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Mapping to Fight Ebola

The American Red Cross and the US State Department host a mapping event in  response to the Ebola outbreak in West Africa

Remember when you were a little kid and one of the first things you learned were shapes –squares, triangles, lines and circles. Those shapes that form when you are three seem so innocent and simple, but they are vital in the fight against the Ebola virus.

On Friday, volunteers gathered at American Red Cross for an open source crowd mapping event with MapGive and Humanitarian OpenStreetMap Team. Square by square and line by line, volunteer mappers came together to trace neighbor’s homes, access roads and warehouses in parts of Sierra Lione and Liberia by using satellite imagery. These efforts support the global response to combat the Ebola outbreak, a deadly virus that’s quickly spreading across West Africa.

Tracing shapes may seem mundane and tedious to some, but try telling that to the mappers themselves. Like any volunteer activity, there’s a reason behind what we all do. Maybe you have a passion for technology and this groundbreaking open source mapping is exciting and thrilling; maybe you’re in college and looking for something to do with your spare time without having to leave the comfort of your very own dorm; or maybe there’s family, friends and a personal connection that draw you to the cause. Whatever it may be, each volunteer mapper is providing invaluable information to organizations such as the global Red Cross network and Doctors Without Border that are trying to prevent the spread of Ebola.

ben freemanFor Benjamin Freeman Jr., his connection to virtual mapping was personal. Benjamin is visiting the United States from Liberia after being accepted to be a part of the Mandela Washington Fellowship, a flagship program started by President Obama. He heard about open crowd mapping and was immediately intrigued and eager to get started. For him, this was a small way he could make an impact in his country.
“Mapping is the best way I can work with others to make a difference,” Benjamin said. “I miss my family in Liberia, but I see the visual impact I’m making and feel a little better knowing I’m helping them.”

The next table over, Ranjani Sridharan, from Kenya, was inspired to start mapping after hearing Benjamin Freeman Jr., speak at a seminar encouraging people to map. Her husband, Aswin Subanthore, from India, already has a passion for mapping being a geography professor at University of the District of Columbia. However, it wasn’t until 2005 that his mapping experience really began when he visited India, his home country, after a massive earthquake in Indonesia in December 2004 caused a tsunami affecting nearby countries, including India. Ranjani and Aswin both map together feel this gives them a purpose.

Each trace of a lined road leads to clear transportation routes, each trace of a square house leads to in-person Ebola awareness and education; each trace on a map leads to humanitarian aid that will fight against the Ebola virus. Red Cross has 1,500 volunteers working in the affected areas, but volunteering has also spread its wings to the comfort of your own home. You can help too. Visit MapGive to get involved or learn more about Red Cross international efforts by visiting redcross.org.

150 Years of the Geneva Convention

One hundred and fifty years ago, the original Geneva Convention—more commonly known as the rules of war—was created. These rules govern and limit actions that take place during armed conflict, such as the protection of civilians and the wounded. And while many people have heard of these rules in one way or another, many do not know that the creation of the Red Cross movement is at the very heart of these rules.

After Henry Dunant, a Swiss businessman and social activist witnessed the atrocities of war during the Battle of Solferino in 1859, he recorded his encounter in the book A Memory of Solferino. Four years later in 1863, he formed the International Committee of the Red Cross as a direct response to that experience as an organization that could provide humanitarian aid to those impacted by the tragedy of war. The following year, the Geneva Convention was written, based on Dunant’s ideas and principles.

Today, as we celebrate the 150th anniversary of the original Geneva Convention, we call on all parties to all conflicts to preserve what it means to be human by complying with the rules of war. Even war has limits. Learn more at www.redcross.org/rulesofwar.

Healthy, Wealthy, and Wise: Back to School for College Students


During the elementary, middle, and high school years, much of the responsibility for students’ health and safety belongs to teachers, administrators, and school nurses. Staff members know CPR, basic first aid, and how to use an AED. Staff members know where to find the AED, how to evacuate students from the building, and where to shelter in place. Staff members lead, students follow.

But once students head off to college, a dramatic shift occurs. Though most colleges and universities provide students with extensive health and safety resources, students must begin to take responsibility for their well-being. Without the same level of supervision as in years past, students must begin to lead themselves.

So if you’re heading off to school this fall, check out these tips to help you become and stay healthy, wealthy, and wise during your years as a college student! (Ok, I admit these tips may not make you wealthy…)

Stock your dorm room with a basic first aid kit, basic emergency preparedness kit, and an extra dose of any needed medications. (Think epi-pens, inhalers, etc.)

Learn your surroundings, as in how to safely exit the building in the event of a fire and where to go inside the building should severe weather strike, remembering that stairs – and not elevators – should be used during emergencies. Additionally, figure out where the AED(s) and fire extinguisher(s) for your floor/building are kept.

Learn what to do in an emergency by taking a CPR/First Aid/AED class before heading to school or as soon as possible after arriving on campus. Participate in every fire and severe weather drill as though it’s the real thing. Share your schedule with your roommate, close friends, and/or family members so they could track you down if necessary, and determine how you would contact these people if an emergency separated you from your phone and computer.

Follow your school’s rules and leave prohibited appliances at home, cook safely, and don’t smoke or burn candles or incense in your dorm room.

The American Red Cross is – as always – dedicated to preparing students for a safe and healthy school year. Check out the resources listed below, and visit your college or university’s website for additional campus-specific health and safety information.

Learn more about or sign up for American Red Cross health and safety classes here.

Find American Red Cross first aid and emergency preparedness kits here.

Read more about the American Red Cross Safe and Well website (a central, online location where people affected by disaster can register their status and their loved ones can access that information) here.

The Journey from Arm to Arm — Wynonna & Cactus’ story

Blood donations help millions of patients in need.  To make the journey from “arm to arm,” every unit goes through so many steps and tests to ensure that it is as safe as can be. After finding a blood donation opportunity, and going through a short health history questionnaire and mini-physical, the Red Cross collects about 1 pint of blood and several small test tubes from each donor.  The donation is stored in an iced cooler and then transported to a Red Cross manufacturing center, where it is then scanned into a computer database and sent off.

The blood is received in one of three Red Cross National Testing Laboratories, where a dozen tests are performed on each unit of donated blood – to establish the blood type and test for infectious diseases.  Within 24 hours, the test results are transferred electronically to the manufacturing facility and units that are suitable for transmission are labeled and stored in refrigerators. This is the blood that is available to be shipped to hospitals 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

Wynonna and Cactus’ Story 


I am excited to once again partner with the American Red Cross and I am honored that they have chosen August 18, 2014 as Wynonna Judd Day during their 100 Days of Summer, 100 Days of Hope.

This date holds particular significance to me because it is the day that my husband, Cactus Moser, lost his leg, and nearly his life, in a motorcycle accident two years ago in South Dakota. I had long been a supporter of the American Red Cross, however, never before I had experienced the importance of blood donations so personally. Without the blood that was available to Cactus that day, I don’t know how our story would have turned out.

During the summer months, the Red Cross sees a significant decrease in the number of blood donations. So choose your day to make a difference. Give blood, give hope!  – Wynonna

Blood helped save Cactus’ life and strengthened the bond Wynonna and Cactus share.  To witness this bond in person, catch them on the road or follow their journey at www.wynonna.com.

To learn more about donating blood, visit www.redcrossblood.org

From Desk to Disaster: Interns Train to Become Responders

By Liza Crawford, Media Relations Intern

As a communications intern at the American Red Cross, I see stories every day about our volunteers responding to disasters. Their names are rarely mentioned, but their impact is clear. When a disaster strikes, the Red Cross is there, supporting those who have lost everything, providing them with basic necessities and comfort and holding their hands as they embark on the long journey to recovery.

I joined the Red Cross because I wanted to be a part of this mission, so I jumped at the opportunity to step out of my comfort zone and learn what it takes to be a disaster responder. For two days, I joined several other interns in Disaster Action Team (DAT) training – a series of courses led by incredible volunteers who go out into the field at a moment’s notice to help clients in their time of need.

DAT training detailed how the Red Cross meets the needs of those affected by disasters, including psychological first aid and providing shelter, and completely changed my perspective on disaster response.

The training began with an overview of disaster services, led by volunteer Kim Lemoine. She set the tone with an opening statement: “I get so much more out of it than I give,” she said, holding back tears. Instantly, I understood how rewarding volunteering can be.

Interns Adam Familiant and Cayla Machleit practice playing the role of Red Cross caseworkers.

Interns Adam Familiant and Cayla Machleit practice playing the role of Red Cross caseworkers.

After covering the basics, the training became more focused. We learned how the Red Cross provides immediate relief. The instructors reviewed skills and techniques to properly address the needs of each person, and then split our group into pairs for a role-playing activity. Each pair read through a disaster scenario and took turns playing the affected person and the Red Cross caseworker.

The second day of training began with a course on psychological first aid. The Red Cross helps both disaster victims and volunteers deal with the stress and trauma. This course explained various symptoms that may signal the need for a mental health professional.

The final course outlined the fundamentals of opening a shelter. Relocating to a shelter can be extremely stressful for disaster victims, and we learned how to plan and communicate to ensure the most comfortable experience possible. Training concluded with an orientation for any interns who wanted to volunteer with the local chapter, the National Capital Region, and many of us did.

When my training was over, I had an overwhelming urge to go out and hug every DAT volunteer. Next time I see a news clip reading “The American Red Cross is assisting the survivors,” I will know how important that assistance truly is.

To learn more about becoming a Disaster Action Team member, please contact your local Red Cross chapter.

Sometimes Heroes Wear Crowns

By Scott E. Toncray, APR

Hayley Lewis, 21, Miss Tennessee 2014 recently preformed lifesaving skills she learned from being an American Red Cross Certified Lifeguard. A fellow pageant contestant choked on a piece of chicken and Lewis’ instincts kicked in enabling her to clear the airway of the other contestant who is also her friend. Lewis also had to preform CPR on a drowning victim when she was a lifeguard. “I just figured that it was time to renew my skills realizing how important they are,” Lewis said following the First Aid and CPR class at the Nashville Area chapter of the American Red Cross. Sixteen other participants were certified the same night as Hayley. Her story was featured on the local Fox News affiliate.

Lewis practices how to save a choking victim on Red Cross Volunteer Scott Toncray

“I can’t imagine anyone not being around who could help someone if they needed it to prolong their life,” Lewis said encouraging others to take the class and become certified. Lewis participated in a blended course that includes both online and practical classroom experience with learning totaling approximately 5 hours. “Life threatening situations can happen to anyone and I wanted to learn skills so that I could help someone again if they ever need it,” Lewis explained.

hayley crown

Miss Tennessee 2014 Hayley Lewis received her First Aid and CPR certificate at the Nashville Chapter of the American Red Cross

Miss Lewis will represent the state of Tennessee in the 2015 Miss America Competition on Sept. 9-14, 2014 in Atlantic City, New Jersey.

Miss Tennessee 2014 Hayley Lewis learns CPR at the Nashville Chapter of the American Red Cross

In the Nashville area, nearly 7,000 people a year receive Red Cross training in CPR, first aid and other skills that help save lives. The American Red Cross offers courses where ordinary people can learn extraordinary lifesaving skills, such as how to perform CPR, how to use an AED, what to do if someone is choking, and how to prevent and respond to other emergencies until advanced medical help arrives.

Visit redcross.org/takeaclass or call 1-800-RED-CROSS (1-800-733-2767, option 3) for more information and to register for a class.

Scott Toncray is a public affairs volunteer for the Nashville Area Chapter of the American Red Cross and serves on the Advanced Public Affairs Team.


100 Days of Summer International #YouthDay

By Eddie Zitnik, Chair, American Red Cross National Youth Council

Today is International Youth Day, a special day during the year which celebrates the impact youth can make on society all around the world. At the American Red Cross we hope to inspire youth and young adults to donate blood this summer to help meet the daily need of 15,000 blood donations for approximately 2,700 hospitals across the country. As young people, we can make a difference.

We are at an exciting time in history when youth have the potential to change the world in more ways than one. Donating blood is one of these ways. Individuals who are 17 years of age (16 with parental consent in most states) and weigh at least 110 pounds may donate blood every 56 days. Imagine how many lives you could save in your lifetime if you started donating today!

intl youth day blood donor

The first time I donated blood I was 16 years old and living in Ohio. While I had been volunteering with the Red Cross for two years, I wasn’t quite old enough to become a donor. There was nothing like becoming a part of the proud group of blood donors who I volunteered alongside for years. I still remember the feeling of knowing that I helped save the life of a complete stranger who I may never know or even meet. This taught me an important lesson in altruism, a lesson which I carry with me even today as a medical student. I ask youth to challenge themselves, become Red Cross blood donors, and give back to their communities through the lifesaving mission of the Red Cross.

During the summer months, about two fewer donors give blood at each Red Cross blood drive than what hospital patients need. Additionally, blood donations among youth between the ages of 18 and 24 drop by about 40 percent! Blood cannot be manufactured and can only come from volunteer donors like you. So what can you do to help? Grab a couple friends, find a local blood drive (redcrossblood.org, 1-800-RED CROSS), and donate a unit of blood for a person in need. It’s that simple. While the need is constant, the gratification is instant!

When you get back to school this fall and your friends and teachers ask what you did with your summer, you can proudly say that you helped save up to three lives by becoming a Red Cross blood donor!

From the Archives: Hurricane Response

This post was written by Kristen Rowley, Historical Programs intern.

The first storm of hurricane season has come and gone. While experts are expecting a fairly mild season, it is important to recognize that even a mild season can easily wield a devastating storm. The Red Cross has over 120 years of experience dealing with damaging storms, so we’ve learned a thing or two to help our responses adapt and progress throughout the decades.

In the early part of the 20th century, weather forecasting was in its infancy. Predicting when and where a hurricane would make landfall was difficult, leaving residents little time to prepare. Communication and transportation were also slower. For example, when a hurricane and subsequent storm surge engulfed Galveston, Texas, in September 1900, it took nine days for Clara Barton and her volunteers to arrive on the scene. Once there, volunteers distributed food, clothing, and household furnishings.


Red Cross volunteer Ada Claessens helps Mildred Ramsey, a fellow victim of Hurricane Carla in 1961, choose a dress from a rack of donated clothing at a shelter in Kemah, Texas.

Red Cross volunteer Ada Claessens helps Mildred Ramsey, a fellow victim of Hurricane Carla in 1961, choose a dress from a rack of donated clothing at a shelter in Kemah, Texas.

As the 20th century progressed, the basic needs in times of disaster did not change, but the Red Cross response did. The improved ability to predict when and where a storm was going to hit allowed for establishing shelters in schools and community centers and providing aid quickly in the aftermath of the storm. In the mid-1960s, strategically chosen chapters became homes to mobile disaster units, providing aid to victims as soon as possible.


A Vacherie, Louisiana disaster headquarters sits among mud and debris left in the wake of Hurricane Betsy in September 1965.

A Vacherie, Louisiana disaster headquarters sits among mud and debris left in the wake of Hurricane Betsy in September 1965.

Now these services have become even swifter. A Google map and a mobile app allow people to see where the nearest shelter is and how much space is available. The Red Cross also has hundreds of Emergency Response Vehicles stationed around the country, prepared to travel anywhere they are needed. And there are volunteers specifically dedicated to improving the mental health of those affected by these deadly storms. More than 130 years after the American Red Cross was established, volunteers continue Clara Barton’s work, providing food, shelter, and basic necessities to those who need them most.


 A young boy in Homestead, Florida enjoys a hot meal and a cold drink from a Red Cross Disaster Services truck assisting victims of 1992’s Hurricane Andrew.

A young boy in Homestead, Florida enjoys a hot meal and a cold drink from a Red Cross Disaster Services truck assisting victims of 1992’s Hurricane Andrew.

Sometimes Simpler is Better

Last summer I spent a good 90 minutes crafting and giving a demonstration – using 10 pints of water, red food coloring, matchbox cards, and a Red Cross testing facility built out of Legos – that I hoped would provide my then-six-year-old son with a comprehensive understanding of the blood donation process. The demonstration worked, but if I had it to do over again (and I do, now that my five-year-old daughter has started asking about blood donation), I might opt for a simpler course of action.

PrintLuckily for me, I came across this fantastic Red Cross graphic that I think will do the trick.

I love this graphic for a lot of reasons, not the least of which is the fact that the nurse looks exactly like my mom when she first became a nurse in the mid 1970’s (yes, nurses used to wear those caps). Oh, and I think the snack looks delicious. I may start a campaign to push for the Red Cross to serve croissants at blood drives.

The process is simple, and the end result is lives saved. Maybe that’s all our kiddos – at least as elementary schoolers – really need to know.

Don’t Drink the Water

More than half a million people in parts of Ohio and Michigan had no water over the weekend due to toxins from algae in Lake Erie and the American Red Cross distributed water in the affected counties.

Red Cross chapters in Northwest Ohio and Southeastern Michigan set up free water distribution sites throughout the affected counties and delivered water to residences of individuals who could not leave their homes to find clean drinking water.

Read more about the Red Cross response, and other ongoing responses to wildfires in California, Oregon, and Washington. Additionally, volunteers have provided more than 100 meals and more are on standby in San Bernardino County after unexpected rain caused flash flooding and mud slides in the area. We will let you know if these situations change, but to stay up to date on any of our disaster responses, go to redcross.org.