One Year Later: Red Cross Reflects on Nov. 30 Earthquake Response

The 7.1 magnitude earthquake that occurred on Nov. 30, 2018 reminds us of the seriousness of where we live, the resiliency of our communities, and just how quickly we come together in times of crisis.

The Red Cross of Alaska was on the ground immediately following the earthquake, providing support to those in need, and because of the dedication of our government and nonprofit partners, the power of our volunteers and the generosity of donors, our response efforts were and continue to be truly community-based efforts – neighbors helping neighbors.

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“It’s hard to believe the big earthquake was a year ago,” said Red Cross of Alaska Regional Disaster Officer, Kelley McGuirk. “I’m proud of our swift response, and our team’s ability to get much needed assistance to residents with major damages to their homes so quickly. The earthquake was unprecedented and our team did a great job of following the training they have, but also being flexible to meet the needs of those affected.”

Red Cross Response: By the Numbers

In the days, weeks and months following the Nov. 30 earthquake and ensuing aftershocks, the Red Cross:

  • Mobilized 144 Red Cross disaster workers from Alaska and the lower 48 to assist those affected
  • Provided 230 overnight stays in Red Cross shelters in Anchorage, Eagle River and Wasilla
  • Served more than 2,237 meals and snacks alongside nonprofit partners
  • Made nearly 350 individual care contacts to support residents’ first aid and mental health needs
  • Assessed damage in 680 homes affected by the earthquake using the Red Cross Collect app
  • Opened 161 cases and provided immediate financial assistance to more than 494 residents who suffered major earthquake damage through the Red Cross recovery casework process

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Preparing for the Next Earthquake

The anniversary of the 7.1 earthquake also serves as a reminder of the importance of being ready when disaster strikes. Although this major earthquake is now nearly a year behind us, it is crucial that we be prepared for the next big one. According to the Alaska Earthquake Center and the United States Geological Survey (USGS), Alaska is the most seismically active state in the country, and three of the seven largest earthquakes in the 20th century have taken place here. The Red Cross offers some tips to ensure you and your family are prepared when the ground shakes beneath us again:

  • Talk about earthquakes with your family so that everyone knows what to do long before an earthquake strikes. Discussing ahead of time helps reduce fear, particularly for younger children.
  • Check your workplace and your children’s schools and day care centers to learn about their earthquake emergency plans.
  • Pick safe places in each room of your home, workplace and/or school. A safe place could be under a piece of furniture like a large table, or against an interior wall away from windows, bookcases or tall furniture that could fall on you.
  • Practice DROP, COVER and HOLD ON in each safe place.
  • Make sure you have access to local weather radio broadcasts and download the free Red Cross Emergency App from your mobile phone app store.
  • Prepare your family’s emergency kit and store it in an easy-to-carry container. Include items like a gallon of water per person, per day; non-perishable food; a flashlight and hand-crank or battery-powered radio; extra batteries; sanitation and personal hygiene items; copies of important documents; extra cash and any medical or baby supplies family members may need.

What You Can Do

VOLUNTEER: Within hours of the Nov. 30 earthquake, Red Cross volunteer disaster workers had fanned out across the affected areas, offering comfort, shelter, relief supplies and warm meals to those affected by the initial earthquake and the aftershocks that followed. Volunteers like these touch lives in the community every day and comprise more than 90 percent of the Red Cross workforce. They are the heart and soul of the Red Cross and represent every age, gender, religion, race and ethnicity. Those that would like to join us and become a part of our tradition of helping Alaskan families since 1917 can visit redcross.org/volunteer and click on “Apply Now” to fill out a volunteer application and get started.

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DOWNLOAD: The American Red Cross Emergency App can help keep you and your loved ones safe by putting vital information in your hands for more than 35 different severe weather and emergency alerts. Download the free app by searching for ‘American Red Cross’ in your mobile phone app store, texting GETEMERGENCY to 90999, or by visiting redcross.org/apps.

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DONATE: The Red Cross responds to more than 62,000 disasters every year, including home fires and major disasters like earthquakes and wildfires. You can help people affected by countless crises by donating to Red Cross Disaster Relief. Your gift enables the Red Cross to prepare for, respond to and help people recover from disasters big and small. You can visit redcross.org, call 1-800-RED CROSS or text the word REDCROSS to 90999 to make a $10 donation.

 

Making a Gift from an IRA

By making a charitable donation to the Red Cross, you are there for millions of people who face emergencies every year, and you help as they rebuild their lives.

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Red Cross volunteer Michael Schwartz plays cards with Mahal and Maliah Sourgose at the Red Cross shelter in Saugus High School, Saugus, California.

If you are 70.5 years of age or older, you can make direct charitable gifts from your individual retirement account (IRA) to one or more qualified charities. These gifts count toward your required minimum distribution (RMD), but a gift through a qualified charitable distribution (QCD) is not taxable income on your federal or state income tax return for the current tax year. While you cannot claim a charitable deduction for IRA gifts, you will not pay income tax on the amount of the gift.

If you would like assistance making a QCD gift from your IRA or would like to discuss other tax smart giving strategies, please contact Carol Eames, American Red Cross Gift Planning Officer, at (503) 502-5877 or carol.eames@redcross.org.

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Sharon Brooks gives Eikon Pullom, 3, a hug in a Red Cross shelter in Findlay, Ohio. Brooks was on vacation from Florida and decided to stop in and volunteer.

We could not be there without the generous donations from people like you.

To learn more about how you can leave a legacy, please visit: https://www.redcrosslegacy.org/ira

Alaska Summer Wildfire Response Recap

Volunteers responded to fires in the Municipality of Anchorage and in the Denali, Fairbanks North Star, Kenai Peninsula and Matanuska-Susitna Boroughs during wildfire season

The Alaska summer 2019 wildfire season has drawn to a close, and the Red Cross is taking a moment to look back on the past four months and the fires that impacted communities around the state during this time period.

Throughout the months of June, July, August and September 2019, the Red Cross was on the ground, assisting Alaskans displaced by the Shovel Creek Fire, the Swan Lake Fire, the Montana, Malaspina and McKinley Fires, as well as by fires in Anderson, Anchorage and Rainy Pass.

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In a typical year, Alaska’s statutory wildfire season runs from April 1 through August 31, but the Alaska Department of Natural Resources announced that due to persisting high fire danger as a result of continued warm, dry conditions, Alaska’s wildfire season was extended from August 31 to September 30 this year.

“It turned out to be a long year for our disaster volunteers beginning with the earthquake this winter,” said Regional Disaster Officer, Kelley McGuirk. “Although the hot summer was nice for our gardens and summer fun, it kept residents around the state – as well as our staff and volunteers – on edge with wildfires popping up frequently in all areas of the state. At one point in time, the Red Cross had a shelter open as far north as Fairbanks, and another down on the Kenai Peninsula. That was the same week there were multiple evacuations happening one afternoon in Anchorage due to a wildfire near Campbell Creek. Two months later, we had two shelters open in Mat-Su for McKinley Fire evacuees, while the Swan Lake Fire caused highway closures and shelters to open in Kenai.”

As soon as each wildfire started, Red Cross volunteers sprang into action, providing comfort, shelter, food and emotional support to those affected. As we moved through each of the responses and started the recovery process alongside those displaced, we also distributed relief supplies and provided assistance through recovery planning and casework.

Following the start of Alaska’s wildfire season on April 1, the Red Cross of Alaska:

  • Opened 7 evacuation centers and overnight shelters. To find open shelters during future disasters and to stay up-to-date with 35 different severe weather and emergency alerts, you can download the free bilingual Red Cross Emergency App by visiting redcross.org/apps, by texting GETEMERGENCY to 90999 or searching for “Red Cross Emergency” in your mobile phone app store.

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  • Provided 502 overnight stays in Red Cross emergency shelters for those displaced by the wildfires.

 

  • Served more than 3,485 meals and snacks to those displaced, in addition to the meals and snack served in our shelters by partners like the Salvation Army and the Upper Susitna Food Pantry.

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  • Made nearly 500 disaster health and mental health contacts to provide health services, first aid and emotional care to those affected by the fires.

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  • Distributed more than 623 personal hygiene and disaster clean-up kits to those who needed them. Personal hygiene kits include items like shampoo, toothpaste and toothbrushes, and disaster clean-up kits include items like shovels, brooms, gloves, sifters, masks and more.

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  • Mobilized 149 disaster workers to assist those affected, and trained an additional 26 Red Cross workers to provide assistance during this summer’s fires and during future disasters in their communities. Volunteers comprise more than 90 percent of the Red Cross disaster workforce and make it possible for us to respond every year to an average of more than 62,000 disasters — most of which are home fires. After large disasters, the Red Cross first depends on pre-trained volunteers to travel to the disaster zone to help people in need. Those who are interested in getting trained to volunteer should visit redcross.org/volunteer.

 

  • Sat down one-on-one with 32 individuals and families to create individualized recovery plans. Red Cross caseworkers connect with those affected to create recovery plans, navigate complex paperwork and locate help from other agencies. Recovery casework help in both the immediate aftermath of a disaster and with longer-term recovery needs.

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As we close out one fire season, we are also looking ahead – focusing on community preparedness, providing additional workforce training opportunities, and finding a bit of time to rest and reflect.

“It was indeed an unprecedented summer,” McGuirk said. “Now, we rest.”

 

Written by Cari Dighton/American Red Cross of Alaska

Videos by Phil Lampron/American Red Cross of Alaska

Photos by Connie Black, Ralph Radford, Anne Johnson, Phil Lampron and Cari Dighton/American Red Cross of Alaska

National Preparedness Month: Create a Will

Being prepared is a key principle of the American Red Cross. Estate planning is an important and sometimes overlooked part of preparedness, so we’re sharing some information to help you plan ahead and get your financial affairs in order.

In fact, we’ve even partnered with FreeWill.com so you can create your will online—entirely for free.

This secure, online tool will take you through the will preparation process step by step. If you have a simple estate, you can print your legal will to be signed and witnessed. If you have a more complex estate (or if you have any concerns at all), the same tools will help you document your wishes and find a qualified attorney near you to finalize your plans. The site also allows you to set up an Advance Healthcare Directive and Durable Financial Power of Attorney.

The Red Cross offers additional resources to help you be prepared in this important area including an estate planning guide and workbook that’s available in an electronic or paper copy.

Even if you already have a will, you’ll want to examine it periodically to make sure it continues to reflect your wishes. When should you review and update your will? — Anytime you experience a major life change such as:

  • Birth of children or grandchildren
  • Major shifts in assets
  • Loss of a spouse
  • Remarriage or divorce
  • Death of an heir

Your will is one of the most personal and important financial documents in your life. Without a legitimate will, the government—not you—will decide how your affairs and assets are handled. Many of us are making the choice to be prepared, and we hope you will too.

It’s the global mission of the American Red Cross to help you stay prepared. Give yourself and your family peace of mind. If you would like your own copy of our estate planning guide and workbook or have questions please contact Carol Eames, our Gift Planning Officer. Carol can be reached toll free at (855) 831-5536 or by email at Carol.Eames@redcross.org.

Red Cross hosts statewide diversity and inclusion discussions with Vice President & Chief Diversity Officer, Floyd Pitts

By Tanguy Libbrecht, CEO/American Red Cross of Alaska

Photos by Ralph Radford, Tanguy Libbrecht, Anne Johnson & Andrew Bogar/American Red Cross of Alaska

Floyd Pitts, Vice President & Chief Diversity Officer for the American Red Cross National Headquarters made a visit to Alaska in mid-July, to meet with and learn from volunteers, board members, staff members and our partners around the state. We began the trip in sunny Fairbanks in the Morris Thompson Cultural and Visitors Center with introductions by an Athabaskan Chief, gathered in Anchorage at one of the most diverse middle schools in all of America, journeyed to the Matanuska-Susitna Valley where we enjoyed an informal, educational conversation with a dozen area volunteers, and finished in Juneau with a moving presentation in a traditional clan house, topped off by a volunteer picnic in the rain, with eagles flying overhead and harbor seals chasing salmon in the waters next to our picnic shelter.

FAIRBANKS

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July 15, 2019 | Morris Thompson Cultural & Visitors Center

We started off our Fairbanks visit with a Meet & Greet Coffee Hour with Floyd. Fairbanks City Mayor Jim Matherly and his chief of staff attended as well as three members of the city diversity committee, Sara Harriger, Executive Director of the Morris Thompson Cultural Center, and Fairbanks-area volunteers Ray and Tammy Miller and Rosita Wilburn.

Following the meet & greet, we gathered in the classroom space where Floyd gave a presentation to 21 attendees, including local partners from the United Way of the Tanana Valley, the Fairbanks Community Food Bank and others, Mayor Matherly, members of the diversity committee, and Red Cross volunteers and staff members.

To start us off,  Tanana Chiefs Chief/Chairman Victor Joseph welcomed Floyd and spoke of the long history of the people of the Tanana and Nenana rivers and thanked Floyd for coming. I then thanked our partners and volunteers and acknowledged and thanked the tribe for allowing us the honor of presenting in a place that is on their traditional lands.

Following Floyd’s presentation, he attended the Cultural Connections show, which is performed by Alaska Native teens. Floyd and I very much enjoyed this show and he stayed afterwards to chat with them about opportunities for youth with the Red Cross. Floyd enjoyed the cultural experience so much that he purchased a pair of moccasins.  When asking Elder Dixie Alexander how to keep them clean, she simply said, “Don’t get them dirty!”  A good-natured end to a very successful day!

ANCHORAGE

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July 16, 2019 | Clark Middle School 

This successful event was attended by about 40 volunteers, staff members, board members and community partners. Welcome remarks were given by myself and Clark Middle School Principal, Cessilye Williams.

Anchorage volunteers Bruce and Terri organized a team of about 6 volunteers and did a great job setting the room prior to the event, including setting up a mock shelter where attendees could experience the unique nature of the inside of a Red Cross emergency shelter by checking in at the shelter registration desk – where everyone is welcome, regardless of race, religion, gender identity, sexual orientation or citizenship status; walking through the dormitory area; and grabbing a snack from the cafeteria area before finding a seat for the discussion.

Red Cross of Alaska Board of Director’s Diversity Committee Chair David Wulf and his wife Shelley made all the arrangements for the purchase and cooking of lunch for the event, and along with Board Diversity Committee Members Brenda Franz and Shawn Murphy, set up the grilling station and serving area.

Floyd’s presentation was very interactive, calling on the crowd to comment and participate.  Floyd heard thoughtful comments from a diverse representation of our community and shared Red Cross diversity pins with the attendees.

WASILLA

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July 17, 2019

On Wednesday, we met Disaster Program Manager Bill Morrow and his volunteer team for lunch in the Matanuska-Susitna Valley. We had a vibrant discussion with the volunteer team about what makes the Mat-Su Valley unique, and what their specific challenges are. Floyd really enjoyed this up close and personal interaction with Bill and the team. Afterwards, Bill gave us a historical tour of Palmer, Wasilla, Hatcher Pass and Independence Mine.

JUNEAU

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July 19, 2019 | Walter Soboleff Building, Wayside Park

Floyd’s presentation in Juneau took place at the Walter Soboleff Building. The Walter Soboleff Building includes a clan house, which was given the name Shuká Hít (Ancestors’ House) during the grand opening ceremony in 2015.

Juneau volunteer leader Chip Wagoner helped to execute this successful event, where 46 people were in attendance, including the Mayor of Juneau, a representative from the legislature, the University of Alaska, Sealaska Corp, the United States Coast Guard, Juneau School District, Juneau Emergency Manager Tom Matisse, Alaska Steamship Response and SEOC Liason, members of the Alaska Native community, Red Cross volunteers and staff members, and many other area non-profit partners and community leaders.  Floyd’s presentation and discussion was very well received with quite a bit of interaction and appreciation from the attendees, many of whom stayed beyond the original one hour time commitment.

That evening, Chip and Disaster Program Manager Andrew Bogar organized the annual volunteer appreciation picnic, which took place at Wayside Park. Hamburgers, hot dogs and grilled salmon were served, and volunteers graciously brought some potluck items to share.  Though it was a rainy evening, this proved to be quite the scenic backdrop with bald eagles flying overhead, salmon being caught off the rocky beach and a harbor seal patrolling the area.  Floyd spoke to the group of about 26 attendees and answered their questions in this intimate, scenic setting.  Andrew presented Floyd with a gift from the volunteers – a beautiful framed poster of Alaska Native values.

Both events were a great success and a fitting ending to a week of diversity and learning. Floyd openly shared that he learned a lot about our unique challenges, our communities and our diversity.

“I have learned so much from donors, volunteers and staff during this trip. I will NEVER forget my trip to Alaska,” Floyd Pitts said.

Thank you to each and every volunteer, staff member and community partner that made these statewide events possible!

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Red Cross enjoys dinner and evening cruise around Resurrection Bay

By Ashley Dodds

The American Red Cross of Alaska cruised out of the small boat harbor in Seward last Saturday evening, June 15. Donors, staff members, board members, volunteers, partners and the public all joined in for the annual event, which has taken place for over a decade, thanks to the support of Major Marine Tours and Premier Alaska Tours. All proceeds from the evening benefit American Red Cross Disaster Relief, which is a specific fund supporting the needs of communities affected by all types of disasters, with the most common disaster in Alaska being home fires. Donations to this fund are used to provide immediate financial and lodging assistance, comfort items, emergency supplies and other resources to families affected by home fires, earthquakes or other disasters.

Photo Credit: Ralph Radford/American Red Cross

The evening included a loop around the scenic Resurrection Bay in Seward and a dinner of prime rib and fresh Alaskan salmon graciously provided by Major Marine Tours, as well as live and silent auctions and a raffle. Transportation for those leaving from the Anchorage and Girdwood areas was provided by Premier Alaska Tours.

Photo Credit: Ralph Radford/American Red Cross

The silent auction portion included items such as classes, get-aways and other goodies for participants to bid on throughout the evening.

The live auction took place after dinner and included items such as a two-night stay and four passes to the Alyeska Resort in Girdwood, two round trip tickets to anywhere Alaska Airlines flies, and two round-trip tickets on Ravn Air. Over $3,000 was raised during the live auction alone!

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Photo Credit: Ralph Radford/American Red Cross

Thank you to the following organizations and individuals who donated auction items:

Alaska Airlines

Alaska Rock Gym

Alyeska Resort

Alaska Sealife Center

Anchorage Trolley Tours

GCI, Mossy’s Fly Shop gift bag

Homer Beachside Cabins

Kenai River Drifter’s Lodge

Bracelet and iPhone case, donated by Maria Rangel

Premier Alaska Tours

Prospector John’s

Ravn Alaska

Sheraton Anchorage Hotel & Spa

Sweet Caribou

Seward B&B, donated by Tanguy Libbrecht

The Alaska Zoo

The Hotel Captain Cook

This event occurs around the same time every year, and members of the public are encouraged to attend. The event is advertised through social media, email invitations to Red Cross stakeholders and radio advertisements. If you’re interested in joining the Red Cross of Alaska next June, keep an eye out for event details in early May.

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Photo Credit: Ralph Radford/American Red Cross

Thank you to Major Marine Tours, Premier Alaska Tours, and all attendees and auction participants for a great evening and the opportunity to enjoy the beauty of our great state together!

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To see all photos from the evening event, please visit https://flic.kr/s/aHsmEpUE6g

Wildfire Safety Tips

Wildfire season in Alaska runs from April 1 to August 31 and to date, there are have been 227 wildfires in the state this season that have burned over 111,227 acres. The Red Cross of Alaska offers tips to help you and your family before, during and after a wildfire in your area.

BEFORE A FIRE OCCURS Remove anything that can catch fire from around your home, garage and/or outdoor shed, including firewood and propane tanks. If it’s flammable, keep it away from your house, deck or porch. Obey outside burning bans when issued by community, municipality or borough officials.

Other things you can do to be prepared include:

  • Keep your gutters and roof clean. Remove dead vegetation and brush from your yard. Keep your lawn hydrated.
  • Select building materials and plants that resist fire.
  • Make sure driveway entrances and your house number or address are clearly marked.
  • Set aside items that can be used as fire tools – a rake, axe, hand or chain saw, bucket and shovel.
  • Identify and maintain a good water source outside your home. Examples include a small pond, well or swimming pool.
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Prepare an emergency kit full of supplies you may need in the event that your neighborhood is asked to evacuate.

IF A FIRE OCCURS Listen to your local media for updates on the fire and be ready to leave quickly. Back your car into the garage or park it in an open space facing your direction of escape. You should also:

  • Keep your pets in one room so you can find them quickly if you have to evacuate.
  • Arrange for a temporary place to stay outside the threatened area.
  • Keep your indoor air clean – close windows and doors to prevent the smoke outside from getting in your home.
  • If smoke levels are high, don’t use anything that burns and adds to air pollution inside such as candles, fireplaces and wood or gas stoves.

If you’re trapped outdoors, crouch in a pond, river or stream.

  • Don’t put wet clothing or bandanas over your mouth or nose, as moist air can cause more damage to your airway than dry air at the same temperature.
  • If there is no body of water, look for shelter in a cleared area or among a bed of rocks. Lie flat, face down, and cover your body with soil. Breathe the air close to the ground to avoid scorching your lungs or inhaling smoke.

AFTER THE FIRE Don’t go home until fire officials say it is safe to do so. Be cautious entering a burned area – hazards could still exist. Avoid damaged or downed power lines, poles and wires. Other things to do include:

  • Keep your animals under your direct control. Hidden embers and hot spots could burn them.
  • Wet down debris to minimize breathing dust particles.
  • Wear leather gloves and shoes with heavy soles.
  • Throw out any food that has been exposed to heat, smoke or soot.
  • Recheck for smoke or sparks throughout your home for several hours after the fire, including in your attic. Wildfire winds can blow burning embers anywhere so check for embers that could cause a fire.

For a full list of resources to help you and your family prepare for wildfires this summer, you can visit the Red Cross Wildfire Preparedness page on our website. To stay up to date on current wildfire information for the State of Alaska, visit the Alaska Wildland Fire Information site, which is an interagency website developed by federal and state agencies in Alaska to provide timely and accurate wildfire information for the entire state.

You can also download the free Red Cross Emergency App, which allows you to monitor 35 different types of severe weather and emergency alerts. To download, text GETEMERGENCY to 90999, visit redcross.org/apps or search for “American Red Cross” in your mobile phone app store.

Emergency Apps

2019 Sound the Alarm Highlight: Talkeetna

By Connie Black/American Red Cross of Alaska

Teams made up of Red Cross volunteers and community partners participated in Sound the Alarm, a home fire safety and smoke alarm installation event, on May 4 in the Talkeetna area.

The event was a huge success! Volunteers from the Red Cross of Alaska with our partners from the Talkeetna Fire Department and Talkeetna CERT installed over 50 smoke alarms in homes that lacked working alarms in the area, and also sat down with residents to review home fire safety tips and create fire escape plans.

 

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Denali Brewing Company and Twister Creek Restaurant graciously provided excellent lunches for our hungry crews during a quick midday break!

 

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A very big thank you is also in order for all of the participating volunteers. Their help canvassing neighborhoods and dedicating their time to saving lives made a tremendous impact: Chief Eric Chappel and Lieutenant Dan, and Red Crossers Ron, Jessica, Bill, Mabel, Jim, Deb, Tommy, Ken, Paul, Connie and Bill.

“Because of the strong relationship the Red Cross has with our community partners like the Talkeetna Fire Department and Talkeetna CERT, we were able to reach more homes and touch more lives during this event,” said Bill Morrow, Red Cross of Alaska disaster program manager for the Mat-Su Valley and Kodiak. “We’re looking forward to continuing to build on this partnership.”

 

If you were not home or missed the installation event in Talkeetna and you’d like to sign up for free smoke alarms and home installation, contact the Talkeetna Fire Department at 907-733-2443. Please leave your name and number. If you have questions or would like to schedule a smoke alarm install in another area of the Mat-Su Borough, please contact the Mat-Su Red Cross office at 907-357-6060.

Thank you to our Alaska Region 2019 Sound the Alarm sponsors: Alaska Airlines, Alaska Commercial Company, BP Alaska, Denali Brewing Company, Doyon Limited, Joanna L. Moss, Kinross Fort Knox Gold Mine, Matson, Midnight Sun Brewing Company and TOTE Maritime Alaska.

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Home fires can happen anywhere and to any family! Please test your smoke alarms monthly and practice home fire escape as a family. Smoke alarms save lives!

 

2019 Sound the Alarm Highlight: Prince of Wales & Ketchikan

By Michael Wanzenried/American Red Cross of Alaska

Red Cross of Alaska volunteers participated in the annual Sound the Alarm home fire safety and smoke alarm installation events between April 27 and May 18, 2019. To help reach the national goal of 100,000 smoke alarm installations, volunteers canvased communities across Alaska to install smoke alarms and talk with families about disaster preparedness and home fire safety.

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From May 5-9, Red Cross of Alaska volunteers from Anchorage and Juneau combined forces with local Red Cross of Alaska volunteers from Prince of Wales (POW) to install smoke alarms in homes across the island and conduct The Pillowcase Project presentations at three schools. This was the first time that the Red Cross of Alaska has held installation events for Sound the Alarm on POW. Volunteers traveled to homes in Craig, Klawock, Whale Pass, Coffman Cove, Naukati Bay, Thorne Bay, Kasaan, Hollis, and Hydaburg. Sound the Alarm also went to Ketchikan to install smoke alarms and participate in a volunteer meet-and-greet.

The Red Cross of Alaska shipped over 500 smoke alarms to POW with the modest goal of installing 300. Volunteer fire chiefs that participated with the installation events also received spare smoke alarms to install in the homes of people who were unavailable when volunteers came to their community.

It was a good thing that POW volunteers were on hand to help those from off island as they adjusted to daily POW realities: the lack of street addresses in some places, unreliable cell reception, and knowing which neighbors would be more likely to open their doors to outsiders. Having people on hand with local knowledge really made a big difference in how many homes had new smoke alarms installed.

Red Cross of Alaska volunteer Jeri Rosenthal put it this way, “POW is best thought of as a small community of a little over 5,000 people spread over the fourth largest island in the United States. Even with our newly paved roads, it takes time to get between villages. And even when you get to a town like Whale Pass, it can still take an extra step or two to get to your destination.”

Over the course of five days, Red Cross of Alaska and other POW volunteers made this year’s Sound the Alarm event extremely successful. Sound the Alarm events in POW and Ketchikan resulted in 102 homes visited, 19 volunteers engaged, 365 smoke alarms installed, and 152 smoke alarms given to volunteer fire chiefs for additional installs in the near future. Donations from across the country allowed the Red Cross of Alaska to do this all free of charge. That’s right, free.

Due to the success of this project, more smoke alarms will be shipped to Ketchikan and POW. These will be distributed to Red Cross of Alaska volunteers and volunteer fire chiefs to help protect more families.

A topic of conversation that came up more than once during this particular Sound the Alarm event was whether someone really needed a smoke alarm because of how much rain POW gets. Some people felt that lots of rain made their houses less vulnerable to fire. However, as Joshua Hills, volunteer fire chief for Naukati Bay pointed out, home fires still occur despite the amount of precipitation his community gets. Many home fires on POW are caused by problems with electrical wiring or creosote buildup in a chimney.

In POW communities where emergency services are limited or would have trouble reaching remote locations, a working smoke alarm could mean all the difference between a life lost or saved.

Some people that had new smoke alarms installed said they had taken their old ones down because they had become a nuisance. A running joke in kitchens across POW was that smoke alarms did their job exceptionally well in letting the cook know when something on the stove was smoking. Volunteers relocated smoke alarms to places where smoke from a burning hamburger would have trouble reaching it, like adjacent rooms or hallways.  Although we know this intuitively, smoke alarms work best on the ceiling where smoke goes first, not on a shelf.

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One thing every person learned during these Sound the Alarm events was that smoke alarms need to be replaced every ten years or so. This means that just because the alarm beeps when you press the button does not mean that it is actually capable of detecting smoke and sounding the alarm when you need it most. New smoke alarms were installed in situations where people could not remember the last time they had changed their smoke alarms. To help avoid this situation in the future, volunteers wrote the install and replace-by dates on the new alarms.

In addition to smoke alarm installations, Red Cross of Alaska volunteers Bridget Thomson and Stacy Mank conducted The Pillowcase Project presentations at schools in Naukati Bay and Whale Pass. The presenters talked to students about local hazards, disaster preparedness, and the importance of discussing emergency plans with their families. Each student received a pillowcase that they can use to fill with items they would need during an emergency.

When asked what they would keep in their pillowcase, students listed such things as flashlights, stuffed animals, water bottles, comic books, Twinkies, canned food (with opener), socks, shoes and emergency blankets—a good mix of practical and comforting things.

The Pillowcase Project presentations also allowed a chance for our POW students to reveal their awareness of local threats. One Naukati Bay fifth grader recalled the unnerving experience of having to evacuate her house in Port Alexander at 1 a.m. and take a boat across the bay to reach higher ground. Other students easily listed what they would do during an earthquake. It is a credit to the families and teachers across POW for helping the upcoming generation be disaster ready at such an early age.

The success of the POW Sound the Alarm events and The Pillowcase Project presentations were made possible by our generous and patient volunteers who either made time to help with logistics, lodging and communications or otherwise passed the word along via social media. Every bit of effort in support of this year’s Sound the Alarm events made our communities that much safer.

The people who came out to help the Red Cross of Alaska included some POW people you might know: Jan Stevens, Gary Lawton, Les Bovee, Brian Templin, Jeri Rosenthal, Karen Peterson, Stacey Mank, Dick Stubee and Colleen Watson. Ketchikan volunteers included Pam Roth, Paulette Laberge and Ken Kemmerer. Rick Janelle and Bridget Thomson came down from Juneau while Michael Wanzenried joined from Anchorage. The four volunteer fire chiefs who came out to help and will have some smoke alarms on hand for future community installs include Joshua Hills from Naukati Bay, Tom and Tamara Weaver from Whale Pass, Tom Harden from Hollis, and Ted Peele from Hydaburg. Next year, we hope to have even more POW community members join us!

Additional thanks to the Alaska Commercial Company and AK49 for their generous donations of lunch on several days and to BP Alaska for their sponsorship of all Southeast installs during Sound the Alarm.

Additional sponsors of Sound the Alarm events in Alaska include Alaska Airlines, Denali Brewing Company, Doyon Limited, Joanna L. Moss, Kinross Fort Knox Gold Mine, Matson, Midnight Sun Brewing Company and TOTE Maritime Alaska. Partnerships with these companies help keep the costs down, which makes more funds available for providing assistance to individuals and families after home fires or other large-scale disasters.

If you are interested in becoming a Red Cross of Alaska volunteer and making a difference in your community and/or developing new skills, you can check out opportunities online and find the Red Cross office nearest you at redcross.org/Alaska.

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2019 Sound the Alarm Highlight: Kotzebue

By Trina Landlord/American Red Cross of Alaska

“Thank you for coming to Kotzebue!” “We are so grateful!” “Let me give you maktak!” – a few examples of statements made by community members after installing smoke alarms in their homes in the Northwest Arctic community of Kotzebue, Alaska.

An American Red Cross team of five arrived on a brilliantly sunny afternoon. The Inupiat name for Kotzebue is Kikkitagruk, which translated to English means “almost an island.” Kotzebue is located on a three-mile long spit in the Kotzebue Sound, an arm of the Chukchi Sea in the Seward Peninsula of Alaska. It is about 550 air miles from Anchorage.

Kotzebue is an Inupiat community, which translated into English means “real people.” The community, which lies about 26 miles above Arctic Circle, welcomed Red Cross volunteers into their homes as part of Sound the Alarm, a home fire safety and smoke alarm installation event with a goal to install over 200 smoke alarms in homes over two days across the community.

Our greeter at the airport, Michelle – a Yupik woman originally from St. Lawrence Island – is with the Alaska State Defense Force and was our tour guide and liaison on-the-ground. She was joined by members of the City Fire Department–Chloe, Nick and Richard–a transplant from the island of Grenada in the Caribbean. The local village corporation, Kikkiktagrak Inupiat Corporation, also provided two enthusiastic volunteers, Nikki and Kelly.

The team hit the ground running and deployed into three teams to canvass across Kotzebue, connecting with the community through announcements on the VHF radio, the local radio station KOTZ Broadcast Inc., by word of mouth, or by calling individual homes to meet the ambitious goal. The Sound the Alarm initiative is to spread home fire safety and prevention tips and ultimately, to save lives.

This trip was the first the Red Cross of Alaska made to Kotzebue, which is a truly unique place. The ice on the water was melting day-by-day and people were ice fishing for sheefish using handmade poles just below the main Front Street and flying above, the seagulls had just returned. In May, the days are long with just over 19 hours of sunlight that will continue into the summer months ahead.

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The smoke alarm installations were appreciated, necessary and people expressed their gratitude and thanks. Many homes had either expired or no existing smoke alarms, or batteries that had been removed due to the alarms being consistently activated from cooking or simply from dying batteries. The newly installed smoke alarms will last for ten years and it’s suggested that residents test them monthly. In addition to the installations, the Red Cross reviewed a fire safety checklist and together with the homeowners drew an escape plan outlining a safety spot for their families to meet outside in the event of a fire and never go back inside.

Red Cross installed smoke alarms and also got to learn a bit about each resident in the process. In one Elder’s home, Darlene promised gifts—handmade sea otter and polar bear fur key chains. Another Elder, Lydia, displayed her fur parkas with beautiful kupak, the detailed trim in beautiful designs and vibrant colors with Arctic fox fur ruffs and cuffs. The maktak that was shared is whale blubber from the bowhead whale harvested recently in nearby communities like Point Hope to the north or Gambell on St. Lawrence Island, located 200 miles off the coast of Nome.

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This trip was made possible by our Red Cross volunteers, the City of Kotzebue Fire Department, the Kikkiktagrak Inupiat Corporation, the Alaska State Defense Force, and our Alaska Region Sound the Alarm sponsors: Alaska Airlines, Alaska Commercial Company, BP Alaska, Denali Brewing Company, Doyon Limited, Joanna L. Moss, Kinross Fort Knox Gold Mine, Matson, Midnight Sun Brewing Company and TOTE Maritime Alaska.

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