Virtual Reunification after Maria

By Helen Brooks, Red Cross Volunteer

Armed conflict, international disasters and migration leave millions of people around the globe in urgent need of humanitarian assistance every year. As the world’s largest humanitarian network, Red Cross and Red Crescent teams help reconnect families separated by international crises.

Right now, calls are coming into a call center where information is taken and provided for someone who is concerned about a family member or loved one in some of the areas hardest hit by Hurricane Maria. Currently, we are providing inquirers, who are seeking information about family and friends in Puerto Rico,  information disseminated from the Agencia Estatal para el Manejo de Mergencia y Administracion de Desastres.  This information divides the country into zones and then a further breakdown by region/area.  Additionally, coordinator or governmental representative contact information is provided along with the necessary zonal and regional/area phone numbers.

At the moment, I am currently working on two files. One is an urgent file where a specific circumstance has been flagged, and the other is a non-urgent file where needs are not determined by the call center personnel to be as urgent.  Each member, like myself, takes a case and then starts the process of calling the sought person, as well as the inquirer.  We then glean any additional information we can, and go from there.  Sometimes that’s all we can do. The bottom line is to try and find the person being sought and to find them safe and well, and then contact the inquirer with the information or have the sought person contact the inquirer.  

Sometimes you get lucky, and the sought person has been able to contact the inquirer and they are so happy, and they thank you for following up and for caring.  Sometimes you simply have to tell them you are doing the best you can, especially with electricity, and phones being particularly inhibited after this storm.  Some folks are really concerned, and you can hear it in their voices that they are just trying to remain positive while they are on the line speaking to you.

Recently, I had a mother looking for her son who was at the University of San Juan and a Canadian national.  She had been getting intermittent updates from a fellow students’ family member; however her son was not able to contact his mother directly.  In this case, the students had gotten to the airport after it was reopened. When I talked with the mother, she told me he had made it to Denver and was on his way home to Canada.

I also worked on a case where the inquirer was looking for her brother who was on St. John. He was a cancer patient and needed specific medication for his condition.  I had to call the medical center in NY, and obtain information from them. Then, I called the medical center on St. John to check their patient lists to see if the sought person was in their care.  As it turned out the sought person was able to get a hold of his sister and let her know he was okay. In this case, I never talked to the sought person, but I did speak with the inquirer, who was very grateful for the follow up.

Of course, these are just two of the cases I have dealt with, and there are numerous other stories and situations.  I am just happy to be able to do my part, virtually, to help anyone I can.

If you’ve been displaced by a recent disaster in the United States—or are looking for a loved one who has been recently displaced— Red Cross’ Safe and Well listings are a good place to start, just click here.

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