FARMINGTON — In the midst of the destructive wildfires in northern and southern California, the American Red Cross in Connecticut is sending volunteers and workers out West to help in the relief effort.
Stefanie Arcangelo, Red Cross chief communications officer for Connecticut and Rhode Island, may be the next to deploy out to California. The Record-Journal recently visited the Cheshire resident at the organization’s Farmington office to talk about her job and experiences with natural disasters around the country.
Q: What are some of your duties as chief communications officer?
Arcangelo: My role at the Red Cross is to create awareness about what the Red Cross does in our community every single day. Whether that’s responding to home fires, which we do about two times per day — our volunteers go out in the middle of the night and help people who’ve lost everything in a home fire.
We also talk a lot about volunteers and volunteer recruitment; the Red Cross is a volunteer-driven organization.
Q: How many volunteers do you have in the region?
Arcangelo: We have nearly 3,000 volunteers in the Connecticut and Rhode Island region.
Q: What are some ways you communicate to the community?
Arcangelo: I write news releases, blog posts, social media, I send out media pitches and talk to the press. I’m a local spokesperson as well as a member of our advanced public affairs team, so I’m a national spokesperson for the American Red Cross.
Q: How long have you been working for Red Cross?
Arcangelo: I’ve been here for four years.
Q: How does your work extend nationally?
Arcangelo: We prepare here at home and we do that all over the country, so when we have big disasters that strike, we deploy our volunteers, and sometimes paid staff members as well, to go and help out.
Q: What has your experience been actually going to these disaster sites?
Arcangelo: I’ve been on 10 national Red Cross disaster relief operations.
Normally I go out in the area of public affairs, so kind of what I do here at home but where the disaster happens. I can serve as a national media spokesperson, so I can talk to the national news networks about the work the Red Cross is doing and also go out and tell the story of how the Red Cross is helping.
You’d be surprised at how many people just want to have their story heard.
Q: Have you ever been in the midst of a disaster?
Arcangelo: I was deployed to Hurricane Harvey, where I served as the public affairs chief for the first three weeks of the disaster. I arrived about a day before the hurricane hit.
Q: What is that like being in that atmosphere?
Arcangelo: You have to put yourself in the right frame of mind and having never gone before, it can be a little confusing. You show up at a processing center or at a headquarters and everything looks very strange — there’s wires hanging from the ceiling and there’s all of these signs that have acronyms on them, and you’re not quite sure what they mean and there’s all these people running around. But then you go into a shelter.
Q: What has been your experience seeing those mass shelters?
Arcangelo: I walked into the George R. Brown Convention Center, which was in downtown Houston, during Hurricane Harvey and I have to tell you nothing really prepares you, no matter how many disasters you’ve gone to, for walking into a shelter that’s housing 11,000 people. It’s really overwhelming and sometimes you have to take a step back, kind of collect yourself, and get ready to do your job. It does kind of make you realize what you have at home.
Q: Have you experienced any disasters that hit close to home?
Arcangelo: We were here (in May) in the Farmington office when we got the notification that there was a tornado warning happening and we needed to seek shelter, so we went into the basement per our disaster plan. I was doing some radio interviews live from our shelter. Right near my house... a tree (fell) and people were injured. We had shelters open in Brookfield and in Southbury and we went out and we worked with our community partners and the local government officials.
It was a little bit of a rare occurrence here in Connecticut but we were prepared.
Q: What is the relief effort like now in California?
Arcangelo: So far we’ve sent about nine people from the Connecticut and Rhode Island region out to the California wildfires.
What people are doing is they’re providing shelter, food, snacks, water — we’re distributing emergency supplies for those that can use it.
Q: What makes you really love what you do?
Arcangelo: I love working for the American Red Cross because I get to be a helper. Everybody works all the time now, with our smart devices we’re basically plugged in 24/7, 365 no matter where you work. So it’s a privilege for me to be able to spend all of this working time for an organization that I truly believe in that is helping people in times of disaster.