted were only those staying in government shelters, but the reality is there were encampments everywhere with sometimes hundreds of people who had never had anybody come out there to help them, yet.”
The primary role of the American Red Cross during this disaster was supporting the local government shelter efforts, but the undocumented encampments is where help was needed most.
“Working with government agencies, they would notify us, ‘Hey, there’s an encampment of 80 people here. We need to get services to them,’” said Victoria.
She and her team of local volunteers traveled in vans to provide individual disaster care to those most in need. Water for those trapped under debris and so much bug spray to battle swarms of tropical biting insects. She would assess the encampments, reporting back on the condition of those present, especially those disabled and unable to seek shelter without assistance.
Victoria had visited San Juan back in 1995, checking out the most populous, tourist-friendly areas of the city. This time around was different, experiencing the remote and devastated places few Americans will ever see, she was out in the jungle assisting people living in tents among piles of rubble.
Her personal takeaway? The resilience of the Puerto Rican people: always polite, generous, happy, and warm. “Very loving and very welcoming, I think this speaks a lot to the way they are going to handle the recovery process and the way they are going to persevere.”
Did you know: The risk of dying in a house fire drops by 50% in homes with a working smoke detector? Yet nearly 5 million houses across the United States do not have one installed.
That’s the message Jim Horning, a 15-year Red Cross volunteer, would like you to know.
Jim is the volunteer lead for the Red Cross Sound the Alarm campaign in San Joaquin County.
The national Sound the Alarm program has been rescheduled out of an abundance of caution during the coronavirus outbreak. Once it is rescheduled, some 27,000 Red Cross volunteers will install 100,000 smoke alarms nationwide for free.
Around Stockton, Jim and his team of 15-20 volunteers will install smoke detectors in 250 homes and educate the residents on the importance of fire preparedness.
They have protected 9,000 homes to date throughout the region, Jim said.
The death rate is much higher when a smoke alarm was present but not working during a fire than in homes that had no smoke alarms at all.
The number one cause of non-operational alarms? Dead batteries.
“Protecting people and their lives feels really good,” said Jim, who began his volunteer journey after watching Hurricane Katrina ravage New Orleans back in 2005.
After deploying to five major disaster sites in a six-month period, it’s safe to say that he takes great satisfaction in being part of the solution. “Red Cross is there every day, every year, for every major disaster.”
With over two million smoke alarms installed thus far (and many more to come), enthusiastic volunteers are welcomed and appreciated. From donations to joining an installation crew to starting a social media fundraiser, everyone can make a life-saving impact in their community.
In addition to free smoke detector installations, the American Red Cross will educate at-risk communities on fire safety essentials while fundraising to help families prepare, respond, and recover from home fires.
In the Gold Country Region, the goal is to install 1,100 smoke alarms this year. According to Jim, “The satisfaction is in the work. Come get trained and change some lives. You’ll be a changed person.”
Jim is a former Gold Country Region board member and chair of our golf tournament. With the realignment of our regional boundaries, he and his team will be working with the Northern California Coastal Region once Sound the Alarm resumes.
We are so appreciative of Jim’s work with the Gold Country Region and know he will continue to inspire NCCR volunteers with his dedication to Sound the Alarm and all the Red Cross does.
NOTE:As the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic grows, the American Red Cross continues to work closely with public health officials to deliver our lifesaving mission where and when it’s safe to do so. To protect everyone’s safety, we have postponed all Sound the Alarm events, home fire safety visits and preparedness presentations until further notice.
The American Red Cross Home Fire Campaign is celebrating a milestone this week with the 715th life saved as a result of free smoke alarms being installed in homes around the country.
In all, we’ve installed more than 2 million smoke alarms nationwide since 2014 in hopes of reducing home fire deaths and serious injury by 25%.
This year in the Gold Country Region, our goal is to install 4,000 free smoke alarms — 1,100 of them on April 25 as part of our national Sound the Alarm event!
When a fire starts in the home, you have less than two minutes to escape safe. Smoke alarms can make all the difference. But we can’t do it alone! Sign up to join a team of installers by going to soundthealarm.org.
The national Sound the Alarm event in the Gold Country Region is April 25! Our goal for 2020 is 4,000 alarm installations – 1,100 of those on April 25 alone!
As part of the Home Fire Campaign, Sound the Alarm is our largest community event!
To reach our goal, the region’s Preparedness Department is looking for a volunteer lead to oversee April 25 installations in Sacramento and Yolo counties.
This position is responsible for supporting and engaging the members assigned to the preparedness team, which includes ensuring assigned volunteers are provided with outstanding support and management.
Ability to build and lead a team using a collaborative leadership style and demonstrating traits of honesty, forward looking, competence, intelligence, and compassion. Capacity to envision the team’s impact in their area and inspire them into action. Ability to communicate how the team fits into the larger Disaster Cycle Services structure and how their actions can positively influence and support the DCS program as a whole.
1) Ability to relate effectively with diverse groups and individuals
2) Excellent interpersonal, verbal, and written communication skills
3) Demonstrated ability to read, understand, and review program guidelines and tools
Interested in learning more? Contact Community Preparedness Program Manager Kim Christensen at
916-281-4315 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
About the Home Fire Campaign:
Every day, seven people die in home fires, most victims in homes that lack smoke alarms. The American Red Cross wants to improve the odds and save lives – that’s why we launched our Home Fire Campaign in 2014.
Sound the Alarm is a critical part of the campaign. In just six years, our home visits have accomplished so much, including the installation of more than 2 million smoke alarms and preparing more than 2 million people against home fires.
Congratulations to Gold Country Regional Deployment Program Lead Liz Ford for winning the Spirit of the Pacific Award!
Liz was nominated by Disaster Workforce Engagement Program Manager Christine Yoo who recognized her for acting with a sense of purpose, having a passion for service and a willingness to go above and beyond.
All Red Cross team members are encouraged to work together and personify a set of cultural values and behaviors that exemplify these Pacific Division ideals. The Spirit of the Pacific Award is specifically designed to acknowledge and reward these
outstanding efforts on the part of employees and volunteers.
The award was created in 2016. This is the second time a Gold Country Region volunteer has won!
Take a look at Liz’s nomination:
As the Regional Deployment Program Lead, Liz has played an integral role in the successful development of our regional deployment team and has been actively engaged in recruiting and training every member from the very beginning!
Her vision and commitment to develop a volunteer-led and sustained program has greatly enhanced our region’s ability to provide our volunteers with more opportunities for deployment to disasters all across the country by ensuring that a dedicated volunteer member of our team is on duty each day to monitor the open positions as they are requested by the relief operations (7 days a week, 365 days a year).
She will often take on extra days if no other team members are available and even offers to do this while she is away on vacation or traveling across country! Not only that, she also enthusiastically took on the challenge for the deployment team to conduct debrief calls with each and every disaster responder that deployed during fall 2018 (and there were several hundred!).
From when it was first brought up, she was already on the same page with feeling that this is something we needed to start doing and promptly proceeded to devise a plan, communicate with the team to get everyone on board with the plan, and executed the daunting task – a true reflection of her dedication and passion for our volunteers’ experiences on deployments to be a positive one.
Liz has also continued to step up time and again when those disasters have occurred in our very own backyard, taking on leadership roles in Staff Services in the chaos of the initial phases of standing up an operation to support our workers as they serve our impacted communities and she often stays on for weeks until the job is done. Not only during disasters but throughout the year, she is committed to building our regional cadre of trained Staff Services volunteers and gladly makes herself available to instruct the Staff Services Fundamentals course all over our region!
Liz is someone that we count on to step in when the unforeseeable happens, as with last July’s institute, when both the volunteer and paid staff lead for the event were unexpectedly taken out of commission days before the event. She graciously stepped in to pick up the reigns and provide coordination on site at the event, along with the other members of the planning team, to ensure that the event proceeded as planned.
Having the privilege of getting to work with Liz in all these roles has truly been a joy and honor – I couldn’t imagine where we’d be or what I’d do without her!
Congratulations, Liz! Thank you for all you do for the American Red Cross.
Our work is powered by a workforce of more than 90% volunteers and generous public donations. The Red Cross is proud that an average of 90 cents of every dollar we spend is invested in delivering care and comfort to those in need. Your financial support can make a lifesaving difference.
From disasters like the Camp and Carr fires to support for veterans’ families and those displaced by home fires, your donations helped us provide services to so many people during 2019 Impact Report.
Please take a moment to read our Year-End Appeal and download a Regional Donation Form. As a faithful partner, you can help us deliver hope and help to thousands of people in the year ahead!