Climate Change Takes a Toll on the American Red Cross with Extreme Weather-Related Disasters

In November 2011, the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released a report that confirmed a link between extreme weather-related disasters like hurricanes, floods, tsunamis and other storms, to climate change. This was the first time that the IPCC emphasized this link in an official report based on the consensus of over 200 scientists. One of the lead authors of the report is also a director at theRed Cross/Red Crescent Climate Centre.  The Red Cross confirmed that the findings of the IPCC reflect what the Red Cross has observed:

‘The Red Cross warned that disaster agencies were already dealing with the effects of climate change in vulnerable countries across the world. “The findings of this report certainly tally with what the Red Cross Movement is seeing, which is a rise in the number of weather-related emergencies around the world,” said Maarten van Aalst, director of the Red  Cross / Red Crescent Climate Centre and coordinating lead author of the IPCC report. “We are  committed to responding to disasters whenever and wherever they happen, but we have to  recognize that if the number of disasters continues to increase, the current model we have for responding to them is simply impossible to sustain.”’ – from The Guardian, Nov. 17, 2011http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2011/nov/17/ipcc-climate-change-extreme-weather

The Red Cross/Red Crescent Climate Centre published a related report for policy-makers in light of this new information about extreme weather-related disasters and preparing for climate change. For the Summary for Policy Makers of the new Special Report on Extremes (Nov. 2011), visit: http://www.climatecentre.org/site/news/329/summary-for-policy-makers-of-the-new-special-report-on-extremes-srex

For Strange Wetlands, I sought the first-hand perspective of Allen Crabtree, a volunteer for the Public Affairs division of the American Red Cross. Mr. Crabtree has volunteered with the Red Cross since Katrina. He has identified many human interest stories and interviewed those affected by floods, hurricanes, tornadoes and other extreme-weather disasters. In the past year, the Red Cross deployed Mr. Crabtree to cover the stories of Hurricane Irene and related flooding events in Vermont and the Mississippi River floods, and the tornadoes in South Carolina.

Mr. Crabtree arrives on the scene immediately after a hurricane, tornado, flood or forest fire has hit. Often he is deployed “pre-landfall,” before a hurricane has come ashore. It’s his job to get the word out to people –let them know where the Red Cross shelters and other services are located, to help prepare people for a disaster and to contact the media. He’s been known to set his laptop up and report via Skype with a hurricane raging around him. The Red Cross makes use of social media, too, to spread the news—over Facebook, Twitter and Youtube. However, social media can be a way for rumors to spread, for example, when the Mississippi River floods occurred, there was a false rumor posted on Twitter about the Red Cross offering a particular service; but these social media outlets are closely monitored, and rumors are quickly squashed.

Extreme weather-related disasters are expensive and the Red Cross uses footage of the storms, the damage and the people in shelters, to raise funds for their efforts. But Mr. Crabtree’s first love—writing stories—is what drives him to reach out to people. Thinking back on the Mississippi River floods, Mr. Crabtree said, “The sad thing about floods is that they are a slow-moving disaster. When do you evacuate? Afterwards, it makes a slow retreat as the water levels return to normal.” Unlike a tornado with its fast path of destruction, a flood, or even a hurricane, can continue to damage communities and wreak havoc long after the onset of the storm. Mr. Crabtree has written about some of the “success stories” among the Red Cross shelters during the Mississippi River floods and other storms this year, stories, he says, about “people picking themselves up in the face of a lot of impediments. They are a shining example of the resilience of people.” Read Allen Crabtree’s stories here on the Red Cross website via the links below the photo.

Red Cross Reaches Out to Aid Vermont Flood Family (Vermont flood, September 2011)

Red Cross Shelters Residents of Transvale Acres in Flooded Conway, NH (2011)

“What do I do after the flood?” (North Dakota, 2011)

Red Cross is here for the Long Haul(Mississippi River floods, 2011)

Disaster Can Change Someone’s Life in Seconds (North Carolina tornado, 2011)

Video, News Channel 8: Interview with Allen Crabtree on the Joplin tornado (June 2011)

Strong Waters, Stronger Friendships(Missouri floods, 2008)

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