A new American Red Cross software tool lets military families and service members request an official emergency message through an online portal instead of making a phone call.
In the past, families needing an emergency message had to call a toll free number and speak with a Red Cross representative, who then filed a message request on their behalf. The new online tool, which went live today, allows users to instead input the information about the emergency themselves and request assistance without calling the hotline.
The Red Cross message system gives military units official verification of home front emergencies, such as the death of family member or the birth of a child.
Commanders often use Red Cross verification to help them make decisions about whether or not to grant a troop emergency leave during a deployment.
"This new online tool, designed for today's military family, offers a better and more efficient way to serve our military community during their time of need," said Koby Langley, senior vice president of the American Red Cross armed forces service.
The move to an online system is necessary for reaching younger military members, Defense Department officials said.
"Eighty percent of our service members and their families are 35-years-old or younger," said Rosemary Williams, the deputy secretary for military family policy at the Defense Department. "In order to continue effectively serving our so-called 'militaryennials' we must increasingly engage with them online in the digital space."
She added, "Towards this end, the Red Cross has been taking care of military families for decades and we look forward to learning more about their digital initiative and how will transition emergency messaging into the digital age."
The Red Cross processes over 1,000 calls a day from their emergency hotline, officials said. In 2014, it provided more than 355,000 emergency messages to 116,000 service members, they said.
Red Cross officials said the hotline will still be available for those who can't or don't want to use the online system.
Not every family needing emergency help will be able to use the online system, officials said. Families who need an emergency message delivered while a service member is stateside or need one for an emergency other than a death, serious illness or birth of a child will need to work directly with an operator through the hotline, they said.
The new online portal also offers an additional back-up system to access Red Cross help in case the call center has technical problems. In late May of this year, the call center was down for about 12 hours.
The new online system is available for mobile, tablet or desktop. It can be accessed at redcross.org/HeroCareNetwork.
--Amy Bushatz can be reached at email@example.com.