On March 1 the Cape Fear Chapter tweeted an intriguing question: “What is your favorite experience with the Red Cross?” After almost nine and a half years, it’s difficult to think about a favorite experience. Perhaps handing out hot chocolate at the Brooklyn Bridge on the last day of the 2005 New York City transit strike. We’d just heard that the strike was over and transit would be running again the next morning, so it took on a party atmosphere. It was cold that evening, but the hot chocolate and the end of the strike made it better. Then a young woman came down the ramp from the Bridge, cell phone clasped to her ear, and squealed into the phone, “It’s the Red Cross… and they have hot chocolate!!!” (We don’t always get such immediate gratification on the larger disasters.)
In January 2002 the thing I wanted most in the world was a “hold” button. But, hey, it was a disaster. I mean really a disaster: I was working for the American Red Cross Disaster Services, we were crazy busy, but I was sharing a phone with four other colleagues in a large, bare-bones office.
I’ve worked in non-profit organizations most of my career, and fortunately for me most of them have been large and well-funded, including the American Red Cross. But comparing my non-profit experience to my rare forays into for-profit work, it is impossible to imagine working in any for-profit corporation for six months without a hold button on my telephone. Never mind that the phone was on a plastic folding table, not a desk, so I didn’t have a desk drawer, either. The cultural divide isn’t always so extreme, but there are certain things that can happen in one world that are unimaginable in the other.
Today is the last day of Emergency Preparedness Month, but that doesn’t mean preparedness should ever stop. So I’m cracking open my bookmarks folder and sharing some of my favorite websites for information about emergencies.
Many emergencies are weather-related, from extremes of heat and cold to storms of all kinds. In the US the most reliable source is the National Weather Service. It’s always the first site I bookmark on a new computer for everything from knowing what jacket to wear today to getting updates on hurricanes.
This photo was taken on June 7, 1994, from the Staten Island Ferry. Because it was night I used a long exposure time and the thrum of the Ferry’s engines cause the lights of the skyline to appear as crescent moons. when I first saw the developed image, I thought it a failure and almost threw it out. Instead I tossed it in a box with some other sub-par photographs.
In early 2002 I found it again. Of course it had a totally different effect–a suggestion of the World Trade Center, towers invisible, only the blurred outline of the lights against the night skyline.
By the time I rediscovered the photo, I was working for the American Red Cross. My journey there (too long to go into here) was very much like that photo. I don’t mean to negate the tragedy of that morning–it was awful in many ways and some of the harm can never be undone. But when people united to take action there were also many good things that happened, stories of courage, hard work, and sometimes just a dogged determination not to give up.
People reached out to help one another, and made enormous donations of money, time and blood (which turned out to be unnecessary, but was generous nonetheless). There was an awareness of how vulnerable our nation’s large urban centers are, which led to efforts (still not complete, but at least begun) to prepare for disasters. And personally, I got to know an excellent group of people while working for the Red Cross.