By Taylor Eng, Red Cross LA intern
Prior to joining the American Red Cross as a summer intern, I genuinely believed the organization’s main goal was to collect blood. During my internship, I learned it is so much more. I always wondered how the Red Cross could aid the evacuees in the blink of an eye and recruit so many wonderful volunteers to make that work possible. As a summer intern, I got the opportunity to learn from the Red Cross communications team as well as aid them in the process.
I understood that the Red Cross plays a part in disaster and emergency relief, but it never crossed my mind how much preparation is needed to provide these services. The Red Cross works hard to ensure those who are in need receive the help and info they need to keep them and their loved ones safe.
I personally have never experienced a huge disaster that required me to evacuate my home. Although I have lived in sunny Los Angeles all my life, the closest thing to a disaster I had ever experienced was a 4.4 magnitude earthquake in elementary school and a windstorm in middle school.
My internship primarily focused on media relations, which plays a huge role at the Red Cross. The media team works on informing the public about blood drives, natural disasters and other emergencies, as well as ways to prepare if these disasters and emergencies were to occur. Disseminating this information in a fast, efficient way helps the community prepare before disaster strikes and recover after it passes. It also spreads the word to members of the community willing to volunteer to help those in need.
Without the media, it would be extremely difficult for the public to receive crucial, time-sensitive information. I saw this firsthand when back-to-back fires started in the LA region.
A weekend of fires
During the Fourth of July weekend, back–to–back fires ignited — one was a factory fire in downtown , the second was the Soledad wildfire and the third was a Northridge apartment fire. All started within a few days of each other.
The Red Cross prepares for fires such as these, so as the Fourth of July weekend approached, we drafted a press release on ways to stay safe and released it in advance. The communications team stayed updated daily on local disasters to ensure the public received the latest information.
The Red Cross set up shelters and provided resources for those affected by the fire, while at the same time abiding by COVID-19 safety measures. For the Soledad and Northridge fires, it was a matter of gathering the information about how and why the fire occurred, in addition to spreading info on how and where to get help if affected by the fires.
When the fires erupted, alongside the Disaster Cycle Services team, the whole Communications team sprang into action.
The team published press releases (a few I had helped draft) and social media posts for the public and other media outlets to share. As these were time–sensitive tasks, I mainly observed, but this allowed me to learn the process and importance of press releases. Ahead of releasing the actual release, an email is sent out to inform reporters on the situation. Then, the release is sent out, once all the relevant information is acquired.
Communications during disaster
Disasters are unpredictable and require swift responses, which is why Red Cross volunteers are trained and ready, and shelter locations are identified in advance, with supplies on hand or nearby for use at moment’s notice. Communication is truly key when it comes to these disasters and the main source of communication is through the internet. Previously, I did not know much about the media and how information circulates so swiftly.
Even though things may seem easy or not require much effort it doesn’t mean that there aren’t hardworking people behind the scenes to make them seem simple. Before this summer, I had minimal knowledge of the sort of tasks completed by communications teams.
These past seven weeks reinforced the idea that even a job that may seem insignificant can play a huge role in the work of an organization such as the Red Cross. My internship also sparked a newfound interest in communications. It is all about stepping out of your comfort zone and trying out something new.
Who knows? Maybe your internship will help you find a new interest you never thought you had before. I know I did.