Red Cross Responds, Issues Safety Steps as Winter Cyclone Hits East Coast

A strong winter storm is delivering extremely cold weather, snow, ice and blizzard conditions from Florida to New England and the American Red Cross is preparing to help where needed.

The storm is bringing snow and ice to areas not used to winter weather – winter storm watches and warnings are up from Florida to Virginia. The storm will hit the Mid-Atlantic coastal areas as early as Thursday, and strengthen to blizzard conditions as it moves into New England.

As the storm moves offshore, more numbing cold is predicted for the eastern half of the country.

The National Weather Service reports ice is already accumulating in parts of Florida and Georgia. The entire state of Georgia is on alert for winter weather and freeze warnings. The Red Cross is working with officials and has shelters on stand-by in case of power outages.

In South Carolina, 1 to 3 inches of snow is expected along with an icy coating. Red Cross workers have opened several warming centers and are working with officials to determine if more help is needed.


The Red Cross has steps people should follow to stay safe during severe winter weather:

  • Wear layers of clothing, a hat, mittens and waterproof, insulated boots.
  • Be careful when tackling strenuous tasks like shoveling snow in cold temperatures.
  • Check on your neighbors, especially elderly people living alone, people with disabilities and children.
  • Bring pets indoors. If they can’t come inside, make sure they have enough shelter to keep them warm and that they can get to unfrozen water.
  • Watch for hypothermia and frostbite. Hypothermia symptoms include confusion, dizziness, exhaustion and severe shivering. Frostbite symptoms include numbness, flushed gray, white, blue or yellow skin discoloration, numbness, or waxy feeling skin.


Stay off the road if possible during severe weather. If you have to drive in winter weather, follow these tips:

  • Make sure everyone has their seat belts on and give your full attention to the road.
  • Don’t follow other vehicles too closely. Sudden stops are difficult on snowy roadways.
  • Don’t use cruise control when driving in winter weather.
  • Don’t pass snow plows.
  • Ramps, bridges and overpasses freeze before roadways.


With the cold temperatures there is often a rise in the number of home fires. Follow these tips to help prevent a fire in your home:

  • Keep all potential sources of fuel paper, clothing, bedding, curtains or rugs – at least three feet away from sources of heat.
  • Never leave portable heaters and fireplaces unattended.
  • Place space heaters on a level, hard and nonflammable surface. Keep children and pets away from space heaters. Look for models that shut off automatically if the heater falls over.
  • Never use a cooking range or oven to heat your home.
  • Keep fire in your fireplace by using a glass or metal fire screen.

DOWNLOAD APPS People can download the Red Cross Emergency App for instant access to weather alerts for their area and where loved ones live. Expert medical guidance and a hospital locator are included in the First Aid App in case travelers encounter any mishaps. Both apps are available to download for free in app stores or at


Bringing the compassion of the nation to the wounded and grieving

GREENSBORO, N.C. – In the wake of a mass casualty situation, such as the tragic shooting at a Las Vegas concert, the American Red Cross brings the compassion of the nation to the wounded and the grieving.

Susan Smith of Greensboro was part of that vital outreach in October.

An employee of the Red Cross for 42 years, Smith drew on her wealth of experience to fill a key role. “I was asked to go into a new position coordinating integrated care and condolence teams,” she said.

Dozens of specially trained volunteers focused primarily on condolence, which falls under the Red Cross service category of Disaster Spiritual Care. “Most of what we did involved reaching out to families of the deceased and injured.

“Of course, in any disaster you have the mental health professionals available, but in a mass casualty situation, they really come to the forefront.”

The Red Cross staffed a Family Assistance Center in Las Vegas for families of the murdered as well as those who were wounded and those who escaped but were traumatized by the incident. Everyone wearing the Red Cross vest was reminded every morning that this was a special place, a refuge.

“There were no photos and no cell phones. It was meant to be a quiet and relaxed environment,” she said. “It was like everything was raw for these people. Loud noises to rolling bags clicking across the floor – you couldn’t make a lot of noise. They would jump at the slightest thing.”

Susan said the intensity of the work put a strain on volunteers too. “It was important (for volunteers) to go out, to talk to one another. You were quiet all day, then you left your shift to go back and socialize. You escaped the destruction by returning to normal life.”

Disaster volunteers typically serve 12-hour shifts, but in this case, she shortened the work schedules. This allowed for more rotation and separate time away from the physical and emotional trauma they were sharing with victims.

“When you’re on deployment to most disasters, you usually can find outlets of some kind, but we couldn’t do that as much. This was so emotional – and it was a crime scene. You can’t really talk about how you’re feeling. You don’t feel right, sharing with friends and family on social media, the work you’re doing in this kind of situation,” she said.

Regardless of the strain, Susan felt firsthand how important the person-to-person contact is. She will never forget a young Hispanic woman who had been injured. “When we went our separate ways, we hugged, we cried, and we smiled. Her interpreter then told me, ‘She wanted you to know this is the first time she has been able to smile.’

“That’s proof that just because we don’t speak the same language, our hearts do.”

Susan Smith

In her 42 years of Red Cross service, Susan has seen a lot of disasters. Her first deployment was to a train derailment in Wisconsin. From there she went on to respond to other disasters: tornadoes, hurricanes, the 9/11 terrorist attacks and Superstorm Sandy. Currently, she is senior disaster program manager in the Piedmont Triad chapter of the Red Cross.

“What really keeps me coming back are the volunteers, seeing the empowerment of the volunteers. Seeing them achieve and what they get out of each experience,” Susan said.

“If you don’t volunteer, you’re missing out on wonderful opportunities and people you can’t experience or meet anywhere else. It’s a way to give back in what seems to be small ways but in reality, they are huge ways.”

Not your typical Red Cross volunteer!

CHARLOTTE, N.C. – Linda Glusenkamp is not your typical American Red Cross volunteer, rushing off to distant disasters. She responds to needs all over the country without ever leaving North Carolina.

Linda is part of a growing number of Red Cross virtual volunteers.

17-11-30 Linda Glusenkamp Image
Linda Glusenkamp

Sitting in her office on Park Road in Charlotte as a leader of local Volunteer Services, Linda has been using technology to help with responses to the many disasters that have taken place during the later part of this year.

“From Harvey to Irma to Maria and the (west coast) fires. This is where my Volunteer Services (experience) fits in. I can do that from my computer,” Linda explains.

This is how it works: When a disaster overwhelms local Red Cross manpower, the organization opens a portal on the internet for anyone interested in helping with that specific event. As “hotshots,” Linda and her colleagues around the country work to get prospective volunteers involved.

“We have to call everyone who wants to be a volunteer. You can see their ZIP code and you know they are in the area where everything is going on,” she explained. “I called this woman to ask if she was still wanting to volunteer. She replied ‘Yes, but not right now.’ I responded with ‘That’s okay.’ She insisted she tell me why. Her grandfather had died in the Hurricane Harvey evacuations. She wanted to take time for that, but afterwards, still wanted to volunteer.

“You’re sitting on the phone with these people and it is so real, even though you’re here and they’re there. It’s so real.”

Not all of Linda’s attention is focused on disasters far from home. In July, she worked at the shelter for evacuees from the Farm Pond Lane apartment fire, processing applications from local volunteers who wanted to help those in need right there.

Linda herself came to Red Cross out of a sense of compassion. In 2012, shortly after Superstorm Sandy hit the Northeast, “I saw the huge Red Cross presence in response to that disaster. And I thought, being a Red Cross volunteer would be cool. So that’s what brought me here,” she said.

Five years later, she’s discovered there’s more to Red Cross than she expected. “It’s new every day. I started off in disaster, but there isn’t a disaster every day. So I started helping with Service to the Armed Forces. It was a way for me to support my sister who is currently in the armed forces. Then I got into Volunteer Services. You’re never bored. And it is so rewarding!”

Headshot  Authored by McKenna Estes, intern with the Western North Carolina Region communications department.

Smoke alarms for hearing impaired

Home fires are the most common disaster responded to by the American Red Cross nationwide. Fire departments respond to home fires every eight minutes, and seven times a day someone loses his or her life in a home fire. Smoke alarms save lives–but those who are deaf or hard-of-hearing cannot depend on the sound of the regular alarm to alert them to a fire. As a result, people with these impairments are at a greater risk of death or injury due to fire. Nationally, physical disability is a contributing factor in 14% of all home fire deaths. As part of our goal to reduce fatalities and injuries due to home fires, the American Red Cross is working to install specialized alarms in the homes of people with disabilities.  Thanks to a recent donation by the Community Foundation of Burke County, we are able to supply 14 hearing-impaired alarm units in Burke County, as well as installation supplies that include: 1 lithium drill, a ladder for installations, and the standard smoke alarms that work in tandem with the specialized alarms.

Community Foundation of Burke County grant funding was primarily used to purchase specialized hearing-impaired alarm units.  These vibration notification appliances, (often called “bed shakers”), are activated by the sound of a standard smoke alarm (in general, a home uses three standard alarms and one hearing impaired alarm). The hearing-impaired alarm we use for this project has multiple means to convey the danger to the hearing impaired while they sleep: wakes a loud, low-pitched (520 Hz) alarm; a powerful vibrating bed shaker; instruction in a baritone voice (“Fire! Get out!”); and FIRE in large text against a flashing orange backlight. This alarm is appropriate for individuals with complete hearing loss, or for the hearing impaired who may still have hearing in the lower range (which is often the case with elderly clients).

As part of the Home Fire Campaign, the American Red Cross will supply alarms to the hearing impaired who cannot otherwise obtain this lifesaving device.  The American Red Cross collaborated with a number of organizations to provide the alarms free-of-charge to low-income individuals: local fire departments throughout Burke County, the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services (NC DHHS), Chad Houston the Fire Inspector for Burke County, Burke Department of Social Services, Emergency Management and the North Carolina School of the Deaf to identify the hearing-impaired individuals who had a need for these specialized alarms.  NC DHHS provided addresses of hearing-impaired individuals in need, and the local fire departments coordinated the installations.

From the home fire next door to the epic natural disaster across the water

CHARLOTTE, N.C. – Lolo Pendergrast’s urge to help her fellow man has taken her from classrooms to home fires to offshore scenes of breathtaking destruction.

Lolo was teaching English as a Second Language (ESL) when she joined the American Red Cross as a Disaster Action Team a year and a half ago. She soon used her Spanish language skills to help evacuees from the Farm Pond Lane apartment building fire in Charlotte; she worked at the Hurricane Irma evacuee shelter in Huntersville.

“When I retired, the world opened to me,” she said, “and I knew I could give back in a big way.”

So when a call came for volunteers to go to the U.S. Virgin Islands after Hurricanes Irma and Maria, Lolo jumped at the opportunity.

For what the Red Cross deemed a “hardship” situation, Lolo and other volunteers had to undergo health and pre-deployment interviews. The organization puts a high priority on the welfare of its volunteers, emphasizing that they keep themselves healthy, hydrated and informed about conditions in the area they’re heading to.

On St. Thomas Island, Lolo was a part of a team of two Red Crossers and a local volunteer who spent four days driving a van filled with supplies around to those in need.

Red Cross volunteer, Lolo Pendergrast, in the U.S. Virgin Islands. The devastation was widespread, but this was one view that brought a bit of respite.

Conditions at a high-rise in the capital city of Tutu stick with her as typical of what those islanders were dealing with after the hurricane.

“There were two buildings, very nice housing,” she recalled. “The highest building had little damage, but (in) the lowest building, you could see the water had just washed through. Tenants on a few of the floors had been completely washed out.”

On the neighboring island of St. John, most of the buildings housing low-income families with small businesses were destroyed, leaving residents without both homes and livelihoods.

“We saw houses that might have survived the storm but because of so much rain, they were sliding down the hills, gone forever,” Lolo said. “Some foundations were completely washed off, the houses hanging on by a thread. Some roofs were completely gone along with everything in the house, but the structure was still standing.”

Destruction in the U.S. Virgin Islands

While on the islands, Lolo’s assignment was bulk distribution of relief supplies such as gloves, insect repellent, trash bags, disinfectant and drinking water. “We went out every single day. It suited me perfectly because I just jumped right in.”

She and other volunteers reported to a warehouse on St. John every day, packed a Jeep with as much as it could hold and drove to the far ends of the island to start passing out supplies. “I love getting things to people. I love interacting with people. So it was the perfect assignment,” she said.

Mainland volunteers tried to pay particular attention to locals who were volunteering to help the Red Cross disaster response, putting off attention to the destruction of their own homes. They saw to it that in addition to clean-up supplies, local volunteers got foodstuffs such as rice and beans, so when they had a day off, they had something to eat.

Lolo was impressed with the enterprise of the islanders, who were not content to accept hand-outs indefinitely.  As soon as the storms had moved on, tourists began to arrive. “A lot of the beaches were covered with hibiscus trees, but they were destroyed by the storm. When the beaches reopened, the locals started renting chairs to make money. They brought in grills and started cooking too,” she said.

The visiting volunteers did what they could to boost the local economy: When they paid a visit to a small t-shirt shop, they splurged on shirts for their entire families. “For two months to not have any kind of income, that’s rough,” Lolo said. “At some point, those people want to start taking care of themselves again.”

While responding to the effects of one disaster, the Red Crossers also carried out disaster prevention: “We installed over 750 smoke alarms. We went from door to door offering to install smoke alarms and providing clean-up kits to each house,” she said.

Lolo has learned that every disaster – from the home fire next door to the epic natural disaster across the water – is different, and so is every disaster responder. “There’s a place for you somewhere in the Red Cross,” she said. “It’s open to everyone and it needs everyone.”

Headshot Authored by McKenna Estes, intern with the Western North Carolina Region communications department.

A man, his dog, and a Red Cross journey that has only just begun

CHARLOTTE, N.C. – Bill Jacobus – retired medical school professor, trained culinary chef and cross-country tent camper – has discovered a fulfilling new way to spend his time: Helping people displaced by disaster.

“Whether it’s fire, flood or hurricane, it’s about talking to the people. I want to hear their stories. I want to share and empathize with them and let them know someone cares for them and is concerned for their welfare,” the American Red Cross volunteer said.

“The Red Cross does that in an amazing way. It’s an amazing sensation to be part of the group that goes towards the disaster when others are fleeing.”

Jacobus got involved with the Red Cross in 2016 when wildfires ripped through Gatlinburg in eastern Tennessee. He watched accounts of the unfolding disaster on television; he was particularly touched by one man’s story of how he managed to get to safety but his wife and daughter were still in danger.

Trained at the Knoxville Chapter in what the Red Cross calls “mass care” – sheltering and feeding – Jacobus set out for his first assignment. He anticipated the Gatlinburg shelter population to be predominantly families, so he brought along his beagle Max, a trained service dog.

“What I didn’t anticipate, was how much he was going to comfort the Red Cross volunteers,” Jacobus said. “They had been there for two weeks without their own pets; Max comes in and they just fell in love with him.”

Max and Jacobus have a close bond, cemented by a post-retirement trip that lasted 17 months, covering 30,000 miles across 32 states. They spent 369 nights tent camping, Jacobus said, before deciding to settle in Charlotte.

But when Hurricane Harvey hit Texas on Aug. 18, Jacobus had to leave Max behind. In two days, he was in Dallas to help open a “mega-shelter” in the city’s convention center. The Red Cross set up 5,600 cots in the enclosed, air-conditioned parking deck, three per parking space. On this deployment, Jacobus was in charge of a feeding operation.

“The three meals per day were being provided by the Salvation Army and our mission as Red Cross volunteers was to provide snacks,” he said.

The North Texas Food Bank had already delivered 18 pallets of food when Jacobus arrived. He created a system so that when the displaced families arrived, they could have something to eat, even if it wasn’t meal time.

This was no small assignment. Over a six-day period, they handed out an average 14,250 snacks a day: Anything from granola, milk, breakfast cereals and Pop tarts, to Capri Suns and Chef Boyardee.

“After we had been there a few days, five semi-trucks appeared from Walmart at our loading dock. They were filled with snacks and they also had baby supplies.”

Jacobus managed 10 people per shift covering three 24-hour snack centers throughout the mega-shelter, with every volunteer working 12-hour shifts.

“We were all on our feet all the time, moving and unloading boxes. It was manual labor. When I got home at night, about eight o’clock, I got horizontal as quickly as I could and didn’t move until five thirty the next morning.

“It was a lot of work we did, but it was certainly well appreciated by the clients. They all articulated their gratitude for having the Red Cross there,” he said.

Jacobus didn’t personally witness the damage and destruction that Harvey visited on Texas, but he won’t forget the stories he heard about it.

“I met a lady who lived in Houston. Her house was on four-foot stilts and when she was pulled off the roof by the Coast Guard in a helicopter, the water was above her gutters. That’s almost 14 feet of water.”

Another man told of having to make a critical decision for his pet’s life. “He woke up in the middle of the night to water coming in through his trailer door. He took a trash bag and put a pillow, a comforter and his chihuahua in it. He then tied a knot so no more air could get through. This is what these people were facing. He had to decide whether his dog was going to die by drowning or by suffocation.

“He forced his door open into seven feet of water. The bag kept pulling him to the surface. He navigated to where he could stand up, then made it to a road so he could wait for resc

ue to come at three in the morning,” Jacobus said. “After an hour, a boat came by and picked him up. The dog survived. So he made the right choice.”

DSCN0064This hit hard with Jacobus, who had Max waiting for him at home.

Jacobus has seen a variety of shelters in his first year of volunteering with the Red Cross: an “intimate” shelter for 130 after the Farm Pond Lane apartment fire here in Charlotte; a shelter for 700 escapees from wildfires in Tennessee; the shelter for nearly 4,000 in Dallas. “The Red Cross has definitely given me a broad range of experience,” he said.

When asked what the most rewarding experience he has had while on deployment or volunteering locally, Jacobus says, “I think it’s just that knowing that by being there, Max and I are able provide love and assistance to people who are undergoing a tragedy or indescribable disaster.”

He has well-earned advice for new volunteers: “Be prepared for a life changing experience, be flexible – and do it!”



Authored by McKenna Estes, intern with the Western North Carolina Region communications department.

Red Cross Volunteers Salute and Serve Veterans Every Day

CHARLOTTE, N.C. – For nearly 100 years, Americans have paused on Nov. 11 to honor those who serve our country in the armed forces. For the American Red Cross, every day is Veterans Day.

Service to the Armed Forces (SAF) is a robust division within the Red Cross, dedicated to putting service men and women in contact with resources they or their families need while deployed or at home. Here in North Carolina, the Charlotte Metro chapter has helped 256 service members and 403 family members already this year.

more vols

To summarize what the Red Cross does, SAF Regional Officer David Laws uses the acronym “COVER,” which stands for Casework, Outreach, Veteran’s Administration (VA) Hospital, Engage Volunteers and Resiliency.

He explains it this way: “Casework consists of volunteers working together with veterans to assist them in finding jobs, financial resources and support. Outreach ensures we, as the Red Cross, make ourselves known to the veterans and the families of veterans before they need our services. This way, we can already be on their list of people to call when they are in need. The Outreach component also helps support our Stand Down events.

“The VA Hospital section provides visitations, game nights and comfort to veterans in hospice care. Engaging and recognizing our volunteers is a big part of not only SAF but the entire Red Cross. Without our volunteers, the relief work we do when disaster strikes and the comfort we provide to our veterans would not be possible.

”And Resiliency is in the form of classes we offer to help people renew as families. Sessions for adults focus on coping with deployment, caregiving for veterans, communicating about anger, stress and depression, and caring for children and their needs during this time. Courses for children focus on communication and the lifestyle of a child with parents in the armed forces.”

This emphasis on service to the armed forces stretches back to the founding of the American Red Cross. During the Civil War, Clara Barton saw firsthand the needs of wounded and homesick soldiers on the battlefield and in Europe, she discovered an organization – the International Red Cross – that was meeting those needs. Barton came home to found the American Red Cross with the express purpose of supplying medical treatment, food and shelter to our troops as well as to victims of disaster.

During World War I, the Red Cross staffed hospitals and ambulance companies and recruited 20,000 registered nurses to serve the Allied forces. It also became the official intermediary between our troops and their families. Since WWI, the Red Cross has played a vital role in every wartime conflict, including WWII, Korea, Vietnam and more recent conflicts in the Middle East.

Red Cross begins its service to individual servicemen and women at Military Entrance Processing Stations (MEPS), where inductees and their families are reminded that if needed, the Red Cross is here to help in any way we can. Trained volunteers collect contact information so the Red Cross can follow up with the service member’s family, providing information about how the Red Cross can help, and making sure they are adjusting to the deployment as it can be an emotional time for all involved.

hero care app


If a family member of an active service member passes away, the Red Cross is authorized to process a request for compassionate leave. Visits home can also be requested for an illness or births of immediate family.

In addition, the Red Cross helps get grants and loans to active duty military and veterans. The Red Cross also takes part in “Stand Down” events across North Carolina where homeless veterans can access doctors, dentists, showers, comfort kits and food.


With her background in the Department of Defense, SAF Regional Volunteer Lead Judith Ross says it’s humbling to witness what veterans go through post-deployment. “You gain a certain respect, seeing firsthand what they’re dealing with. Being in the military is a lifetime commitment and being able to help them is important.”

The Red Cross is also a part of the national No Veteran Dies Alone campaign. Red Cross volunteers donate time to ensure no veteran passes away in hospice without friendly faces nearby. Our regional volunteers travel to the VA Hospital in Salisbury, N.C., to visit veterans in hospice care. The Red Cross also provides transportation to and from doctor appointments for veterans.

Whether you are a veteran, know someone who is a veteran, or you are a child of a veteran, the Red Cross offers assistance and support. Please take time this Veterans Day to thank a veteran for their service.

Interested in putting your thanks into action for veterans in your community? Visit to find more ways to help through your local Red Cross!



Authored by McKenna Estes, intern with the Western North Carolina Region communications department.