Red Cross adapts disaster response protocols amid COVID-19

A three-alarm fire raged through an 11-unit Millbrae apartment building on the afternoon of Tuesday, April 27. Nearly 60 residents (37 adults, 19 children) were forced to evacuate as fire departments from Millbrae and San Mateo County battled a blaze that ultimately rendered the building a total loss.

Red Cross volunteers arrived on the scene wearing masks and gloves and maintained social distancing during the response. They had also undergone health screening prior to responding, one of several steps the Red Cross has undertaken to keep both its workforce and clients safe during the COVID-19 outbreak.

Among the impacted residents, Arabic and Spanish were the primary spoken languages; many were Muslims observing the holy month of Ramadan. None had another place to stay and all were newly homeless due to the fire. Despite these added challenges, the Red Cross worked with the fire department to verify resident identification. Volunteers met with clients to conduct health screenings, determine immediate needs, and provide water, snacks, and dinner. Other volunteers responded virtually by conducting casework interviews over the phone. Per the Red Cross COVID non-congregate sheltering protocols, 20 hotel rooms were secured for clients, ensuring they had a safe place to spend the night.

A Red Cross volunteer and the local health service volunteer lead visited residents at the hotel to oversee check-in and address any immediate health needs. The team used the Language Line Solutions hotline to accommodate the multiple client languages. The volunteers informed clients of the meal schedule, gathered dietary needs, and notified them to expect Recovery calls from caseworkers in the coming days.

The local Red Cross Response Management Team (RMT) has been activated, and a culturally appropriate meal and delivery plan is in place for the duration of the residents’ hotel stay. Moving forward, the RMT will work virtually, following COVID sheltering protocols, except for the shelter manager, who will be on-site at the hotel from noon – 7:00 p.m. daily, wearing a mask and maintaining social distancing.