American Red Cross using technology to help you prepare for hurricanes

INDIAN RIVER COUNTY — With new predictions for an above-average 2011 Atlantic hurricane season, the American Red Cross is adding technology to the many ways it helps people to get prepared.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) predicts that 12-18 named storms, 6-10 hurricanes and 3-6 major hurricanes will occur this year. The 2011 Atlantic hurricane season starts June 1, and families can take steps now to create a family emergency plan.  

To make that planning easier, the Red Cross has developed a free iPhone app that gives the location of all open Red Cross shelters. The app not only maps the location of a shelter, but also shows current capacity and population.

To download the app, users can visit the Apple store and search “American Red Cross shelters.” For those without an iPhone, the same shelter information also appears on the Red Cross website and can be accessed by visiting and clicking on “Find a Shelter.” Both are refreshed with updated information every 30 minutes.

In addition, the Red Cross Safe and Well website now allows users to update their Facebook and Twitter status when they register on the site. Safe and Well is a secure way to let your loved ones know where you are going during a hurricane evacuation or that you are “okay” in the aftermath of a disaster. If users choose to do so, they can easily let their entire network of friends and family members know they are safe in one step.

“This is an ideal time to get a disaster supply kit ready, make an evacuation plan with your family, and get information on what to do during a hurricane,” said Charley Shimanski, senior vice president of Red Cross Disaster Services. “It’s also the right time to learn how to locate a shelter or use Safe and Well, and new technology is making it even easier to do that.”

Along with working to prepare people in the U.S., the American Red Cross is working to prepare vulnerable populations in Haiti with training in early warning systems and emergency first aid, as well as other measures, as hurricane season approaches for that country, which is still dealing with the 2010 earthquake that left so many homeless.

More broadly, the global Red Cross network has been working with the Haitian Red Cross to help Haitians better prepare for and respond to disasters. For example, an estimated 5.5 million text messages about ways to prepare for disasters have been sent to Haitians.

American Red Cross disaster preparedness and disaster risk reduction programs have helped Haitians in about 40 camps prepare for heavy rains and hurricanes, and this program will expand in the months to come. Some of the activities held in these camps include emergency first aid courses, training in early warning systems (bullhorns and whistles), projects such as digging ditches and sandbagging hillsides, preparation of evacuation routes, and workshops to teach children about disaster preparedness.

In addition, Haitian Red Cross branches across the country have been strengthened with extra training for staff and new office and communications equipment. More than 1,600 people have been trained by the Red Cross in vulnerability and capacity assessment or community-based disaster management.

The Red Cross has also built a Disaster Operations Center in Hinche and pre-positioned relief supplies for 25,000 families to be used during future disasters in Haiti. The American Red Cross has also helped to supply additional tarps to vulnerable Haitians whose shelters may be damaged or destroyed, and have staff on standby to provide emergency response in coordination with members of the global Red Cross network.

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