Red Cross Unveils Improved Emergency Service
By Paul Stone
American Forces Press Service
FALLS CHURCH, VA., Nov. 18, 1998 A state-of-the-art communications center officially opened here Nov. 16 that "changes the way Armed Forces Emergency Services have done business for half a century," said American Red Cross President Elizabeth Dole.
"Beginning today, this center will provide one-stop, emergency communications services to all military installations in the [13 East Coast] states from Maine to Florida, and to overseas, fleet-based, and operationally deployed destinations," Dole said at the organization's national headquarters.
She explained that the center provides a toll-free number, 1-877-272-7337, making it easier for service members and their families to access Red Cross emergency services. The center's opening eliminates the need for service members and their families to contact local Red Cross offices when they need emergency assistance.
A companion site being developed at Fort Sill, Okla., is scheduled to be operational in June 1999. It will handle emergency communications for the remainder of the country. Both centers will use the latest in call-center technology, computers and software to process and document casework -- all designed to provide more accessible and efficient emergency messaging services.
The two new centers, formerly known as case management centers, will replace 145 stations currently operating throughout the country.
"Whether in Bosnia or Fort Bragg (N.C.), in South Korea or San Diego, members of the armed forces turn to the Red Cross every day," Dole said, adding that her organization delivers 1.4 million messages per year -- one about every 22 seconds.
She referred to the emergency notification system as the point from which all Red Cross services begin, noting that "the Red Cross concept was born on a battlefield where compassionate people sought to relieve the suffering of soldiers."
Every day of every year, the Red Cross delivers news to service members that ranges from glad to sad and everything in between -- whether it's the birth of a baby, the death of a family member, or just to transmit important documents.
For example, during the unveiling ceremony, Dole talked to a soldier currently deployed in Kuwait. The sergeant told how Red Cross emergency notification personnel delivered news of the birth of his baby girl and how volunteers on site in Kuwait personally delivered a copy of the birth certificate at his training area.
Dole was supported at the ceremony by Army Gen. Henry H. Shelton, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff; Sen. Strom Thurmond, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee; and Barry McCaffrey, former commander of the 24th Infantry Division and now director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy.
McCaffrey, reflecting on his role as a commander during Desert Storm, praised Dole for her commitment to and compassion for service members. Thurmond characterized Red Cross emergency services as "an enormous relief to members of the armed forces."
The center "is critical to the Defense Department, service members and their families," said Gail McGinn, DoD's representative on Red Cross matters. "I think it's going to make the system more accessible and more seamless. Basically, you don't have to worry about finding an office. They are available with just a telephone call."
McGinn is currently serving as DoD's principal director for personnel support, families and education. She, as well as other DoD staff members, worked with the Red Cross on the project from the beginning to help ensure service members' needs would continue to be met with the new system.
She said without Red Cross support, DoD would have to establish a massive communications network that would be costly, time consuming and labor intensive. And even then, she pointed out, it wouldn't have the Red Cross' trusted reputation.
When a commander in the field receives an emergency message from the Red Cross about one of his service members, he knows the message is reliable, McGinn said. Similarly, she said, "Service members know they are getting information that has been verified and that there's someone who can arrange financial assistance and help with travel."
McGinn and Dole both emphasized that the new system will not alter other Red Cross services provided at installations worldwide, including health and safety education, volunteer recruitment, and placement and disaster services.
"Our responsibilities have changed over the years, but the commitment of the men and women in this room to the men and women who serve our country remains the same," Dole said.