Reuiniting loved ones after disasters strike

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Above: volunteers Rebecca Mullins and Cindy Vanderbilt attend the patient tracking course

By Stephanie Heckman, American Red Cross Public Relations Intern

“Often times, scary events strike our lives and the lives of our families and friends. Injuries can happen and family members can be separated,” said Norm Hoffman, the Regional Response Manager for the American Red Cross of Central-Southeast Ohio. “The American Red Cross can work as an agency that assists in locating and reuniting families in these circumstances.”

Hospitals may choose to disclose health information to a private organization, such as the Red Cross, to assist in disaster relief efforts. In the event of a mass emergency, Red Cross staff and trained emergency response volunteers will conduct patient tracking. The patient tracking team will use the Safe and Well Registery to help family members and friends reuinte after disasters.

“Patient tracking is a mechanism that allows families to work through the Red Cross in locating an injured person at a local medical facility and help reunite that family,” Hoffman said. “It’s another tool in our ongoing endeavors to serve the Communities in which we live.”

After a tragedy or disaster occurs, first responders and a disaster aseessment team are dispatched. Afterward, a Family Assistance Center is setup for the Patient Tracking Team to attend to phones, fax and computers. The tracking process involves a quick, free registration process conducted online by any persons who hope to find out the status of loved ones.

“Patient tracking provides a localized way to assist in reuniting family members displaced by any type of disaster,” said Cindy King, a volunteer in Special Projects for the Central-Southeast region. “The separation may be caused by patients and family members being sent to different hospitals, which is the reason why we emphasize hospitals.”

The trained patient trackers reuinte families by determining patient location and identifying “John Doe” or “Jane Doe” through distinguishing characteristics such as tattoos, piercings or scars. Afterward, they contact registered persons who are searching for a friend or relative.

“The patient tracking system is an important complement to the national Safe and Well website because it allows the Red Cross to reunite dislocated family members through the local Red Cross chapter. We are excited at the number of volunteers and staff committing to the preparedness training needed to become patient tracker,” said Cindy Vanderbilt, Emergency Response volunteer. “We are also very fortunate to have volunteers and staff like Justin Allen and Cindy King who have developed and continue to improve the computerized patient tracking system.”

The Central-Southeast Region’s main office in Columbus held a free course in patient tracking for established volunteers on April 29. Other courses taught to volunteers include CPR, First Aid and AED, disaster basics and psychological first aid. To become a volunteer, complete an application here.

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