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Red Cross workers provide disaster response after the May 2014 Cocos Fire
During the disaster response for the May 2014 Cocos Fire, Red Cross workers Melanie Ortega (left) and Mar Tobiason load food boxes into Red Cross vehicles. The Red Cross and Feeding America worked in partnership to provide food boxes, which contain meals for a family of four for three days, to families affected by wildfires. / Photo by Virginia Hart, American Red Cross

This year, Americans have seen more than their fair share of natural disasters, from hurricanes and flooding to severe wildfires. Humanitarian relief has made the difference between life and death in the days, weeks and months following these severe weather events. Fortunately, no one is more prepared to respond than the American Red Cross. But response is only part of their job.

American Red Cross of San Diego/Imperial Counties

The American Red Cross of San Diego/Imperial Counties is on a mission, with a special initiative that expands on the typical disaster response efforts for which the organization is widely known. For the past four years in San Diego, the local Red Cross chapter has been focused on preparing the region by helping equip individuals and groups to prepare for emergencies and disasters.

Prepare San Diego was launched in 2013 by the Red Cross in San Diego and brings together key business and community leaders from the region to facilitate a cultural shift to increase individual, organizational, and business preparedness, aiming for people in San Diego County to take one million preparedness actions.

American Red Cross workers set up shelter for evacuated residents during the Border Fire in June 2016
American Red Cross workers set up a shelter for evacuated residents during the Border Fire in June 2016.

The preparedness actions include building a disaster kit, making an emergency plan or getting trained to effectively respond. The Red Cross team has also integrated its Home Fire Campaign into the Prepare San Diego program where volunteers and partners install free smoke alarms in homes and talk to residents about disaster preparedness, including making emergency evacuation plans.

The Red Cross relies on community support and volunteers to help prepare the region for disasters, and has worked with San Diego Gas & Electric (SDG&E) in a longstanding and strong partnership effort for many years.

Surveying damage from the Poinsettia fire in May 2014
An American Red Cross volunteer looks out at the damage from the Poinsettia Fire in May 2014.

“Our partnership with San Diego Gas & Electric enables us to amplify our accomplishments throughout the region,” said Wendy McKinney, chief development officer for American Red Cross of San Diego/Imperial Counties. “Beyond financial support for our initiatives and mission, SDG&E’s employee engagement opportunities turn into preparedness messages and actions being taken home after the workday, creating a ripple effect for more people to be better prepared in the case of a disaster.”

In 2016 the local Red Cross welcomed David Geier, SDG&E vice president, electric operations to serve as board chair on the Red Cross board of directors. Geier has served on the board since 2009, overseeing SDG&E’s active participation on key initiatives like the four-year regional resiliency initiative Prepare San Diego.

Some recent statistics help shine a light on the need for an initiative like Prepare San Diego. About 74 percent of small businesses don’t have a disaster recovery plan, and up to 40 percent of businesses never reopen following a major disaster. Additionally, only 7 percent of San Diego residents consider themselves well-prepared for a disaster.

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Take action to be better prepared for an emergency. Keep your gas tank no less than half full, learn how to shut off your gas line after an earthquake, and keep extra water in the trunk of your car. Visit for more information and resources.[/call_to_action]

The Red Cross provides many helpful checklists with simple tips to become prepared for a disaster:

1. Get a kit.

  • Keep supplies in an easy-to-carry, “grab-and-go” emergency preparedness kit that you can use at home or take with you in case you must evacuate.
  • Have multiple kits: for example, one for your home and one for your vehicle.
  • Include nonperishable foods, water (at least a gallon per person per day), a flashlight and crank radio, cell phone chargers, extra cash, personal items, medications, and special items for children or pets.
  • The key is to start – begin with keeping extra water and build up to a full “Emergency Kit.”

2. Make a plan.

Talk with household members about what you would do during emergencies. Plan what to do in case you are separated, and choose two places to meet – one right outside your home in case of a sudden emergency such as a fire, and another outside your neighborhood in case you cannot return home or are asked to evacuate.

  • Choose a contact person from out of the area and make sure all household members have this person’s phone number and email address. It may be easier to call long distance or text if local phone lines are overloaded or out of service.
  • Tell everyone in the household where emergency information and supplies are kept.
  • Practice evacuating your home twice a year. Drive your planned evacuation route and plot alternate routes on a map in case main roads are impassable.
  • Don’t forget your pets. If you must evacuate, make arrangements for your animals. Keep a phone list of “pet-friendly” motels/hotels and animal shelters that are along your evacuation routes.

3. Be informed.

Know the risks where you live, work, learn and play.

  • Identify how local authorities will notify you during a disaster and how you will get information—whether through radio, TV, or even social media.
  • Social media is being used more and more to access information during disasters. Follow the San Diego Red Cross, San Diego Fire-Rescue Department, Cal Fire and many others on Facebook and Twitter for updates.
  • Download the Red Cross Emergency App for localized wildfire alerts, preparedness info, and to find Red Cross shelters near you in the event of an emergency.
  • Learn First Aid and CPR/AED so that you have the skills to respond in an emergency before help arrives, especially during a disaster when emergency responders maybe delayed. Visit org/takeaclass for online and in-class offerings and to register.
American Red Cross volunteers install smoke alarms as part of the Home Fire Campaign
American Red Cross volunteers install smoke alarms and go over evacuation plans with residents as a part of the Home Fire Campaign, aiming to reduce home fire deaths and injuries. Every eight minutes, the Red Cross responds to a disaster – and the vast majority of these are home fires. Smoke alarms cut the risk of death from a fire in half.

4. Prepare your home.

  • Now is the time for people living in rural areas and canyon rims to get out into your yards and create 100 feet of defensible space around your home.
  • Many people have looked to change their landscaping. Do an internet search for drought tolerant plants that, if placed correctly, can resist the spread of fire to your house.
  • Clear leaves and debris from your roof and gutters, and think about enclosing your eaves.

5. Other helpful tips:

  • If you think you may need to evacuate, confine all pets to one room so you can quickly and easily take them and go.
  • Back your car into the driveway for a safer and more efficient way out.
  • Always keep at least half a tank of gas in your car.
  • Consider putting together a “digital disaster kit”- put all your important documents onto a thumb drive, which you can quickly grab and take with you if you have to evacuate quickly.

The American Red Cross shelters, feeds and provides emotional support to victims of disasters; supplies about 40 percent of the nation’s blood; teaches skills that save lives; provides international humanitarian aid; and supports military members and their families. The Red Cross is a not-for-profit organization that depends on volunteers and the generosity of the American public to perform its mission.

Download Red Cross Apps

Download the Red Cross Emergency App to receive emergency alerts and information about what to do in case of emergencies, as well as locations of open Red Cross shelters. It is a single ‘go-to’ source for 14 different types of emergencies and disasters, and allows users to notify loved ones who are in an affected area. Download the Monster Guard App so 7- to 11-year-olds will have a free, fun, gaming environment to learn how to prevent emergencies, like home fires, and how to stay safe if severe weather or natural disasters occur. Apps can be downloaded for free in app stores or at

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