If you had an emergency over June 30, you may have noticed that the hotline Red Cross emergency messages was down for somewhere around 12 hours. You may have felt lost and not known how, exactly, to get that very important message to your service member without the widely publicized phone line.
The Red Cross emergency system is what the military uses to make sure actual military family emergencies (like the death or major illness of a family member) or urgent information (like the birth of a baby) get fleeted up the chain of command and passed to the service member. A Red Cross message is considered an official certification that there is, in fact, an emergency. Commanders can then decide whether or not to release the service member on emergency leave. Last year, for example, the hotline handled more than one million calls, and served 116,000 Military Families with emergency assistance, Red Cross officials said.
Before 2011 families and service members sending emergency messages went through their local Red Cross office. The hotline -- 877-272-7337 -- was meant to make using the system a lot easier for families. (And as far as we can tell it really did.)
But what happens when there's a system problem and the hotline suddenly doesn't work?
Red Cross officials told me that when their system goes down they launch an alternate number as quickly as possible. During the June 30 outage, for example, calls were rerouted to a backup system while an alternate number was able to take limited calls within the hour. Then, an independent redundant system was activated and fully up in six hours.
But how do you know what the back-up number is? The middle of an emergency isn't exactly the right time for the system that's been drilled into your head to go out.
Red Cross officials said in that case the best thing for people to do is check their website -- RedCross.org -- for instructions and help finding an alternate plan.
Photos courtesy American Red Cross.