Editorial: Aiken County Red Cross chapter raises disaster awareness

The American Red Cross has provided much relief and aid to those in need since its inception in 1881. March also happens to be Red Cross Month, and currently the Aiken County Chapter is attempting to raise awareness so that families will be prepared should a disaster happen here in the area.

"We're encouraging families to be more prepared, maybe make a preparedness plan for the household," said Joey Hutto, the disaster services specialist at the Aiken County Chapter of the American Red Cross. "There's also some (smartphone) apps, including tornado, hurricane, earthquake and first aid ones. These just build the level of preparedness, and though it doesn't take the place of a class, such as a CPR class, it does get you aware of what steps you need to take."

Here in North Augusta, the Aiken County Red Cross responded to an apartment fire roughly two months ago.

"We supported four families that were in that fire at that time," Hutto said, "whether it was with their immediate need for food, lodging and clothing. Though the need didn't arise, if it was needed, we would also have been able to assist with medication. When the fire occurred, and I believe that it happened around 12:30 or 1 a.m., we were there by 2 a.m. ... Before we arrived, there were four volunteers already there to help those families that were in need."

Hutto notes that there have not been many fires in North Augusta, and he's hopeful that's a trend that will continue. If, however, the Red Cross is needed, they would be able to respond to the area.

Volunteers always are something that the Red Cross embraces. Like the case here in North Augusta, volunteers can respond to household fires. They can also choose to give blood or donations.

"We are preparing for the upcoming hurricane season, but we are also surveying shelters for tornadoes right now in the area - in particular school and church shelters," Hutto said. "We have to make sure they are at par with what we need in the time of a disaster. Right now, we're at the preparedness side, because this is the time when we can prepare for disasters when there's nothing really going on."

It doesn't matter, according to Hutto, whether the families they help are above or below average in terms of income. He notes that some insurance companies and adjusters take time to get to families, and this means that the Red Cross can step in for immediate needs, such as shelter, clothing and food. Families that may not have finances get their immediate needs met as well as referrals to other organizations and throughout the community to help rebuild what they may have lost.

Volunteers make up roughly 95 percent of the workstaff at the Red Cross, and by volunteering, we can make a difference. It's easy to find an excuse and to be busy, but those that can find the time will surely make a difference to the lives affected.For more information on the local Red Cross chapter or to volunteer, visit www.redcross.org/sc/aiken or call 803-641-4152.