Ready When The Time Comes

Thanks to a new Red Cross program, I was one of several MidWeek/Star-Advertiser employees who on a recent Saturday underwent training to help staff Red Cross shelters in times of emergency.

The program, Ready When The Time Comes, utilizes corporate partners and their employees. While it’s new in Hawaii, with MidWeek/Star-Advertiser and Grainger the first to sign up, it’s been successful for some time on the Mainland. Bank of Hawaii also has signed up, and its employees begin training later this month, says Tony Kato, Hawaii Red Cross disaster training and staff services coordinator.

He adds that the Red Cross is looking for more corporate partners to participate in the program.

Briefly, after undergoing training – which I found fascinating – we can be called upon to volunteer in a number of ways. Our initial training was in setting up and running a shelter following a disaster, whether it’s after a flood or fire, or during a hurricane. As Tony explains, when a local, large-scale disaster occurs, the Red Cross calls its partner companies, which then activate their employees/volunteers as directed. Corporate partners pledge to give each trained volunteer at least one day off per year to serve the Red Cross.

Besides opening and managing a shelter, other tasks can include damage assessment, bulk distribution of supplies, helping out on a phone bank and more.

Our company got involved because our president Dennis Francis is on the Hawaii Red Cross board of directors.

“It’s often said, and I believe it’s true, that your local newspaper represents the very fabric of the community,” Dennis explains. “So I thought it important for our employees to be ready to assist others should there be an emergency.”

With the triple disaster in Japan so fresh in my mind, and with indelible memories of Kaua’i after Iwa and Iniki, I was pleased to have an opportunity to work with this nonprofit organization that despite its priceless civic contributions receives zero government funding – in large part to maintain its independence. While I consider the Red Cross to be as all-American as baseball, cars and cheeseburgers, I found it amazing that it (and the affiliated Red Crescent in Muslim countries) has chapters in 180 countries, with 97 million volunteers worldwide – that’s 96 percent of the Red Cross work force.

No wonder it’s officially known as the International Red Cross/Red Crescent Movement.

And locally the need is endless. Did you know, for example, that there is a home fire in Hawaii every three days? One of the things that was emphasized during our training is the importance of having a personal emergency kit. I’d previously gathered a battery-powered radio, flashlight, rotary phone, candles and bottled water in the back of a closet, but that’s it. At the Red Cross Store Stephanie Alfonso helped me purchase a first aid kit and a personal emergency disaster kit that includes a blanket so thin it fits in a pocket, food bars, water packets, plastic sheeting, duct tape, light sticks and more. I also got a flashlight that provides light for one hour with just one turn of a small hand crank.

For more information on volunteer opportunities or the Red Cross Store, go to