When the thought of the American Red Cross comes to mind, so does relief. Now the Red Cross is hoping to offer even better services as it upgrades a critical component.
The current Emergency Response Vehicle for the Red Cross is similar in looks to an ambulance, a boxy, somewhat square vehicle equipped with everything volunteers need to respond to a disaster. From snacks to blankets, fire or tornado victims are comforted by these vehicles, but the Red Cross is testing a new prototype, nicknamed "David," in the form of a longer, thinner, sleeker vehicle.
Volunteers like Nick Kmezich are what make the organization what it is. "It's a relief for those individuals when they see the rigs roll up."
To help with that job, the Red Cross is testing two new Emergency Response Vehicles at 24 chapters across the nation. The Heartland Chapter feels lucky to be one of them.
"It's a privilege for us, but we are one of the great areas of the Midwest that has a lot of volunteers, so many of our people going to other parts of the country to serve, so really they wanted to test these vehicles out in places where we have lots of experienced volunteers," said the Red Cross Regional CEO Tinal Labellarte.
Not only is the new vehicle larger with more comfortable surroundings for the victims inside, there's more technology available. A television screen inside a window can relay real-time information while the two wide swing-out windows next to it allow for easy meal serving.
The Red Cross is asking for feedback on the new vehicles. "Having people who do the work every day, which is our volunteer force, actually have that opportunity to say, 'yeah, this looks good' or 'we need to tweak that' is part of what's been almost a five-year process," said Labellarte.
It's a process which will help to bring comfort to those coping with disaster. "When you combine the tools that the ERV has with the talents and the skills of our volunteers, you can do a lot of relief work in disaster services," said Kmezich. "I mean that's what we do."
The second prototype, nicknamed "Barbara," is making the rounds at other chapters. The Red Cross will compile its feedback and make a decision on which vehicle to go with, based on that. Then the 320 vehicles nationwide will be ordered in waves and sent to the chapters. The Red Cross said it will be a slow process of switching out the old ERVs to the new vehicles.