Preparedness Summit Partners: The American Red Cross

Apr 8, 2014, 1:05 PM

At the 2014 Preparedness Summit, which met last week in Atlanta, the American Red Cross was a first-time partner for the annual event which brings together more than 1,000 preparedness experts from around the country.

“It was important for us to partner with the American Red Cross because they have a major role and responsibility in disasters,” said Jack Herrmann, the Summit chair and Chief of Public Health Preparedness at the National Association of County and City Health Officials (NACCHO), the lead partner for the Summit. “We felt that it was important that the public health and health care communities understand the Red Cross’ role and authority during a disaster and look for ways to foster and build partnerships [among] local health departments, state health departments and American Red Cross chapters across the country.”

Just prior to the Summit, NewPublicHealth conducted an interview by email with Russ Paulsen, Executive Director, Community Preparedness and Resilience Services of the American Red Cross.

NewPublicHealth: What are the key issues that communities should focus on now to get themselves better prepared for a disaster should it occur?

Russ Paulsen: Everyone has a role to play in getting communities better prepared for disasters.

As a first step, individuals, organizations and communities should understand the problem: What hazards are in their area? How likely are any of these hazards to become actual disasters? What have people already put in place to deal with them? Local Red Cross chapters can help with this assessment.

Once people understand the problem, the next step is to make a plan. Plan what to do in case you are separated from your family or household members during an emergency, and plan what to do if you must evacuate your home. Coordinate your household plan with your household members’ schools, daycare facilities, workplaces and with your community’s emergency plans.

A preparedness kit is also useful. It should contain essential medications, copies of critical documents and paper copies of contact information, plus food and water.

NPH: Who are some of the partners that the Red Cross works with and how can those relationships be a model for communities?

Paulsen: The Red Cross has national and regional partners, including the Salvation Army, Catholic Charities, the NAACP, and the Southern Baptist Convention, to name a few. The Red Cross strives to be a neutral convener, bringing diverse stakeholders and local leaders together to collaborate on and meet disaster-related needs of the community. As a facilitator, the Red Cross helps communities recover from disasters by bringing all available resources to the table and fostering relationships between community members and service providers.

NPH: The American Red Cross recently announced a new flood app. What are its key features and what are some of the other disaster-related apps that the Red Cross has developed?

Paulsen: The free flood app, released last month for iPhone, iPad and Android smart phones, gives users instant access to local and real-time information so they know what to do before, during and after a flood. The content is available in English and Spanish based on the user’s language settings on their mobile device and the app includes location-based, audible National Oceanic and Atmospheric Agency (NOAA) flood and flash flood watches and warnings even if the app is closed.

Other features of the app include:

  • One-touch “I’m safe” messaging that allows users to send a message letting family and friends know they are safe
  • Preloaded content that gives users instant access to critical action steps, even without mobile connectivity
  • A toolkit with flashlight, strobe light and audible alarm
  • Locations of open Red Cross shelters
  • Real-time recovery resources for returning home and cleaning up

Other app topics, also free and downloadable for iPhone, iPad and Android devices, include tornadoes, hurricanes, wildfires and earthquakes. The apps all have a “make a plan” feature that allows users to create, save and share their emergency plan with friends and family.

We encourage people who download Red Cross apps to share the information they learn with others, particularly older adults and children. Helping neighbors and household members with special needs become and feel better prepared contributes to peace of mind and a more resilient, connected community.

>>Bonus Links:

  • Red Cross apps have been downloaded on nearly 4 million mobile devices. The preparedness apps can be found in the Apple App Store and the Google Play Store for Android by searching for American Red Cross or by going to
  • The American Red Cross has also released Be Red Cross Ready, an interactive online preparedness tutorial.

This commentary originally appeared on the RWJF New Public Health blog.