Representatives of Red Cross of Montana were on the Hi-Line this week, holding two meetings in Havre to explain what services they provide.
The officials called for people to join as volunteers and asked organizations and agencies to update their information and agreements with the emergency response organization.
Some names may have been removed from list
Kevin Murszewski, chair of the Great Falls Red Cross Disaster Action Team and the Red Cross of Montana armed forces liaison, said during a Havre meeting Thursday that one crucial part of updating the organization is finding new or current volunteers, some of whom may have been removed from the roster in a recent cleanup of the lists.
“We don’t have enough people,” he said, adding that the Great Falls organization has 25 to 28 people on its contact list in its 14-county region, stretching from Cascade County to Glacier County and across to Phillips and Garfield counties.
Of those contacts, about 17 are in Cascade County, he said.
The Red Cross representatives met with a roomful of regional and county officials in Havre Thursday afternoon, then held a public meeting at Havre High School Thursday night.
Wide range of services during emergencies
Murszewski talked about what the organization — founded by Clara Barton in 1881 — can do in a time of emergency. The problems range from a single-family disaster where people must temporarily leave their home to the total destruction of their home, perhaps by fire or flooding, to community-wide, statewide or even nationwide disasters.
A key to the work of the Red Cross is its aid to government agencies, such as the county and state Disaster and Emergency Services programs. Murszewski made it clear that the Red Cross is not a government agency and can’t make decisions for those agencies. But it can help agencies in a time of disaster, he said.
Can provide housing to victims
The assistance available ranges from providing temporary housing — perhaps for one family or perhaps for hundreds — providing meals for the people being housed, providing mobile feeding assistance, and helping agencies coordinate their actions and the actions of volunteers.
Murszewski said that the Red Cross aid can be scaled up as needed — depending on the severity of the disaster.
As resources are depleted, additional aid will be brought in on a regional and then national basis, he said.
That can include one of the best-known functions of the Red Cross — providing blood. Murszewski said that, if needed, supplies of the blood donated in Red Cross blood drives can be diverted to disaster locations to provide triage.
One thing that commonly happens during an emergency is that spontaneous volunteers — potentially dozens or more — can “come out of the woodwork” to help, Murszewski said. The Red Cross volunteers can help direct them to where they are needed, as requested by the DES coordinators and the other agencies involved.
He recommended the local agencies also compile a list of all agencies and groups that could help coordinate those volunteers.
Another service of the organization is helping with communication, including the Safe and Well site on its website, where people in a disaster — or their friends and families — can post messages. It can also provide communications services to the armed forces, ranging from information about disasters to providing holiday greeting cards to service members and their families.
The Red Cross is in the process of updating many of its lists — including using new forms and procedures — for shelters available in the area and statements of understanding from organizations and businesses about what aid, including donations or discounted merchandise, during a disaster.
Part of the updating is on the volunteer list. Murszewski said that, at some point between Hurricane Katrina in 2005 and his taking his position last spring, the Red Cross had purged its volunteers list of people who had not been in contact with the organization.
That could mean that some people who think they still are listed as Red Cross volunteers no longer are on its list, he said.
Contacting the organization can start the process of becoming a volunteer, including assessing what skills and training the volunteer already has and providing access to additional training.
People interested volunteering for or learning more about in the Red Cross of Montana can call its toll-free number at (800) ARC-MONT, (800) 272-6668, or visit it on the web at www.montanaredcross.org or the national site at www.redcross.org.