September Volunteer Anniversaries

Volunteers carry out 90% of the humanitarian work of the Red Cross.

Our vital work is only possible because of people like you.

Whether helping one displaced family or thousands, providing care and comfort to an ill or injured service member or veteran, or teaching others how to respond in emergencies, it’s through the efforts of ordinary people that we can do extraordinary things.


August Volunteer Anniversaries

Volunteers carry out 90% of the humanitarian work of the Red Cross.

Our vital work is only possible because of people like you.

Whether helping one displaced family or thousands, providing care and comfort to an ill or injured service member or veteran, or teaching others how to respond in emergencies, it’s through the efforts of ordinary people that we can do extraordinary things.

August Anniversaries Teddy Bear!

Crab Fest Redux: A Red Crosser’s First Time Experience at the Iconic Kodiak Festival


Crab Fest 2017

When asked a couple of weeks ago to help with the Red Cross of Alaska booth in Kodiak during the Crab Festival, I imagined it as a chance for a behind-the-curtain look into a world of crab you don’t see on popular television shows. There was a place in my heart to crab pâtés, crab soufflés, crab canapés,  anything with an accent over the e. I hoped there would be a booth that made something edible from the shell. Something analogous to the bone broth my friend would make when I was sick.

The first of several surprises that day began at the Ravn Air desk. It was my first flight with Ravn and I’ll admit to being a bit nervous. To begin, as I went through their check-in routine, there was not one iota of the ritualistic hazing I’ve come to associate with air travel. Literally (in the proper use of the word) my experience was so streamlined—ID check, questions about baggage, receipt of boarding pass, polite directions to gate—that I spent the following 20 minutes in a pleasant state of bewilderment. Another passenger assured me that what I had experienced was normal.


As usual, the first Red Cross person I saw was Steven. His smile and wave from the back of the Kodiak airport was the brightest part of an otherwise overcast morning. As we drove towards town, he described the atmosphere of Crab Fest as something closer to a carnival than the crab-based gustatory adventure I was anticipating.

“You can get crab at a few booths and you can also get cowboy fries, go on fair rides, have your face painted with an airbrush, lots of stuff,” he said. “We’re sharing a tent with other emergency people and it’s been really good.” Sensing the silver lining went a bit deeper, I asked him if I could get some meat on a stick. He gazed for a moment out the windshield before smiling and nodding emphatically.

All things considered, Steven indicated that Crab Fest had been a success. The people were easy to talk to and the town was gorgeous rain or shine. But after three straight days at the booth, he was glad to have a chance to step away to explore the more of the town.

On the surface three days in a booth might not sound so trying. But it only took a few hours before the drizzle, the dampness in the air, and gazing out on wet pavement started to pull me down emotionally. From my own experience, I can attest to how difficult it can be to find out if someone has working smoke detectors without first coming across as either lecture-y or someone whose trying to sell something. Watching people pull away and still finding it in yourself to keep trying takes kind of heroism you don’t normally associate with Red Cross volunteers.

And to push this a bit further, boothwork is a side of the Red Cross that’s often overlooked in all the gabble about deployment to disaster zones. While they’re degrees of the same community-minded volunteerism, Red Cross volunteers aren’t out there cajoling people to stop by a shelter. Luckily, the people we were sharing tent space with, the Kodiak Island Local Emergency Planning Committee (KILEPC), already had this problem worked out.

Wheel of Misfortune
Playing Wheel of Misfortune at Crab Fest 2017

Like the Red Cross table, KILEPC also had an alluring scatter of candy, chapstick, and novelty bracelets across informational pamphlets. By themselves, such attractants can only do so much in the short time it takes to decide between chewy or sour candies to facilitate a meaningful dialogue about safety. A while back they had invested in a loud spinning wheel game that could be modified for any occasion with a dry erase marker. For Crab Fest, each spin of the aptly named Wheel of Misfortune would ultimately stop on one of several natural disasters that will inevitably strike Kodiak. As Jack Maker, the project manager for KILEPC, put it, “sometimes you need things like this wheel just to slow people down long enough to get the conversation going.” Pause. “Thanks Amazon.”

As kids came to play Wheel of Misfortune, Jack would engage them and their parents simultaneously. Over the racket of the spinning wheel, he would casually ask the parents if they were ready for fire season. Then as the wheel came to a stop on, say, forest fire, Jack would disengage, make eye contact with the kids, and ask his question. In the milliseconds he had before the flood of answers, he would hand out brochures about how to prep your property for forest fires. As the parents looked at the brochures, he would ask leading questions to encourage more correct answers. Then address some minutiae in local planning. All the while laughing and joking. And so on, all day long.

What made this strangely thrilling to watch was how there wasn’t the slightest whiff of disingenuity about these interactions. It was clear he and the other people I met from KILEPC wanted to help people develop a broad understanding of emergency preparedness and this game provided an easy way to intersect with a large cross section of their community.

The crowds clear out as rain begins to fall heavily at Crab Fest.

Each time the drizzle let up and it began to rain in earnest, Crab Fest would draw to a standstill. I don’t know where all the people went, but each time it happened it felt a little magical. The avenues separating each row of booths would suddenly clear out. In those moments of silence, and in the close quarters of our tent, I learned a bit about life in Kodiak.

Jack filled me in on how an uptick of forest and wildfires on the island had caused some challenges at a local level. Part of it was the tendency of Kodiakians to put their shoulders to the collective wheel and push. Jack told me how in true Kodiak fashion, lots of people would come out to feed and help the firefighters. “You wouldn’t believe the amount of food people would bring,” he said, shaking his head. “It was amazing.”

And on an island where the population of official emergency personnel can fluctuate, this isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Jordan Kirby, a fire investigator with the Bayside Fire Department and volunteer at the KILEPC booth, described a cycle in which people would arrive in Kodiak, become involved, and then leave after a few years.

Jordan was quick to point out that because the number of people arriving and departing doesn’t always balance out, “There’s always room for volunteers. Right now there are definitely some positions all the departments need help filling. It’s not as though you have to be as fit as the firefighters to be a volunteer. People can help with communications or working with the engines or otherwise providing support.”

Red Cross Booth
Red Cross Booth at Crab Fest 217

This need for volunteers was echoed by Kodiak resident and long-term Red Cross volunteer, Geri Ford-Roberts, who was able to list a variety of projects and positions—pillowcase project, safety campaigns, fire alarm installations, shelter workers, disaster action team people, government liason, and case workers—the Red Cross in Kodiak could fill.

She pointed out how in a place like Kodiak someone could do just about anything they wanted with the Red Cross. “There’s not a lot of pressure on us to do things we don’t want to do. I got started because I was interested in shelter activities. If someone wanted to do computer stuff or go to schools, they could do that. For a lot of people in the community, the training and experience you get with the Red Cross could open all sorts of doors.”

“There are so many good people live here in Kodiak,” Geri said to me before heading off to get her kids tickets for the fair rides, “And any one of them will be there to help in an emergency—whether they’re official volunteers or not. But for some of the more complicated responses, for us to work efficiently, it’s good to have people with similar training.”





While at the Anchorage Fire Department’s Open House…

Lucy Jaws car
Red Cross correspondent Lucy looking skeptically at the Jaws of Life car at the Anchorage Fire Department Open House on Saturday, May 20. 

On May 20, two of your correspondents from the Red Cross of Alaska’s Anchorage office visited the Anchorage Fire Department’s open house. Originally conceived, we thought this outing was going to be more about how our community’s emergency response system functions. It was clear from the moment we arrived that our day would have less to do with Powerpoint presentations and more with stuff kids and adults both find engaging: watching cars get dismantled with the Jaws of Life kind of stuff.


We arrived about 45 minutes after the open house started and didn’t expect much of a crowd on such a drizzly day. We were guided to a distant section of the parking lot by groups of young men in matching grey on drab blue uniforms with reflective sashes and authoritative ball caps announcing their association with the Anchorage Military Youth Academy. They had the unglamorous but important role of greeting the public at the gate, serving food, and providing what looked like safety patrols in the parking lot.

By trailing a slow-moving pod of parents and kids, we eventually found ourselves in a large warehouse-like structure full of people eating hotdogs and chips. The only seats we could find were next to this exercise where a fire fighter sounded a fire alarm that would signal to a kid who would be feigning deep sleep on a mattress on the floor to promptly lose their minds—with excitement—before being guided through an obstacle course to escape a house fire.

Fire Fighter Meghan McClain helping a young girl escape

Over the ten or fifteen minutes we spent watching, it was difficult to see what made it so exciting. After some vigorous discussion, your correspondents concluded it was likely the adrenaline rush that comes with playacting plus the simulated taste of danger plus all the soda, caramel apple suckers, and external stimuli. (Did I mention there was a near constant ratter-ratter of a jackhammer station where kids got a chance to chisel away parts of reinforced concrete?) Regardless, and through no fault of the fire fighters running this exercise, some of the children didn’t make it. A few veered off course to play with the orange cones separating their “bedroom” from our table. Others simply finished the first few obstacles before doubling back to the front of the line.


Red Cross Informational Booth

We eventually found our way to the Red Cross booth that was sandwiched between a rope rescue station, a blood bank mobile, and the very, very, very popular dress-like-a-fire-fighter-and-blow-away-an-orange-cone-with-a-firehose station. I’m not sure what the Red Cross volunteers could have done to compete with that. Still, they were busy fielding questions and providing information about what we do in the community.

The very popular dress-like-a-fire-fighter-and-blow-away-an-orange-cone-with-a-firehose station.

There was, however, a nagging feeling that there was still something else to find beyond the Jaws of Life demonstration and a spectacular fire engine that’s been repainted Breast Cancer Awareness pink and named Ms. Linda in honor of a Fire Captain’s mother who passed from the disease. We eventually found ourselves at a booth for the Anchorage Safety Patrol that, in the world of emergency services, felt like kindred spirits to the Red Cross.

Not quite knowing how to jump start a conversation with two fit-looking men who just watched me make a beeline for a ziplocked bag of brownies on their table, I hesitatingly asked a moustachioed man named Jason Cates how the Safety Patrol fit into things at the open house. He pointed to what your correspondents had assumed was a corrections-related van—with a variety of open compartments, grill-covered windows, and interior color scheme that felt like the visual equivalent of the word institutional—and asked if we’d ever seen it before. After some obvious hedging on our part, Jason then asked if we’d ever seen anyone too intoxicated to be in public. To this we could unhesitatingly answer in the affirmative. He pointed to the man next to him and then to the van and said, “we help those people.”

One of your correspondents with Shane Cates and Chris Taylor of the Anchorage Safety Patrol

Jason then went on to describe how the Safety Patrol, in ways similar to the Red Cross, bridges gaps between other emergency services. Jason spoke passionately about how the safety patrol has an explicit focus on providing medical help to people, who, for a variety of chemically-induced reasons, are in need of assistance. This was an interesting parallel to some of the basic functions performed by the Red Cross. Where the Red Cross provides comfort and assistance to families after a house fire or at shelters during disasters, ASP responders transport people to a safety center where their recovery can be monitored by medically-trained staff.

One gobsmacking fact Jason hit us with was how in the last year alone ASP took nearly 30,000 calls. Prior to the formation of ASP, fire or police units—and sometimes both—might be dispatched. Now calls are taken by the Anchorage Fire Department Dispatch and routed as appropriate.

At some point, the arrival of new people interrupted our conversation and your correspondents felt it necessary to leave Jason and his co-workers to spread their message with new people. For all of those who dedicate their time and energy and health for the sake of public safety, we thank you.


Anatomy of an Emergency Response

House_fire_with_smokeIn any kind of emergency or disaster situation, local conditions will always influence the nature and intensity of the response. A structure fire will require a different kind of response and range of resources than a mass shooting or an earthquake. In the absence of a one-size-fits-all solution, emergency response organizations have developed training programs and response protocols that help them remain effective while being flexible.

Such thinking has shaped how the American Red Cross prepares its Disaster Action Teams (DAT). As Andrew Bogar, disaster program specialist for the Alaska Red Cross southeast region explains, “While all of the DATs go through the same training and share the same goal of helping people at their most vulnerable, each team is going to be organized and work a little differently.” A part of this is due to how each DAT is largely volunteer run, which makes the dynamic between DAT members, staff, and the community very fluid. This naturally influences how training is interpreted and implemented.”

Other factors that influence how a DAT responds includes the number of volunteers in an area plus the amount of training and experience they have had in responding to particular emergencies. In a region of the state like the southeast, where structure fires are relatively rare, Bogar says, “it’s difficult to stay sharp in how we respond to them. And as we are called to respond to a range of other emergencies, our team in Juneau operates in ways that might not happen with a team in Anchorage or Fairbanks.”

While no emergency will be the same as another, the groups of people that respond to one generally remain stable. There are the responders with clear duties—fire and police departments and emergency medical technicians—and members of the community like neighbors and news outlets whose roles are less defined. And in many situations there will be individuals in the red and white vests of the American Red Cross, whose role, aside from handing out blankets, is sometimes hard to determine.

Any description of how a Red Cross DAT fits into an emergency situation, like a house fire, will necessarily be more idealistic than realistic—but will always begin with a call to 9-1-1. From there, the 9-1-1 dispatcher contacts fire and police departments and a Red Cross volunteer (either a designated dispatcher or DAT captain) will contact other DAT team members to inform them how many families are likely to have been displaced. Often members of a DAT will meet at a designated location in order to organize their response and to arrive at the site all at once. From there, team members may take on a variety of roles from distributing food and blankets to offering Red Cross assistance and interacting with the public as a way to buffer displaced families and help fire fighters stay focused on their job.

One thing that gets less attention, however, is how the work of the Red Cross continues after the flames are out. In any Red Cross response, there is an invisible halo of volunteers and partner organizations that accompany any Red Cross disaster team. If a family accepts Red Cross assistance, a DAT member will immediately connect them with a Red Cross caseworker who can draw on the resources of the Red Cross and partner organizations to help them in their recovery process. The Red Cross will offer families some financial assistance and help in securing temporary housing as well as connecting  them with organizations like the Salvation Army to replace household items and furniture. There are also local organizations that can assist when situations exceed the on-the-ground resources of Red Cross volunteers. The Juneau Alliance for Mental Health, for example, has stepped in to help people whose trauma and grief exceeded the capacity for Red Cross volunteers. This network of relationships not only helps families recover more quickly, it also provides a way for whole communities to be more resilient and collaborative in the face of an emergency.

February Volunteer Anniversaries

Volunteers carry out 90% of the humanitarian work of the Red Cross.

Our vital work is only possible because of people like you.

Whether helping one displaced family or thousands, providing care and comfort to an ill or injured service member or veteran, or teaching others how to respond in emergencies, it’s through the efforts of ordinary people that we can do extraordinary things.

cupcake_february 17.jpg

Celebrating the Red Cross of Alaska’s Centennial Year

Service Flag

2017 is the centennial year of the Red Cross of Alaska. To mark this milestone, we have resurrected the Service Flag first used by the American Red Cross for a membership drive in 1917 that had the goal of adding millions of new members. Major and minor magazines like Life, McClure’s, National Geographic, Brooklyn Life, and Prairie Farmer donated advertising space to feature this flag and other advertisements to raise awareness of the campaign. Maybe more importantly, the message was voluntarily spread by local newspapers, churches, and even Boy Scout troops.

Within a month of starting the campaign, over 15 million people joined the American Red Cross, bringing the total number of Red Cross members in America to over 20 million. Alaska alone enrolled 20,000 new members or about sixty percent of its non-native population.

Today, the American Red Cross does not have dues ($.25 for youth, $1 for adults in 1917) or think of people who support its mission as members. However, we do think that the people who donate their time, energy, and money to our mission would be the equivalent of membership a century ago.

If you fall into this broad category and would like to show your support of the Red Cross of Alaska, why not print one of these flags and hang it somewhere noticeable—perhaps in your living room window, on the refrigerator, or in your office. We even have smaller versions if you want one for your car, coffee mug, or to use as a bookmark.

Have more than one Red Cross volunteer in your house? There was and is a flag for that. Download and print one of the flags with a second, third, or fourth cross.

It is a bit unclear whether you should hang the service flag vertically or horizontally. The advertisement shown above, from an issue of Forbes in 1918, shows vertical, but an image in the Red Cross Bulletin from November 1917 shows horizontal. We’ll let you decide which works best as long as you tell people what the flag means: “I support the Red Cross of Alaska.”

If you are using a computer or laptop and want to download one of the flag images in the slideshow below, just right click on the one you want to use, scroll to Save Image As, then save it to a folder. Print, share, enjoy!

This month we will celebrate our centennial in Juneau at our Flirting With Disaster evening out fundraiser. Join us Friday, Feb 17 at 6 p.m. at Elizabeth Peratrovich Hall. Tickets are available online here: