On Saturday, April 7, 2018, I went to White Plains beach to meet my friends as I usually do every weekend. We surf or fish in the morning and then BBQ and hang out for the rest of the day. The day started out as it usually does, with the only remarkable event being that I did not eat breakfast and was hungry that morning. My friends Mark and Dann and I decided to fish because there wasn’t much surf that day. The three of us walked down the beach and fished for about an hour and then returned to the parking lot where all of our other friends had congregated. For the next hour or so, we hung out with our friends as a small group of us decided where to go eat since we still hadn’t eaten breakfast. Finally, a restaurant was chosen and my friends and I started to say goodbye to our friends. This is the last part of the story I remember. The remainder of the story was recounted to me by my friends.My Accident
The last friend I said goodbye to was Jill. Jill was standing by my car, so after I said my goodbyes, I would have gotten in my car and headed to the restaurant. Instead, I hugged Jill and then blacked out. When I blacked out, I fell over and the first part of my body to strike the ground was the right side of my head, just above my ear. The impact with the ground was hard enough to interrupt the body signals that regulate my heartbeat. In essence, the impact was hard enough to stop my heart.
Two of my friends rushed to my aid. Mark Kam, a flight attendant for Hawaiian Airlines, and Bob Heffelfinger, a civilian government employee, began performing CPR. Bob then realized he wasn’t comfortable performing it, so he stood up and yelled “Somebody Help!”
While at his car putting away his surfboard and fishing equipment, Frank Asuncion, a retired welder from the shipyard at Pearl Harbor, heard Bob’s call and rushed to my aid. Together, Mark and Frank performed CPR, and at this point, I was told I was blue and hadn’t been breathing for approximately three minutes. At some point, I began to breathe again but was told I kept going in and out of consciousness. I remember waking up and seeing paramedics and firefighters hovering over me. One of them asked if I knew where I was and I replied, “I’m at White Plains Beach. Why am I on the ground?” After I answered, I blacked out again.A Perfect Storm
The next thing I remember is waking up in the hospital when they allowed Mark in to see me. At this point, about four hours had passed since my fall in the parking lot. The hospital performed many tests including a CT scan and an MRI. I also received three staples above my right ear for the crack in my skull and was diagnosed with a concussion. The hospital physicians didn’t know the cause of my accident and released me, instructing me to follow up with my primary care doctor. Mark took sick leave from work to help me during my recovery, and I stayed at his house since all of my family members live on the mainland in Pennsylvania. On Monday, Mark took me to my primary care doctor who then referred me to a neurologist and cardiologist. All tests from the neurologist and cardiologist found there was no evidence of heart or brain trouble. So my primary care doctor, using the results from all my tests and procedures, concluded that low blood sugar from not eating breakfast and dehydration caused me to black out, fall, and strike my head on the ground, which affected my heartbeat. In essence, it was a perfect storm of things that combined to cause a potentially deadly situation. But the right people were in the right place that morning and I am still here to share my story.Bonded for Life
I did have an opportunity to really get to know the men who saved my life. Mark Kam and I had been friends for about two years prior to my accident. We are even closer friends now. He saved my life and he is my best friend. I had not met Frank prior to my accident, but a few days later, I went back to the beach where the accident occurred and spoke to the lifeguards who also assisted during my accident. I asked if they knew who the “other guy” was who helped me. At this point, I only knew his name was ‘Frank’ because it was written on the lifeguard’s report. I asked the head lifeguard, Marvin, if he could give my name and phone number to Frank and ask him to contact me if he was comfortable meeting.
Later that day, Frank called me, and we spoke for the first time. We scheduled a time to meet at the beach later that week. It was an emotional reunion, and we were both in tears when we saw each other. During our reunion, we found out that we share a common interest: fishing! So, Frank and I have fished together a few times since my accident, and we continue to keep in touch via texts and phone calls. Frank texts me on the seventh day of each month to recognize another month of my new life.Learn Lifesaving Skills
Register for a Red Cross CPR course today at https://www.redcross.org/take-a-class/cpr to learn lifesaving skills. You never know when you’ll need them.
Michael Wojcik is Chief Development Officer for the American Red Cross of Massachusetts. He is a 16-year veteran of the organization. Michael is also legally blind. During Disability Employment Awareness Month, we sat down with Michael to talk about the importance of having honest conversations with colleagues, the meaning of an inclusive workplace, and the valuable insight people with disabilities bring to the Red Cross mission.When did you join the Red Cross and what is your role?
I joined the Red Cross in September 2003 in my hometown of Chicago. Back then I never thought that I would have the many opportunities for professional growth that I have had at the Red Cross, let alone to serve as Chief Development Officer for the Massachusetts region. I am so proud of what we do here. I get to lead a team of 15 talented Red Crossers (fundraisers) who link compassionate individuals, brand aware companies and impact driven foundations with our lifesaving mission. It is an honor to advocate for a set of values and services that I truly believe in.How has working at the Red Cross impacted your life or career?
Serving the Red Cross mission is incredibly rewarding. I am reminded daily of how truly fragile life is. We are all one step away from something unexpected disrupting our lives, sometimes forever. At the same time, we also see the humanity and hope in those we serve and our volunteers who reach out their hand to help. At the end of the day, there is hope in the world and it is the Red Cross. Beyond that, the life and career lessons that I have gained from colleagues past and present are too numerous to mention, but they shape who I am and they remind me of why we serve this cause.What do you love most about your job?
I enjoy supporting our leadership volunteers. I love learning why they choose to champion our cause and strategizing with them to bring the needs of clients to their networks. Supporting their advocacy and helping my team build strategic partnerships to grow our organizational capacity is meaningful to me. Honestly, you would not have heard me say that 16 years ago. Like many, I began my nonprofit career because I learned firsthand that the world is fair to all. While I still know that to be true, what motivates me now is executing our goals. If X is our desired outcome, what will it take to get that done and who must be involved, where, when and how? This may not sound inspiring to some but affecting the desired outcome is cool stuff.How has/does the Red Cross support you and other individuals with disabilities?
It took me years to grow comfortable talking to my managers about my vision impairment and acknowledging that I may need certain accommodations. For the better part of my life I tried to deny my impairment so that I could “fit in” with everyone else. In the workplace it’s not easy or comfortable to divulge a need. And frankly it took some of my managers time to feel comfortable talking with me about what I may need in terms of support. Ultimately, through courage and conversation, both sides took minor leaps of faith and for years now I’ve maintained a solution-oriented dialogue with my various bosses. For those who may perceive disclosing a disability as professional vulnerability, I say forget that. Just be you. Say what you need. Ultimately, we are our own advocates. No one else but you really knows what you need, so speak up. Believe in yourself and the value you add to this organization and our clients. Remember, our clients see us just as much as our peers do and our advocacy sends a message to them too.
What disabled Red Crossers find is an organization that has fairly well established support systems for folks with a variety of accommodations needs. For me, it’s ensuring that when I’m at a divisional/national meeting that I have printed copies of all PowerPoint presentations. Similarly, I work in an open office environment. When reporting out on our fundraising metrics, I need to be in front of my computer looking at a large screen while everyone else on my team is gathered in the conference room looking at the TV monitor on the wall. I also have help navigating some online systems.
Ultimately, the Red Cross is a collection of people, just like you and me, who live in and believe in community and who by our very nature believe in the concept of helping others. None of us would be working as hard as we do if we felt otherwise. So, if there is a volunteer or employee who either through fear of stigma, self-doubt or personal pride is unsure about sharing their needs; I am confident that you will find a willing listener and plenty of solutions-oriented people who will help.What would you say to an individual with a disability looking for a job who might be considering the Red Cross?
The Red Cross is a great organization to serve. Volunteers or employees with a disability are instant rock stars. We play a key role in serving our community because we represent our community. By showing up and offering help, we uphold not only the mission but the values of this organization; in part because we look like those we serve and we experience life like those we serve. That street credibility is priceless. As a disabled Red Crosser, we have more than just our talent to offer; we have a perspective on life that shapes who we are and how we think about ourselves and those we serve. These are coveted assets to a humanitarian organization like ours and they are valued. Embrace it.What, if anything, surprised you about working at the Red Cross?
I am surprised every day, even 16 years in, by the depth of compassion and sheer determination of Red Cross volunteers and employees. We bring so much of the communities that we serve to the workplace. This makes us a stronger organization every single day.
I have also seen a more inclusive workplace emerge. A few years ago, I was proud to help form our Ability Network. This is a resource group for Red Cross volunteers and staff with disabilities, function and access needs. Ability Network members bring to Gail’s leadership table the challenge, obstacles, perspectives and opportunities that we encounter every day across the organization. In addition to being a forum to drive organizational enhancements, the Ability Network has exposed me to so many Red Crossers who I quite frankly would have never met. Our group affirms that the Red Cross is vast and wide, and has volunteers and staff who represent every aspect of life, our lines of service and ways of working. It’s cool stuff.What else would you like to share?
Accepting and embracing “the other,” is a continuous journey and requires intention, whether the other is a person who does not look like, talk like or function like us. Take the initiative to ask them who they are, what they value, how they like to be addressed and what we can expect from them. Don’t assume that because someone is different that they can’t. Assume they can and then hold them accountable to deliver on what they promise. It pains me when so called able-bodied folks give those of us with a disability a pass. I’m here to deliver just as much as anyone else and I expect to be held accountable, and believe me, I have been (lol). Everyone values being trusted, respected and expected to deliver for others. Those with disabilities are no different. Every Red Crosser adds value.Join Us
To find a career where you can make a difference at the Red Cross, visit redcross.org/careers.
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Supporting American Red Cross blood donation services is in Kendra Young’s blood.
The Issaquah High School student recently organized a blood drive at her school. Twenty-three pints of blood were collected.
More than 70 years earlier, her grandfather Raymond Henry Salyer helped set up a Red Cross blood bank in Omaha, Nebraska.
“Unfortunately, I didn’t ever really get the chance to know him,” Kendra said about her grandfather. But he was still an inspiration.
“I was definitely more eager to get involved because of that family history,” she said.
It was Kendra’s mother who gave her the idea to host the blood drive. Kendra liked it because she enjoys planning events and volunteering. Over the years, she’s participated in various charity events through her church including food, clothing and school supply drives and handing out Thanksgiving meals for families and individuals in need.
Planning the blood drive was fun, Kendra said. When the day came, she volunteered to check people in. Many of the donors were people she had invited from school, church and work. Some were strangers who saw the flyers she had posted in the area. The payoff was seeing how great people felt after donating.
In thanks for her effort, the Red Cross gave Kendra and her friends a special role at a Reign FC game. The women’s soccer team recently announced their commitment to collecting blood, through a partnership with the Red Cross Missing Types Campaign.
Kendra and her peers were escorted onto the field at halftime and invited to test their luck by attempting to kick a goal (they call it a chip-shot) from the midline.
“We were kicking in the right direction, but we could not kick that far,” said Kendra, who competes on her school’s swim team.
By hosting a blood drive, students can become eligible for a Red Cross scholarship. Kendra will be a senior this fall and said she might organize another blood drive toward the end of the school year.
“Kendra’s passion and commitment to help others is an inspiration. The Red Cross future is very bright because of young people like Kendra,” said Red Cross Regional Philanthropy Officer, Ken Mundt.Donate Blood to Help Save Lives
Schedule an appointment to donate today by using the Red Cross Blood Donor App, visiting redcrossblood.org, calling 1-800-RED CROSS (1-800-733-2767) or enabling the blood donor skill on any Alexa Echo device by saying, “Alexa, find a blood drive.” To speed up the donation process, you can also complete a RapidPass® online health history questionnaire at RedCrossBlood.org/RapidPass on mobile devices.
As a thank you for coming to give this October, you’ll automatically be entered for a chance to win one of five $500 gift cards redeemable at hundreds of merchants, courtesy of Tango Card. Terms apply, see: rcblood.org/game.
October is National Cybersecurity Awareness Month; a month to ensure all Americans are safer and more secure online. At FEMA, we are always focused on preparing ourselves, our partners, and the American people for the many threats and hazards we face as a nation. As the need for cybersecurity has grown, so too has our cyber preparedness efforts.
In partnership with our colleagues at the Cybersecurity & Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA), we support numerous programs aimed at making the nation more resilient to cyber-attacks. In the past ten years, we have invested over $165 million in grant funding to bolster state and local jurisdictions’ cyber preparedness. While more can always be done, this funding addresses what we are seeing in national reports and assessments where cybersecurity is identified as a national area for improvement. Our state and local partners are using the funding to develop cybersecurity plans and programs, provide training, conduct outreach and exercises, and acquire hardware and software, firewall enhancements, and closed emergency network infrastructure.
Just like a more traditional response to a natural disaster, we must also be ready to respond to a “cyber disaster” as a cyber-attack can trigger physical consequences. These physical consequences could result in significant impacts to governments, businesses, and individuals. Thus, we work with CISA and other federal agencies to ensure our response plans are coordinated and rehearsed regularly with our government and private sector partners.
Next year we are facilitating a national level exercise based on a major cyber-attack. The exercise, known as NLE 2020, will integrate several existing exercises, including CISA’s series of exercise modules called Cyber Storm. This will enable us to examine different phases of a connected incident through a unified and collaborative effort. The exercise participants will include all levels of government and the private sector. We will examine each participants’ respective roles and responsibilities to respond to such an event. Our joint goal is to ensure this is the largest and most impactful cyber exercise for all our stakeholders. Exercises, such as this large-scale event or the more frequent offerings led by CISA, are instrumental in increasing our level of preparedness for cybersecurity incidents.
We also provide our state and local partners with the technical skills they require to make their communities more secure and resilient to cyber-attacks. We offer over 20 online and in-person courses, focused on everything from network assurance and digital forensics, to information security and cyber incident response. Since 2004, FEMA has trained more than 87,000 federal, state, local, tribal, and territorial officials on cybersecurity.
But cybersecurity does not fall squarely on the shoulders of government. Every American has a role to play, which is why this month is focused on raising awareness about what you can do to protect yourself at home, work, or school. Using complex and different passwords for your accounts, keeping your antivirus software and operating systems up to date, and scrutinizing emails before clicking on links are simple things that make a big difference. The theme of this year’s awareness month is “Own IT. Secure IT. Protect IT.” because these individual steps are often more important than technological solutions. Learn more about what you can do at Ready.gov/cybersecurity.
Preparedness is a team sport. Whether it be for natural disasters or cyber-attacks, it takes all of us to reduce our vulnerability to these risks. Given increasing cyber threats, we should strive to build a culture of cyber preparedness.
Daniel Kaniewski is deputy administrator for resilience at the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the Agency’s Acting Deputy Administrator.
October is National Community Planning Month. Community planners around the globe join the American Planning Association in highlighting this year’s theme of “Planning for Infrastructure that Benefits All”. This year, the focus is on how well-planned infrastructure projects strengthen communities, boost the economy, expand opportunity, and promote equitable development. Infrastructure projects include transportation systems, housing, parks, dams and levees, and communication systems, among others.
The topic of well-planned infrastructure is especially relevant to FEMA’s mission as we continue to focus on increasing community resilience across the nation through mitigation activities. A key area of focus is specifically mitigating those infrastructure systems that are considered “lifelines.”
Lifelines are systems, like roads and power, that allow critical government and essential business operations to continue. Lifelines are essential to human health and safety, or economic security. They include police and fire departments, hospitals, power plants, arterial roads, grocery stores, and the cellular towers that connect everything. These often-interconnected systems are, simply put, essential for communities to keep the “lights on.”
The best way to protect lifelines is to include them in your state, local, tribal, or territorial mitigation plans. Over 20,000 communities across the country begin planning for resilient actions and projects in their hazard mitigation plans. Mitigation plans help decision-makers understand their risks from natural hazards and prioritize actions that will reduce the impacts of future events. Often, these actions include improving and investing in lifelines. For example, a mitigation plan can help identify infrastructure-protecting actions like:
- Adopting and enforcing up-to-date building codes
- Retrofitting and strengthening infrasturtucture to resist natural hazard damage
- Raising roads and bridges to maintain dry access during flooding
Plans become a great source for mitigation projects when funding becomes available, whether it is from FEMA’s Hazard Mitigation Assistance Program or another source.
Mitigation can and should be a part of everyday considerations, and the important role that planning plays is highlighted under FEMA’s recently released National Mitigation Investment Strategy. Often when people hear the words “hazard mitigation” their minds quickly jump to elevated homes and shelters for riding out storms, but those are only a few of the many great options for protecting where you live, work, and play.
By integrating mitigation plans with community planning processes, we can create safer, more sustainable neighborhoods that make mitigation a part of everyday life. For example, community planners can promote safe growth principles, protecting citizens by encouraging people to live in areas at lesser risk for flooding or earthquakes. Or when designing a new community park, developers could incorporate a drainage pond for storm runoff to reduce flood risks to nearby streets and housing. By including lifelines and risks to hazards in community planning decisions, you not only make your community safer from natural hazards, but more sustainable and resilient as well.
Learn more about National Community Planning Month and those FEMA programs that work with community planners every day here:
- FEMA's National Community Planning Month
- Mitigation Planning
- National Mitigation Investment Strategy
- National Earthquake Hazards Reduction Program
- Floodplain Management
- Building Sciences
- Risk Mapping, Assessment, and Planning (Risk MAP)
- National Dam Safety Program
- Hazard Mitigation Assistance and the upcoming Building Resilient Infrastructure in Communities (BRIC) funding stream
For more information about National Community Planning Month, visit https://www.planning.org/ncpm/.
Evan Edler is a 16-year-old Red Cross volunteer from Massachusetts, who spent this past year participating in his school’s International Humanitarian Law (IHL) Youth Action Campaign. IHL is a set of rules which seek, for humanitarian reasons, to limit the effects of armed conflict. These rules attempt to reconcile the reality of armed conflicts with the protection of lives and preservation of human dignity. The Red Cross’s Youth Action Campaign gives students the opportunity to learn more about this important body of law. We asked Evan a few questions about what he learned from the campaign and why he thinks others should get involved.What is the Youth Action Campaign?
The IHL Youth Action Campaign is a way for youth volunteers and activists to educate their communities about international humanitarian law, and how it affects people around the world.How long have you been involved with the Youth Action Campaign?
Last year was my first (and my school’s first) year participating in the Youth Action Campaign.Why is it important for people to know about international humanitarian law?
Though some people are far removed from warfare or military involvement, to many, IHL is a life-or-death matter. For people living in active war zones or with family members in danger, IHL can be an extremely important protection – which is why the rest of the world should be aware when such essential rules are violated.What do you do as a member of the Youth Action Campaign?
As a member of the Youth Action Campaign, I work to teach my peers about IHL and its importance. I plan creative events, advertise throughout the school and encourage other students and my community to get involved with the Red Cross. I generally promote excitement about IHL to increase awareness in fun and different ways.What’s the most surprising thing you learned about international humanitarian law?
The most surprising thing I learned was that people violate IHL so frequently. It was shocking to hear stories and see examples of combatants in war targeting medical facilities, considering the neutrality protections that the symbol of the Red Cross should grant in such places.Why do you think others should get involved with the campaign?
The campaign is not only a good way to learn more about international humanitarian law, but it also spreads awareness around the work of the Red Cross and humanitarianism in general. The Youth Action Campaign is a doorway into the Red Cross as an international effort and it provides a valuable perspective on both history and modern-day events. And most importantly, the campaign allows you to connect to your peers in new ways over very important issues.What do you like most about being involved with the campaign?
I loved the idea that so many other people were running the same campaign. The fact that youth across the country and beyond were participating together to achieve the same goal was especially powerful, and it made the campaign much more interesting than an average school event. In addition, it got me more involved with the Red Cross as a whole. Thanks to the campaign, I had the invaluable opportunity to come all the way for a visit to the Red Cross national headquarters in D.C.Learn More
To learn more about the International Humanitarian Law Youth Action campaign, visit redcross.org.
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Karen Koski-Miller is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker and the Disaster Mental Health Senior Associate for the American Red Cross. In her role, she manages the Disaster Mental Health program for the organization.
During the last 18 years of my career in the social work field, I’ve witnessed a clear shift in attitudes toward mental health. Although we have made progress in this area, there is still a stigma surrounding mental health issues in the U.S. and in different cultures across the world. This World Mental Health Day, I want to share five things that will help you become more mindful in your relationships with others and with yourself.Know that Having a Mental Illness Does Not Define a Person
One in five individuals in the U.S. has or will be diagnosed with a mental illness. With that in mind it’s important to remember that although a person may have a mental illness, their illness does not define who they are as a person, which leads me to my next point.We Can All Reframe How We Speak About Mental Illness
When speaking about mental illnesses, it’s helpful to think of them kind of like physical illnesses. So instead of saying someone is bipolar, you could say that someone has bipolar disorder, similar to how you would say that someone has chronic migraines. You wouldn’t say that a person is chronic migraines. Reframing how we speak about mental illness and the people who have them could help decrease the stigma around mental health issues across the board.Really Listen to Your Friends and Family
Sadly, approximately every 40 seconds, someone loses their life to suicide. If you come across a loved one you think may be suicidal and want to help, it’s important for you to show compassion. Let them know that they are not alone and that there are people who care about them. If you learn that they have a plan or the means to commit suicide, call 9-1-1 or the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (800-273-8255) as soon as possible.Focus on Strengths
People who have mental health issues need to be reminded of their strengths. I know this is a point that we all can relate to. Always encourage people to recognize what they’ve accomplished instead of focusing on what they’re lacking. The fact that a person can reach out to someone, whether that be a friend, family member or a mental health professional, to talk about how they’re feeling or what they’re experiencing is a big step in the right direction.Help is Available
If you’re having difficulty with mental health issues, always remember that help is available. There are a variety of organizations such as the National Alliance on Mental Illness and the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration that can help. If you’ve recently been impacted by a disaster, Red Cross mental health volunteers out in the community and at Red Cross shelters can help provide residents with emotional support and connect them to much needed resources. And here are Red Cross tips that can help and your loved ones emotionally recover.
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Originally published on the Red Cross Western and Central New York blog.
“The fire was very devastating. We lost pretty much everything,” Margaret Phillips said of the fire that ripped through her Whitney Point, New York, mobile home in November 2018. They had just put in new rugs that had to be ripped out after the fire, and many of the walls had to be torn down.
Fortunately, however, the only injury was a burned hand suffered by her son, Matthew, thanks to smoke alarms installed by Red Cross volunteers a month earlier. The alarms woke Matthew up, but he was unable to escape through the fire. Thankfully, the neighbors heard the smoke alarm and were able to contact Margaret and the local fire department, who were able to rescue Matthew.
“If it wasn’t for the smoke alarms, my son probably would never have gotten out of the house,” Margaret said. “Nobody would’ve have known it was burning, because where we live is so secluded. Nobody would’ve have ever known if it wasn’t for the smoke alarms going off.”
Margaret said the smoke alarms were still going off when she returned to the home four days later to begin the clean-up and recovery process. She also said the fire safety information provided by Red Cross volunteers during their installation visit helped Matthew stay safe until help arrived.
Since the Home Fire Campaign launched in 2014, volunteers in Western and Central New York have visited over 10,000 homes, making families safer by installing free smoke alarms and providing fire safety information. These efforts have saved at least 642 lives across the country, including 25–like Matthew Phillips–right here in Western and Central New York.
Learn more about Sound the Alarm by visiting redcross.org.
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