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My Word Against Ebola: LOVE

This post was written by Samuel Estabrook, as part of the Words Against Ebola campaign – a Red Cross initiative to promote knowledge, fight stigma, alleviate fear and overcome complacency through the sharing of positive words. The American Red Cross deployed Samuel to Liberia in January. Samuel is tweeting from Liberia @mapping_Sam.   Photo courtesy Stephen Ryan/IFRC

Love is a blessing and a curse in the time of Ebola. Caring for loved ones while they’re suffering puts caretakers’ own health at risk. In West Africa, it is people’s love for family and neighbors that has caused an unprecedented chain of exposure and more than 3,000 confirmed Ebola deaths in Liberia alone. In West Africa, more than 10,000 people have died from the virus. 

Life with Ebola has challenged love, too.  Many people who have had the disease face painful stigma and isolation from their own friends and communities. At the height of the outbreak, the threat of catching Ebola was so great that love between friends and family became insularly protective — better to ostracize others to protect home and family. The trauma of stigma and isolation pose new challenges to a nation still plagued by memories of war. Red Cross volunteers’ promotion of psychosocial support has been welcomed, and the scars that are still fresh will hopefully fade as the fear and stigma subside.

Over time, better understanding about Ebola promotes love, too. I’ve seen it. When a Liberian Red Cross volunteer survived the disease, she experienced no stigma from her colleagues, friends, or family.

I saw love in a different way, by having the honor to work with the safe and dignified burial teams in the urban capital of Liberia: Monrovia. Day after day these burial teams traveled to welcoming and weary communities alike, stressing the urgency and importance of safety — love for their countrymen and women was their motivation. Their mission was clearly from the heart, as their comradery and responsibility for each other’s safety was only greater strengthened by their shared experiences and concern for fellow Liberians.

Love will prevail through the fear. As we commemorate the Ebola outbreak’s one year mark, Liberia has sadly confirmed a new case. Our love as donors, doctors, nurses, humanitarians, volunteers, researchers, specialists, and the concerned public will be needed as the battle continues in Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea. The American response, alongside the Liberian government and dozens of organizations that labor tirelessly to eradicate Ebola must continue to support those immediately and indirectly affected by the outbreak.

Our love, shipped from abroad in so many forms, pales in comparison to the love and compassion evident within the communities’ hearts and minds in every part of Liberia. I’m humbled by my experience, and only wish for love to triumph above all. Thank you for reading, and may your Words Against Ebola be truer and stronger than ever before.

You can join the #WordsAgainstEbola campaign at wordsagainstebola.org.

@ClaraBarton, Is That You? Envisioning Our Founder’s First Tweets

In honor of March is Red Cross Month, we decided to show our founder, Clara Barton, how to tweet and celebrate with us. Like most who first start out on Twitter, it took a bit of time to acclimate! Limiting thoughts to 140 characters, what to talk about and, of course, how to properly use a #hashtag were all a fun challenge.

We’re thrilled to see Clara has been hard at work getting the word out about the Red Cross and our amazing everyday heroes.

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 Don’t know about Henry Dunant? The story of how the American Red Cross started is pretty cool.

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Clara was very excited to hear that we have over 2 MILLION Twitter followers!

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Check out Clara Barton’s work searching for missing men before the American Red Cross was even founded, and what we’re still doing today to reconnect families separated by crisis, conflict or migration.

 

Please note that these are fake tweets from Clara Barton; the American Red Cross social team at NHQ only manages one account. Follow us @RedCross or find your local chapter’s account on RedCross.org. 

To Save, To Serve, To Build

It often takes a little nudge for us to get up off the couch, to get the ball rolling, or to take on something new.

Many American Red Cross volunteers credit a disaster – a large-scale national event, like a hurricane or series of wildfires, or even a smaller event that affects family members, friends or community members closer to home – as the nudge they needed to join the organization. Other volunteers come on board after learning new information in a health and safety class, at a volunteer fair or at a community event. Though each volunteer’s story is different, in most cases something or someone served is the motivation they needed to become involved.

In his 2015 Presidential Proclamation of March as American Red Cross Month, President Obama encouraged, “During American Red Cross Month, let us ask what we can do for those around us and resolve to make service to others a part of our everyday lives.”

Perhaps your story as a Red Cross volunteer begins today. Perhaps the arrival – the proclamation – of March as Red Cross Month will serve as the nudge, the sign, the motivation you need to join us as we preserve and renew that humanitarian impulse to save, to serve, and to build.

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What might you do as a Red Cross volunteer, you ask? Let me give you an idea.

As a Volunteer Management volunteer, assist with volunteer recruitment, orientation, placement, training, and retention.

As a Disaster Services volunteer/Disaster Action Team member, provide food, shelter, and comfort for individuals and families affected by disasters.

As a Disaster Preparedness volunteer, educate individuals and groups on how to be prepared before disasters strike.

As a Public Affairs volunteer, tell the Red Cross story during disasters.

As a Health and Safety Instructor, teach community classes such as CPR, First Aid, AED, Water Safety, Lifeguarding, and Babysitting to adults, teenagers, and youth.

As a First Aid Team volunteer, provide basic level first aid response and services.

As an Armed Forces Caseworker, ensure delivery of emergency communications between members of the military and their families.

As a Blood Donor Recruiter, work with individuals, groups, and companies to recruit blood donors and promote blood drives.

As a Blood Drive volunteer, greet and register blood donors.

As a Clerical volunteer, assist with administrative tasks in the office.

As a Special Events volunteer, assist with fundraising and special events.

As a Grant Researcher/Writer, assist the fundraising team as they research, write, and execute grants.

As a Youth volunteer, participate in a Red Cross Club at your elementary, middle, or high school or college/university.

There are so many good reasons to become involved with the American Red Cross, and so many different opportunities available once connected to the organization. Change your own life and be a hero in someone else’s by joining the American Red Cross today.

Volunteer opportunities vary slightly from chapter to chapter. To find out more information about the volunteer opportunities at your local chapter, search on redcross.org

From the Archives–March is Red Cross Month

The tradition of ‘March is Red Cross Month’ started in 1943, during World War II.

Prior to designating March as its official fundraising month, the American Red Cross conducted campaigns known as roll calls. That tradition began during World War I.

When the United States entered World War II in 1941, the war effort placed additional financial demands on the Red Cross. The resulting fundraising was successful, but, after discussions with President Franklin D. Roosevelt, the honorary chairman of the Red Cross, a decision was made to consolidate fundraising and have a special month dedicated to the Red Cross. With an initial goal of $125 million, March was named as Red Cross Month. 

In less than six weeks, the Red Cross reached its goal, and by June 1943, donations totaled nearly $146 million. Roosevelt called it the “…greatest single crusade of mercy in all of history.”

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Washington, D.C., 1943 – President Franklin D. Roosevelt signs the proclamation naming March as the official Red Cross month. 

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Washington, D.C., February 28, 1961 – President John F. Kennedy, as honorary chairman of the American Red Cross, launches the annual Red Cross fundraising campaign. 

Throughout the war years and after, the Red Cross continued the tradition of using March as Red Cross Month for its annual fundraising effort.

President Obama Proclamation, 2009

2009 presidential proclamation signed by President Barack Obama declaring March as Red Cross Month.

As part of the tradition, the president customarily issues a proclamation each year declaring March as Red Cross Month. 

 

March is Red Cross Month: From the Archives

Red Cross Month traces its roots to the Christmas Roll Call, an end-of-year fund-raising effort begun during World War I to aid war victims in Europe.

 

 

The nurse image is an example of “The American Girl” look popularized by artist Harrison Fisher.

The nurse image is an example of “The American Girl” look popularized by artist Harrison Fisher.

The colorful flags that flew over New York City’s lower Fifth Avenue during Red Cross Week in May 1918 were immortalized in these two paintings below.

 

Childe Hassam, Red Cross Drive, May 1918 (Celebration Day)

Childe Hassam, Red Cross Drive, May 1918 (Celebration Day)

 

 

Caroline Van Hook Bean, Red Cross Week, May 1918, Fifth Avenue, New York

Caroline Van Hook Bean, Red Cross Week, May 1918, Fifth Avenue, New York

As the years progressed, other forms of fundraising replaced the Christmas Roll Call and Red Cross Week, but the idea of a special honor for the Red Cross continued.

President Franklin D. Roosevelt proclaimed March as Red Cross Month in 1943. While the president proclaims Red Cross Month on the national level, cities and municipalities do the same locally. Here, shown with images from our archives, are some of the ways New York City has celebrated our organization.

 

Mayor Rudy Giuliani presents New York Red Cross chairman Jonathan O’Herron with a proclamation in 2000.

Mayor Rudy Giuliani presents New York Red Cross chairman Jonathan O’Herron with a proclamation in 2000.

Only New York can celebrate Red Cross Month on Broadway. On March 14, 1962, composer Richard Rodgers hosted a benefit for the New York Chapter at the only preview of his musical “No Strings.” Proceeds from the benefit helped fund construction of a new chapter headquarters building near Lincoln Center. “No Strings (see poster below) ran for 580 performances on Broadway and won three Tony Awards

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Mrs. Judson B. Shafer, chairman of the Red Cross Benefit Committee, shows Mr. Rodgers a rendering of the new building.

Mrs. Judson B. Shafer, chairman of the Red Cross Benefit Committee, shows Mr. Rodgers a rendering of the new building.

Through the years, the tradition of hanging flags during Red Cross Week was continued in Red Cross Month. Flags, banners and signage are seen in all New York boroughs on offices, buses, hotels, government buildings and taxis.

 

 

Representatives of the Central Queens Red Cross Chapter help raise the Red Cross flag at Kennedy Airport in March 1967.

Representatives of the Central Queens Red Cross Chapter help raise the Red Cross flag at Kennedy Airport in March 1967.

 

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Even the control tower at Kennedy Airport has gone red in tribute to Red Cross Month.

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Frigid Weekend Getaway and Warmer Days (Hopefully) around the Corner

To the despair of many, bitter cold continues to painfully grip much of the United States. The bone-chilling winter weather has dumped massive amounts of snow, plummeted temperatures far below averages and has many people dreaming of warmer days. Long summer days spent on the beach seem too distant to provide any relief. Perhaps a trip to Florida, the Caribbean or southern California would heal the wounds caused by the bleak weather. For those of us not lucky enough to escape to warm weather, we change our desktop background images to palm trees providing shading over white sandy beaches and accept our situation.

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Others, however, embrace the cold and travel to even colder areas. Say, for instance, the Buffalo region.  With near constant lake-effect snow and Arctic temperatures blasting western New York, visitors should arrive prepared to face the extreme weather.

Earlier this month, I drove to western New York for a weekend meet up with high school friends. Little did we know when planned the trip that we’d face record-breaking low temperatures throughout our stay. Our President’s Day weekend getaway to Buffalo’s neighboring city Fredonia, New York, bared an actual temperature of negative 28 degrees at its lowest with an accompanying wind chill of almost minus 40 degrees. For this resident of Washington, D.C. and Red Cross employee, these dangerous temperatures provided a firsthand experience of extreme winter weather and the precautions needed to stay as safe and warm as possible.

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Below are a few tips my group kept in mind to stay safe. You can also make use of these to make it through the last frigid weeks of winter as we patiently await warmer days:

  1. Wear multiple layers of clothing to stay warm. Gloves and winter hats help retain body heat.
  2. Know the signs of hypothermia –  confusion, dizziness, exhaustion and severe shivering. If someone has these symptoms, they should get immediate medical attention.
  3. Know the signs of frost bite – numbness, flushed gray, white, blue or yellow skin discoloration, numbness or waxy feeling skin.
  4. Keep the thermostat at the same temperature day and night. Don’t forget to run water, even lightly, to prevent pipes from freezing.
  5. Download the free Red Cross First Aid App and learn how to treat cold weather related emergencies.

Find more extreme winter weather tips on redcross.org.

11 days until spring. 103 days until summer. But for now, stay safe and live vicariously through your Caribbean desktop background!

The Campaign to Change Direction

Sadly, nearly one in every five adults suffers from a diagnosable mental health condition according to SAMHSA.  Traditionally, the Red Cross provides timely emotional support to people affected by disasters or emergencies and members of the military community.  And we’re now proud to join with Give an Hour in The Campaign to Change Direction to share information.

The campaign focuses on helping people to recognize and understand the five typical signs that may indicate that someone is experiencing emotional distress. By becoming familiar with these signs, we can all play a role in identifying people who need extra help.

“People pass through our lives every hour of every day,” says Diane Manwill, LPC LMFT LCPC-S,

Red Cross senior associate for mental health, “the majority of whom we’d never recognize as experiencing emotional pain or needing help. They are our family, our friends, our neighbors, our coworkers, our spouses, our parents, and our children.  We all want to help, but the first step is knowing what to look for so we can bring care and comfort to those suffering from emotional distress.”

Below are the five signs that may indicate that someone is experiencing emotional distress:

1.  Their Personality Changes

You may notice sudden or gradual changes in the way that someone typically behaves. He or she may behave in ways that don’t seem to fit the person’s values, or the person may just seem different.

2. They seem uncharacteristically angry, anxious, agitated, or moody.

You may notice the person has more frequent problems controlling his or her temper and seems irritable or unable to calm down. People in more extreme situations of this kind may be unable to sleep or may explode in anger at a minor problem.

3. They withdraw or isolate themselves from other people.

Someone who used to be socially engaged may pull away from family and friends and stop taking part in activities he or she used to enjoy. In more severe cases the person may start failing to make it to work or school. Not to be confused with the behavior of someone who is more introverted, this sign is marked by a change in someone’s typical sociability, as when someone pulls away from the social support he or she typically has.

4. They stop taking care of themselves and may engage in risky behavior.

You may notice a change in the person’s level of personal care or an act of poor judgment on his or her part. For instance, someone may let his or her personal hygiene deteriorate, or the person may start abusing alcohol or illicit substances or engaging in other self-destructive behavior that may alienate loved ones.

5. They seem overcome with hopelessness and overwhelmed by their circumstances.

Have you noticed someone who used to be optimistic and now can’t find anything to be hopeful about? That person may be suffering from extreme or prolonged grief, or feelings of worthlessness or guilt. People in this situation may say that the world would be better off without them suggesting suicidal thinking.

If you recognize these signs in someone you care about, reach out to them and offer assistance. It could be a rocky conversation to start and it may take a time.  To learn more about the five signs and the campaign go to www.changedirection.org.

 

Measles & My Sister

Emmi S. Herman is a writer and children’s book author who lives in Searingtown, New York. She wrote this piece in response to American Red Cross President and CEO Gail McGovern’s Op-Ed, Measles Vaccinations: Saving Millions of Lives.

 

The measles robbed the landscape of our wonder years, broke in like a burglar and stole a normal sibling relationship right from under our feet.

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At the end of February 1960, my sister, a precocious, healthy child was halfway through the fourth grade in Rockland County when she contracted measles from one of her classmates who lived right down the street from us. His case was among the approximately 999 uncomplicated cases reported prior to the 1963 measles vaccination program in the U.S. For every 1,000 cases of measles, one would develop into a life-long disability. My sister’s case was that one. On March 1, she was diagnosed with measles encephalitis.


I was only six years old, but the gravity of her illness wasn’t lost on me (and today, the very mention of the word measles resonates into the deepest part of my being). My sister had been sick in bed with a high fever for a couple of days when the doctor was called to our home. As the pediatrician told my parents that she needed to be hospitalized, my happy-go-lucky, fearless mother fainted right before my eyes. I felt invisible to the swirl of confusion around me and lost inside my own home. When the ambulance arrived, I watched quietly. One of the EMS workers tossed his unfinished cigarette into our modern suburban toilet and gave me a complicit wink. The rules I had been taught, the family unit I knew, suddenly and without warning, were flushed down the toilet like the cigarette.


The ambulance whisked my sister away to the local hospital, where doctors offered no hope. She slipped into a coma and the prognosis was grim. “Pretend she was hit by a car” was one callous recommendation my mother received from a treating doctor. My mother thought otherwise. She stayed by my sister’s side around the clock. I went to school and was bounced from one neighbor to another until my father came to get me. I suppose he tried to work. He had to work. The medical bills started to pile up. Plus there was the upkeep of our new suburban split level, which stood half-empty, aching for family ruckus. Instead, it got the measles encephalitis whisper.


The modest white-shingled house with pink-painted shutters was purchased in November of 1959. With the assistance of the GI Bill, my dad, a World War II army combat vet finally afforded his $19,840 dream. Less than four months later, all was shattered, as his first-born lay comatose due to an unpreventable disease. The storybook beginning was ripped away and everything that happened in 1960 shaped our family’s path going forward. Every single day I wonder what would our lives, and more importantly, my sister’s life, be today if the measles vaccination was available at that time? What if she never suffered from the measles? Would we have a close and stable relationship? Would it be like my two daughters’ loving relationship, histrionics and all? The measles robbed the landscape of our wonder years, broke in like a burglar and stole a normal sibling relationship right from under our feet.


And then a miracle happened. After five weeks of my mother’s vigil, my sister came out of the coma. Hospitals rules were not child-friendly and throughout her stay, I was not allowed to visit. So as soon as she was able, my parents arranged to get my sister to the window so we could see each other. I stood in the vast parking lot and looked up. She was smiling and waving with great ferocity. When I replay that scene in my mind, the wild-looking wave personified her fight to survive and the strength she would need to endure the battlefield of life that lay ahead.


Time moves slowly when you’re six. I don’t remember my sister’s homecoming but it was sometime around Easter because I wanted a pet rabbit. My aunt tried to appease my capricious request. “You could get a toy rabbit now, or, if you wait until your sister comes home from the hospital you could get a real one.”


“My sister is never coming home,“ I blurted out, the verity of the statement echoed loudly. Out of the mouth of babes.


At first, everything seemed normal. My mother was home. My sister went back to school. But her behavior and personality changed as a result of the encephalitis and it presented issues that had to be dealt with. She struggled with learning new concepts in subjects that she had once mastered. At home, she fought over minutiae. My parents didn’t know what to do; the teachers offered sympathy but little support. My sister became a complicated medical case in relatively uncomplicated times. The ill-equipped school system of Regents and Non Regents classes—and nothing in between—allowed my sister to fall through the cracks.


Then my sister “fell” while she was walking home from school. That’s what I heard. In reality, she suffered a grand mal seizure. It was the first of many. Complications from measles encephalitis began to rear its ugly head and lay a path rife with stumbling blocks. After much trial and error, lifelong medications mostly controlled the seizures. But no medication could repair the damage caused by the insidious disease.


Measles encephalitis left my sister permanently brain injured. Throughout her life, she has struggled with higher-level learning skills, awkward social behavior, anxiety, denial and paranoia. My sister’s cognitive and personality changes swelled as the fickle preteen and teenage years took hold. She was the poster child for childhood bullying long before the phenomenon grew media wings. Unlike today, there were few places to turn for answers or social support. My parents knew of no other case of measles encephalitis at the time.


Trips to an eerie place called Letchworth Village was recommended for brainwave tests. Wet electroencephalogram using conductive paste became routine for my sister. She bravely accepted the EEG machine with aplomb. The purpose was for management of my sister’s condition. The hope was for successful rehabilitation. The reality was defeat. She would say that her brain felt as if a part of it was missing and asked me to check her skull for indentations. I would assure her that there were none. These were chilling, sad journeys. We were characters out of a macabre novel and my sister was the central heroine. Fifty-five years since that wild-looking wave from the hospital window, and a myriad cast of inscrutable characters, she still is.

Five Tips to Avoid Common Winter Injuries

Tips in this blog post are originally from Andrew MacPherson, MD
Member, American Red Cross Scientific Advisory Council

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Are you hitting the slopes this weekend? A dedicated runner? An all-around adventure-seeker? Just in case you’re distracted by all the fun winter activities and safety isn’t #1 on your list, here are some top tips for preventing common winter injuries.

1. Runners. You have it extra tough trying to stay warm and dry without getting bogged down. Whether you are a casual jogger or elite marathoner, when you run in winter weather wear layered lightweight clothing; it keeps you warmer than a single heavy coat. Moisture-wicking layers can keep you dry and moving when the temperature drops.

2. Skis and Skates. Winter sports mean skiing, snowboarding, skating or ice hockey, and enthusiasts have a range of proper safety equipment designed for protection. But it only works if you wear it, so never skimp on recommended gear – especially helmets and goggles.

3. Off-road. If you prefer your activities off the beaten track, always think obstacles: snow-covered trees and rocks can really ruin your day. Outdoor ice skaters should be sure their lake is frozen safely solid by consulting local official sources. Most importantly, let someone know where you’ll be and when to expect you back for that cup of hot chocolate.

4. Brrrrrr. When you work up that outdoor sweat, it’s easy to forget that Jack Frost is still ready to bite. Know the signs of frostbite – numbness, flushed gray, white, blue or yellow skin discoloration or a waxy feeling – and get inside and get help. If you are feeling confused, dizzy, exhausted or experience severe shivering, those are signs of hypothermia and it’s time get medical attention pronto.

5. Sunblock. Just because it is cold doesn’t mean it isn’t sunny! Sunlight can reflect off the snow and getting a sunburn can be faster than on the beach. Wear a good activity-proof sunblock whenever you are active outside.

Still have questions? The Red Cross has a great, FREE First Aid app that covers all the basics.

See Andrew’s original post (with a fun throwback Olympic quiz!).

Our Home Fires Preparedness Campaign is expanding…to Kenya

By Abi Weaver, Global Technology Project Director, American Red Cross

Last weekend, volunteers in Omaha walked door-to-door, helping families install and test smoke alarms as part of the American Red Cross Home Fire Preparedness Campaign,  which aims to reduce deaths and injuries caused by home fires by 25% in five years.  More than 8,400 miles away, Kenya Red Cross volunteers may soon be providing a similar lifesaving service in Nairobi’s slums.

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It’s challenging to estimate how many slum fires Kenya experiences each year because so many go unreported. But just a quick scroll through the Kenya Red Cross Twitter stream and you’ll notice they regularly occur because people are cooking with open flames indoors, burning trash, overextending faulty wires or trying to keep warm. Rapid and haphazard community development has also forced homes dangerously close together, and once they start, fires spread easily throughout the settlement.

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On top of this, the density of Nairobi’s slums makes evacuations chaotic and dangerous. Pathways between homes are narrow and often blocked. Imagine a large-scale labyrinth with limited visibility and dozens of obstacles in your way. Getting out of your home when a fire starts and to a safe location within two minutes, as firefighters recommend, is nearly impossible.

Earlier this year, I spent some time with residents of three settlements in Nairobi to better understand the fire risk and help find innovative solutions to this overwhelming problem.

When fires occur, residents shout, ring bells, honk horns, crank sirens and use social media to alert others. Some residents risk their lives to suppress the fire using blankets and buckets, others douse their unaffected homes with water to stop the spread.

Most people didn’t know who to call to help stop fires. And professional firefighters, if they are even available, have a difficult time finding and getting to homes. Within minutes, hundreds of residents can be left devastated and homeless.

Very few have insurance. And after a fire, forced eviction or rent increases are common. Many end up leaving their communities and families are separated for prolonged periods of time.

Despite the sobering realities of the slums, it was easy to stay optimistic. The creativity and entrepreneurial spirit of the local residents was without equal, and together, we identified an emerging technology tool to complement the Kenya Red Cross’ current risk reduction programs—low cost fire sensors that are networked to each other.

An Emerging Technology Solution

In the future, they could detect a fire early, distinguishing between smoke and flames, and sound alarms across the network via SMS and broadcast to alert nearby homeowners. They could also directly notify professional firefighters (or an informal brigade of citizen volunteers) and provide GPS data for the location of the fire.

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Almost immediately, we took our enthusiasm and requirements to a group of students at Texas A&M University, and we asked them to help design a custom prototype for the fire sensors, inspired by those developed in South Africa. During an initial design session, they also thought of ways the he at sensors could help reduce the number of false alarms caused by smoke detectors in the US.

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On March 6, the Aggies will head back to the lab for second design session and help move us one more step toward this dream. We have a lot of work ahead of us before we can claim victory, but we have a great need propelling us forward.

Want to learn more about this innovation initiative and the other emerging technology projects planned in 2015? Visit www.tech4resilience.blogspot.com for regular updates on our progress and read our Vision for the Humanitarian Use of Emerging Technology for Emerging Needs.