• Archived Posts

Ryan Yamane: Telling the Stories of Wildfire Survivors

Post written by Red Cross mental health worker Ryan Yamane. Ryan also currently represents the 37th State House District in the Hawaii House of Representatives.

On June 27, I turned on the local news showing the devastation of the California wildfires. Twenty-four hours later, I was on a flight to help those families imwildfire 2pacted by the Erskine Fire which destroyed 285 homes and killed three people. As I arrived at headquarters, I was excited to serve in my role as a Red Cross disaster mental health worker to help victims of the fires and various volunteers deal with the loss of life and property.

Later that night, I sat on a cot in a staff shelter gym with 80 other Red Cross volunteers. As I looked around, I was amazed to see so many volunteers from all across the United States who left the comfort of their homes and the company of their families to help people they had never met before.

When I asked one of the volunteers why he came to help, he said, “I came to help because I have a home and family to go back to once I am done here. Many of the people we help do not have homes, so a little bit of sacrifice to help others is well worth it.”

Comforting Families Who Lost It All

Over the next seven days, I was part of an outreach team that drove throughout the devastation looking for people who were impacted by the wildfires. I was amazed how the fire melted refrigerators and twisted steel beams, how it destroyed neighborhoods but spared some homes, how the fire melted the windshield of cars and made puddles of aluminum metal. As I talked with survivors, their stories where very similar. All of them mentioned the terror they felt and how fast the wildfire spread.

One woman said that she and her husband ran out of their home with their two dogs in their arms, and had no time to gather any personal items. As they got into the car, their two dogs jumped from their grasps and ran back into their home. Her husband tried to re-enter the home, but it was engulfed in flames and they barely got away while the fire chased them down the street. The woman cried on my shoulder as she recalled how she felt and how scared her two dogs must have been to run into a burning home.

wildfireLater that same day, I came across a man and his sister sifting through debris and ash. I approached them and asked if they wanted ice cold water and if there was anything I could do to assist. After some brief introductions I noticed that the man walked off to the side and stood alone with his head down. I asked him if I could join him, gave him a cold bottle of water and stood with him silently with our heads down. A few moments later he began to talk about his home and family of pets that he lost. As he talked, I noticed six small mounds of dirt on the ground in front of us. He then described a horrifying ordeal in which his neighbor pounded on his door yelling that he had to get out right away. When he exited his home to see what the commotion was, he saw the flames spreading over the mountain side at speeds up to 60 mph. He tried to grab his two frightened dogs, but they ran under the house and refused to come out. He ran into his home which was ablaze and grabbed two of his cats, but had to leave the other five cats still inside. As he described what had happened, he cried and said that he found all of pets except for one cat. We stood there silently for a few moments. He said “thank you,” and that he would leave the area once he found his last pet family member.

Proud to be a Red Cross Volunteer

On that day, I talked with various victims who lost more than just their items, but their pets and memories. However, as I left each family, I witnessed the human resolve and the spirit of giving. Each family stated that they would rebuild, that they would eventually recover, and that they would build new lasting memories from the ashes. It was uplifting to see hundreds of volunteers willing to help these victims with the first steps of rebounding from this terrible disaster. That night I was exhausted, but proud to be a Red Cross volunteer.

As the days passed, I had the privilege to work side by side volunteers from across our great country with the single motivation to help others. Members of the community took the time to express their words of appreciation and we did our best to reach everyone we could while we were there. As my disaster deployment came to an end, I looked forward to returning home to our beautiful islands, spending time with my wife and kids, and sleeping in a real bed, but I would also cherish the opportunity to help others during this devastating disaster. When I hugged my kids, I told them I missed them, but was also gratified that I was able to help.

To all the volunteers and staff of the American Red Cross, thank you for your service to others. To our community, please know that we, the Red Cross, will be here when disaster strikes.

How Social Media, Tech Influences Vaccination Campaigns in Kenya


Kids in Nairobi, Kenya, proudly display their marked pinkies, a sign they’ve received a measles and rubella vaccination.


As part of the Measles and Rubella Initiative, we are committed to vaccinating kids in countries across the world. We recently supported our friends at the Kenya Red Cross, as they participated in a country-wide campaign to vaccinate kids, through community outreach. We were struck by the Kenya Red Cross’ use of social media and SMS text messages to get the word out for this immunization campaign. We chatted with their social media officer Munir Ahmed to learn a little bit more about how they’re using tech to reach more Kenyan families.

Munir Ahmed, Social Media Officer, Kenya Red Cross

1) What led you to join the Kenya Red Cross social media team? 

Passion for information. When you work as a social media officer for the Kenya Red Cross Society, you are at a central position to receive information of all activities carried out by the organization. Being in this position keeps me fully informed of disaster response activities, health, water, sanitation and hygiene and much more.


2) Tell us a little bit about Kenya Red Cross’ participation in the recent measles vaccination campaign. 

The Kenya Red Cross  was largely involved in social mobilization. We have a large pool of volunteers whom we engaged to conduct household visits to provide critical information on the Measles & Rubella Initiative campaign. Basically, they’re convincing parents to get their kids immunized.

SMS (text message) broadcasting and social media were also used to reach out to the public and raise awareness.


3) How did you use social media to promote the campaign? How did this differ from years past?

We have a fairly large following of over half a million followers. We used all our social media platforms to reach out to the public and raise awareness through measles and rubella facts and short key messages provided to us by Kenya’s ministry of health. Together with other key partners, we responded to queries posed by the public to help them understand the importance of getting their kids immunized.

This year’s social media campaign was much better than past years. Key partners, such as Kenya’s Ministry of Health, American Red Cross, GAVI Alliance and UNICEF Kenya used their social media outlets to share measles messages which gave the campaign a major boost.


4) What role did text messaging/SMS play in promoting this campaign?

The text messages were very crucial to the campaign as we targeted the whole country through the two largest mobile networks in Kenya. A majority of the population received the information and acted accordingly. A select few clearly stated their wish to be opted out of the messages, but that was our only negative feedback.


5) What were you most surprised by when using social media and text to promote this campaign?

Resistance. In almost all health campaigns, there is always a small group that is against immunization, yet such campaigns are purely carried to ensure the well-being of every child.


6) How do you see social media’s role evolving at the Kenya Red Cross in the future?

Aside from the Kenya Red Cross, social media itself is evolving as many people are starting to see its importance. I believe as it keeps evolving, we will take full advantage to ensure that humanitarian activities get the attention they need.


7) If you weren’t doing social media for the Red Cross, what would you be doing?

Playing football [soccer, for those in the U.S.]. I have always wanted to play professional football. As soon as I kick a soccer ball, I forget about everything and just enjoy the game. Pure fun.


Launched in 2001 by the American Red Cross, United Nations Foundation, U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, UNICEF and World Health Organization, the Measles & Rubella Initiative first aimed to make a difference in Africa. Since then the American Red Cross and its Measles & Rubella Initiative partners have helped to vaccinate one billion children in more than 80 developing countries, immunizing more than 2 billion children and making significant gains in the global effort to stop the disease.

How I Avoid Accidentally Leaving My Baby in a Hot Car

car seat

It’s 95 degrees in Washington at the time of writing. I myself don’t want to step outside, let alone tote my 7-month-old baby around. My wiggly little guy absolutely hates his car seat. Until we start driving, upon which he promptly falls asleep. (Isn’t he the cutest?)

baby car seat tip summer
Falling asleep is awesome when he needs some extra shut-eye, but terrifying when you are in go-mode and there’s a tiny, silent baby in your backseat.

Reading stories of kids left in hot cars breaks my heart in a million pieces, and prompts my family to implement a system to support each other and avoid a hot car mishap.

For us, it’s all about barriers and checks.

First Line of Baby Hot Car Defense: Visual Reminders

This is a commonly suggested tip that works really well for our family. Our personal items (my purse, my husband’s work bag) and even shopping bags all go in the back seat. When we aren’t both in the car, my son’s bag (diaper bag or food for the nanny share) goes in the front seat. I’ve heard some people put a stuffed animal in the front seat as a reminder as well.

Think of this as the “function barrier.” You can’t function at work without your laptop. You can’t buy anything at the store without your wallet. You can’t get back in your house without your keys. Whatever you need to function after you exit the car, store that thing with your kid.

baby car seat tip summer

Second Line of Baby Hot Car Defense: Text Checks

The “it can happen to anyone” mentality adds a drop of humility to the process, prompting us to institute a text message check.

I text my husband around the time he should be getting to work after dropping off our kid. A simple “How did drop-off go this morning?” works. I don’t care if he only responds “ok,” because I’m not really looking for a conversation. I want my husband to take 30 seconds out of his morning at work to visualize the drop-off and ensure he has specific memories from the drop-off process. Sometimes I just get a smiley emoji in response, which works too!

Curious Kids and Unlocked Cars

Growing kids require a constantly changing safety strategy. Red Cross Scientific Advisory Council member Jim Judge shared some insight from his research: “Thirty percent of deaths result in kids climbing in unlocked cars. They may lock the car or the safety locks are engaged, and they can’t get out.”

Jim recommends families keep vehicles locked at all times and keep car keys and remote openers out of a child’s reach.

Baby Car Seat Routine and Future Technology

Most families keep kids safe with tried and true steps – a solid routine goes a long way to help make things run smoothly. But even if your routine includes checks like the ones above, things can go awry. A kid needs an emergency run to the pediatrician, and you’re rushing to get back to the office. You make a run to the grocery store at an odd time and focus on getting the bags upstairs.

We can normally count on our nanny to check in if the baby doesn’t arrive at a reasonable time, so working out a deal with whoever should be caring for your child (daycare, nanny, even a play date’s parents) can be a failsafe.

Any tips from other parents out there – especially with multiple kiddos – on how you put safety checks in place, in particular when a routine is interrupted?

I also love hearing technology ideas coming down the pike to help even the most careful parent stay safe. I’ve seen solutions from every corner –  from car companies to dads on a mission to save more lives – and look forward to adding third, fourth, and even fifth lines of defense to make sure my baby gets home safe every day. It takes a village, truly.


Please Note: If you see a child alone in a vehicle, get involved and call 9-1-1 immediately. Jim Judge also shared with us that in his home state of Florida, a law was recently passed making it legal to break into a locked car to rescue pets or vulnerable people believed to be in imminent danger. Thanks so much to Jim for weighing in to help keep our kiddos safe!

What Kind of Volunteer Are You?

Looking for a unique way to give back? Explore a few options you might not have known about at the Red Cross. Share your result in the comments!



Blame the Corn Sweat

What comes to mind when you think of corn? Rows and rows of tall stalks flanking the roads of rural America?

corn field cornfield farmer man hat crop corn sweat

The perfect side dish for your summer lunch?

corn on the cob corn sweat heat cooking

If you live in the Central U.S., I’ll bet you are quickly becoming familiar with another, not-so-pleasant corn experience: corn sweat!

Hold Your Tassels: Your Guide on Corn Sweat

Here’s a kernel of new knowledge for you: According to The Weather Channel, plants (like corn) pull water from the soil, which eventually evaporates into the air from the plant’s leaves. This moisture pumps up the dew point, making a really hot day feel even hotter. The more corn, the more moisture, the more anyone living in the middle of Iowa feels miserable. Just guessing on that last point.

Fielding Your Questions: Dealing with the Heat

Even if you have avoided the corn sweat situation, this week might not feel as sweet as you’d hoped. A major heat wave is gripping a large part of the country. Wondering how to deal? Our own Kara Kelly has you covered, thanks to this weekend’s Weather Red Report.

Three Women Thank Anonymous Blood Donors for Saving Their Lives

We love receiving blood donation recipient stories through social media. Three women recently reached out to tell us just how much blood donors mean to them. Their comments below show the real impact that your donation can have on others.

Kelly McLean

“I lost my leg to cancer in 2007. During two separate surgeries I was given around 62 units of blood if not more. I’m only alive because of God, doctors, and last but not least blood donors. I’m living proof that you all save lives! You’re all heroes in my eyes. I can never thank you enough. Because of you I’ve spent many holidays with my family. I’ve gotten to watch my nieces and nephews grow. I’ve gotten to see my oldest nephew have a baby of his own. Thank you for saving my life.”


Tanya Marie

Thank you to everyone who has and will donate. People like you save lives. I’m one of those lives saved. I’ve received 10 blood transfusions within a year, until I was physically stable enough to undergo a life saving surgery. If it wasn’t for my donors, I wouldn’t have survived to make it into surgery. My blood count is finally going up and I am enjoying every moment of life with my children. I look forward to the time I am able to donate and help give back. Thank you.”


Courtney Heath Reinhart

Thank you to the Red Cross and everyone who donates. I used to donate all the time. I hemorrhaged during the delivery of my second child and required blood transfusions and then I hemorrhaged again a week later and required emergency surgery and more transfusions. I’ve been anemic ever since and I haven’t been able to donate. Please donate! I’m here to parent my babies because amazing people donated! Thank you!!!”

Have you, or someone in your life, been affected by generous blood donations? Share your story in the comments below.

Be someone’s hero and #GiveNow.

Currently, the Red Cross has an emergency need for blood and platelet donations. To schedule an appointment to give, eligible donors can use the Red Cross Blood Donation App, visit www.redcrossblood.org or call 1-800-REDCROSS (1-800-733-2767).

Easing the Hearts and Minds of Military Children

A version of this post, by Bill Fortune, originally appeared on the Colorado Red Cross’ blog.

The excitement was everywhere. The conversations were lively. The laughter was contagious. The noise level elevated. Kids being kids and doing what kids do best – enjoying the moment and the outdoors, renewing friendships and creating new ones. Five days of non-stop fun and excitement seemingly without a care in the world.

red cross camp corral military children
Camp Corral, a 501 (c)(3) non-profit corporation, is a free summer camp for the children of wounded, disabled or fallen military members. It offers a chance for kids to share amazing adventures in the great outdoors through archery, boating, swimming, hiking and just enjoying the fresh air and nature. Camp-goers also have opportunities to make new friends, learn new skills and take risks in a safe environment. Founded in 2011, Camp Corral has served over 6,500 children at 23 camps in 19 states.

camp corral red cross SAF military children
This year, the American Red Cross in partnership with Camp Corral, rolled out a new Reconnection Workshop designed especially for military kids. Camp Shady Brook, a YMCA camp near Deckers, Colorado, was the first of four camps to host the workshop, Operation 10-4: Confident Coping, that teaches children essential life skills to help them better manage stressful social situations and unique challenges that they face as military children. Certified Red Cross Behavioral Specialists presented the workshops during “cabin time” at the end of the first two days of camp.

camp corral military children red cross saf
Oftentimes families don’t know where the military service member is going or how long they will be gone. Absences like that can be stressful for the family, especially the children. The Red Cross workshop focuses on bolstering strengths that may already exist within the child. During the lesson, children learn personal strengths for dealing with stress and how to reach out and ask for help when needed. The Red Cross will present the same workshop at three other camps this year, hoping to expand to more camps in 2017.

camp corral kids military children workshop red cross
Find more information about Red Cross support for military families on redcross.org, and visit Camp Corral’s website to learn more about the camp.

From the Archives – Renowned Artist Captures Red Cross Work in World War I

From the Archives header_350 width

A unique record of Red Cross involvement in World War I is captured in the paintings of Henry Ossawa Tanner (1859-1937), the foremost African-American artist of his generation.

Tanner, born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, on June 21, 1859, was the eldest of nine children. He spent most of his childhood in Philadelphia where he attended the Robert Vaux School, one of a few African-American schools offering a liberal arts curriculum.

In 1880, Tanner enrolled at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts studying under Thomas Eakins, a famous teacher who had a profound impact on Tanner’s life and work.

His artistic achievements eventually brought him to Europe. While living in France during World War I, Tanner began painting for the Red Cross. At the request of the American Red Cross Bureau of Photography, he received permission from the Army’s Photographic Censorship Office to “make sketches of A.R.C. work in the region of Neufchâteau” with the requirement that they be “exclusively of Red Cross activities and subjects.”

Many of Tanner’s images from the front lines featured African-American troops during the war. The three works shown below are part of the Red Cross collection.

Canteen at the Front. (Shows an interior of the Red Cross Canteen.) Oil on canvas 1918

Canteen at the Front. (Shows an interior of the Red Cross Canteen.) Oil on canvas 1918.


Intersection of Roads at Neufchateau (Shows WWI soldiers walking around in the evening in front of the Red Cross Canteen building.) Oil on canvas 1918

Intersection of Roads at Neufchateau (Shows WWI soldiers walking around in the evening in front of the Red Cross Canteen building.) Oil on canvas 1918.


ARC Canteen, Tour, France (Shows the exterior of the Red Cross rest home for enlisted men.) Oil on canvas 1918

ARC Canteen, Tour, France (Shows the exterior of the Red Cross rest home for enlisted men.) Oil on canvas 1918.

For the rest of his life, Tanner received praise and honors for his work.

Left, Tanner in uniform as a Lieutenant on the French Front from 1914 to 1918. Right, Knight of Legion of Honor medal.

Left, Tanner in uniform as a lieutenant on the French Front from 1914 to 1918. Right, Knight of Legion of Honor medal.

A solo exhibition of Tanner’s work at the Smithsonian in the late 1960s and a 1991 Philadelphia Museum of Art touring retrospective began a new wave of interest in his life and work. In 1996 the White House acquired Sand Dunes at Sunset, Atlantic City, making Tanner the first African-American artist to be included in its permanent collection.

From 1914 to 1918, Europe endured the horrors of The Great War, now known as World War I. In recognition of the 100th anniversary of the conflict, From the Archives will feature a series of articles on Red Cross involvement in the war.

Learn more about Red Cross history on redcross.orgFollow Nicholas Lemesh on Twitter, @NickLemesh.

Before You (Pokemon) Go: 5 Pieces of Advice From an Avid User

Stopping on the sidewalk to look at the Pokemon Go app.

By now, almost everyone has heard about the new Pokemon Go app. Using a mapping system, the app creates an augmented reality where you can collect Pokemon (little creatures) wherever you go. It also challenges players to travel to different locations to collect Pokemon. While this is very innovative and entertaining, it has raised a variety of safety risks. Below are some things to be aware of to stay safe and have fun while playing the game.

  1. Be aware of your surroundings

It’s easy to become much less aware of what’s going on around you while using the app. Trying the game out myself for the first time, I almost ran into a street lamp and other people on the sidewalk because I was staring down at my phone. Remember to pay attention to your surroundings at all times.

walking car streetTo avoid an accident, watch where you walk and stay away from hazardous areas (such as ledges or construction zones). In most cases, it is best to stop walking and move to the side when you are looking at your phone screen. Also, remember to always put down your phone while crossing the street to reduce the chance of being hit by a car. Pokemon can wait!

Download our First Aid App or join a First Aid class to be prepared in case an accident happens.

  1. Stay in Safe Places

emergency appTo collect Pokemon, the player must move around their location. While this is a great way to discover new attractions nearby, it may also cause individuals to be outside at night or in unfamiliar areas. As tempting as it may be to catch a rare Pokemon in a dark alley, there may be real life dangers lurking inside. Be sure to stick to well-lit and populated areas.

If you go outside at night, remember to always have a buddy and a flashlight with you. You can download our Emergency App to access a flashlight, strobe light or an alarm in case an emergency occurs.

  1. Use Safety Features

Something that I didn’t know existed when I started playing the game was the ability to change the camera settings. By removing the camera capabilities of the app, you can stabilize the Pokemon once you click on them, so you don’t have to spin around to catch them (risking your own stability).

I’ve also learned that catching a Pokemon only requires clicking the circle it’s in. This means that you don’t have to venture closer to it if the environment doesn’t seem safe.

  1. Never Use Your Phone While Driving

Remember that it is never safe to use your phone while driving (even to catch Pokemon)! Bring a passenger along instead who can do the catching for you, or take public transportation. Follow our Highway Safety Guide for more safe driving tips.

  1. Be Careful Outside in the Heat

sun heat cityNow that it’s summer, keep track of the amount of time you’re spending in the sun playing the game. With temperatures soaring, be sure to drink lots of water, use sunscreen and maybe bring a hat and some food along if you don’t know how long you’ll be outside. Our Heat Safety Checklist can help prepare you for dealing with high temperatures.

Now have fun and good luck catching Pokemon!



Retired Firefighter Saved by Red Cross-Installed Smoke Alarm

A version of this post originally appeared on the American Red Cross Northwest Region blog. By Gabriel Martinez, AmeriCorps member.

Dred cross home fire campaign smoke alarm life savedavid Adams, a retired volunteer firefighter of 33 years, found himself the victim of a home fire this spring.

“I was heating up some food on the stove and I walked out, which is a cardinal sin,” said David. He had begun doing other things in his house when the smoke alarm sounded.

“I heard the smoke alarm go off and by the time I got to the kitchen, the fire had flared up on me.”

Despite his firefighting experience, David sustained a burn when he tried to put out the fire.

“I tried getting it out myself but I couldn’t do it,” he said. David lives with his wife and grandson, one of 14 grandchildren, but they were gone at the time of the fire.

“I got the animals out of the house and called 911. The firefighters were there within minutes.”

Smoke Alarms Save

David attributes being alerted to the fire to a recent visit from the Red Cross.

“It wasn’t even two months before the fire that they put that smoke alarm up for me,” said David. “The other ones weren’t working, which I didn’t know at the time.”

Red Crossers were in David’s home installing an alarm as a part of the Home Fire Campaign. The campaign, which started in 2014, aims to reduce the number of deaths and injuries from home fires by as much as 25 percent over five years.

David joins a special group of people as a documented life saved from the campaign, a group which has grown to over 90 people so far from across the country.

Home Fire Recovery: The Red Cross is There

The Red Cross was there to help prepare David before the fire and help his family recover. Following the fire, the Red Cross ensured he and his family had a safe place to stay and their immediate emergency needs were met.

red cross home fire campaign smoke alarm life saved

“I just want to thank the Red Cross again. They just helped us out with everything you could think of.”

Thankfully, David’s home had a functioning smoke alarm that alerted him to the fire, though not all do. You can help reduce the risk of home fire by testing smoke alarms monthly and practicing evacuating your home in under two minutes.