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.
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.
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.