The American Red Cross of the Mohawk Valley recently welcomed new helpers to its ranks, as an AmeriCorps National Civilian Community Corps-FEMA team was deployed to the Utica area on January 28. The seven-person team from AmeriCorps – a ten-month national service program for 18 to 24-year-olds – is supporting the Red Cross emergency preparedness mission through three projects: Shelter Assessment, the Home Fire Campaign and the Pillowcase Project.

Throughout the months of February, March and April, the AmeriCorps team will primarily focus on updating the National Shelter Survey database with information on all potential shelter sites within the Mohawk Valley. They are reaching out to schools, churches, fire stations and other community centers which have been identified as places that could potentially house large numbers of people displaced by damage from storms, floods, fires or other high-impact incidents. They will obtain new agreements from the facilities and, as needed, visit sites to conduct surveys – measuring the length and width of rooms in which disaster victims can sleep or be fed, checking whether the sites are ADA-compliant, recording important information and noting other resources – all to assess the logistical feasibility of each site.

This work will help make the Mohawk Valley better prepared for any disasters that nature or man doles out. By having an accurate list of shelter sites, the Red Cross and its community partners can more quickly establish a safe harbor for disaster victims. They’ll know where to look and who to contact for each site, so disaster responders can mobilize faster than ever. The sooner residents are physically out of harm’s way, the sooner they can begin the road to recovery.

The AmeriCorps team will help improve the Mohawk Valley region’s disaster preparedness through two other campaigns as well. The first, the Home Fire Campaign, involves installing free, 10-year-lithium-battery smoke alarms in residences and educating homeowners about fire safety – for example, having an evacuation plan. This campaign is aimed at reducing deaths, injuries and other losses caused by home fires, which the American Red Cross deals with most often on a day-to-day basis. Likewise, the Pillowcase Project educates young students about fire safety. It gets them thinking about emergency preparedness by facilitating an activity in which they decorate a pillowcase and choose what they’ll put in it if they need to evacuate their home in a hurry – flashlights, first aid supplies, food, water and more.

The AmeriCorps NCCC-FEMA team will tap into their experience in disaster assistance to help Mohawk Valley communities through recently-launched American Red Cross efforts. Together, we hope to save lives by making residents as prepared for emergencies as possible.

Written by AmeriCorps NCCC-FEMA member Amanda Ostuni