American Red Cross trains cross-border team

Published 22 May 08 11:11 AM

Mexican workers to aid response time



May 17, 2008


SAN DIEGO – Mexican Red Cross members began training for disaster response in San Diego yesterday to become part of a pioneering cross-border team.
A group of eight bilingual Mexican Red Cross staff members from Baja California met in Kearny Mesa for classroom-style sessions about the functions of the American Red Cross. The training is scheduled to continue through tomorrow.

The idea for cross-border teams came from lessons learned during the wildfires in October, said Araceli Gaines, a response associate for the American Red Cross in Imperial Valley.

At the time, Mexican firefighters who had already been training with firefighters here helped battle the flames near the border.

The Red Cross hopes the same collaboration can improve and quicken its disaster response along both sides of the border, Gaines said.

The challenge exists in the way each country has set up its Red Cross operations.

In Mexico, Red Cross workers function like paramedics 80 percent of the time, said Rigoberto Lozoya Canales, an executive coordinator for the Mexican Red Cross.

Workers there provide medical aid, transportation to hospitals and other emergency assistance. They are the first responders almost all the time, he said.

Those daily demands have kept them from obtaining the sort of experience that their counterparts north of the border have.

In the United States, Red Cross workers deal with “mass care” situations in disasters such as Hurricane Katrina and the wildfires. Workers provide shelter, food and supplies.

“We're secondary responders,” said Cruz Ponce, a partner services manager with the American Red Cross, San Diego/Imperial Counties Chapter. “We have to be invited to an incident to be there.”

Those participating in this week's training will not provide medical aid if they are called to a disaster in the United States. They will function as the American Red Cross workers normally do, Gaines said.

American Red Cross workers who go to Mexico in the event of a disaster will also only provide mass care, and they will not serve as first responders, Gaines said. Three American Red Cross workers who are bilingual are scheduled to undergo three days of training in Mexico in the summer. The training is scheduled to be completed by the fall.

The cross-training will be useful in cutting down the time spent searching for volunteers who can cross the border and provide disaster relief.

“If it took five days to get them here (in the past), we can potentially get them here in 24 hours after this training,” Gaines said.

American Red Cross officials in Washington, D.C. are working with their counterparts in Mexico City to establish the paperwork for the program.

In the meantime, Lozoya said, the lessons provided this week will be taken back to Mexico to help members learn how to establish a mass care response with support from churches and other organizations, as is typically done in the United States.

“Disaster doesn't wait,” Lozoya said. “We need to be trained and ready to help when it happens.”

Angelica Martinez: (619) 293-1317;


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