The Red Cross has rolled out an awesome new online emergency message tool. And we know how to use it.
Red Cross emergency messages are the only official way to get an urgent message about injury, death or the birth of a child to a service member. Because the Red Cross verifies any given emergency or urgent event (with the hospital, for example), units rely on the message system to push into action any emergency leave. It can also be the only way to quickly get a message to a deployed service member or one who is otherwise out of contact thanks to training.
Red Cross officials asked me to test the new site for them, so I got an early peak at how it works -- and now I can give you a step-by-step walk through.
The good news is that this site is super easy to use on both desktop and mobile. And if you hit a snag or don't know how to answer a question you can always still call in your message through their 24/7 call-center at 877-272-7337.
How to use the Red Cross online emergency message system
1. Set-up an account. The first thing they are going to do is ask you to set-up an account. They'll send you a confirmation email. Click the link in that to set-up a password. You'll need a password that has at least eight characters, one number and both upper and lower case letters.
2. Make sure you have your ducks in a row. To create an emergency message through the online tool you need the same information you would need if you did it over the phone -- the service member's name, branch, rank, unit and date of birth or social security number. If you don't have their unit information the Red Cross can still help you -- but you'll definitely need his or her social security number. You'll also need information on the emergency, including the name and number of someone who can verify it (police officer, doctor, funeral home, etc.).
3. Update your information. Every time you start a new message you'll be asked to update your personal information. The fields you need to fill-out will become available as you go. For example, the "duty status" field will stay dark until you select a branch that makes that information necessary.
4. Start a new report. You can pick from a variety of emergency types. If you pick "other" or select that you are notifying a service member who is stateside you'll be promoted to call the hotline instead. That's because you'll need them to make an exception to process messages that fall under those categories. That doesn't mean they won't process it -- it just means you need a human to help you.
6. Add details about the emergency. For my test I chose my emergency as a "death." I was prompted to type in details about who died, how they were related to the service member, how they died, etc. I was also given options for types of officials who could verify the death.
7. Add verification information. Next I was asked to provide details about the official who could verify that the person really had died. This is where, in a real emergency, you could run into some problems if you don't have names and numbers for officials. If you get confused or don't know what to put here, you can call the Red Cross directly.
By the way -- this is one of the things I love about the Red Cross: they know who they are dealing with. Check out this list of "state" options -- you're not going to go on here and not find the option you need.
8. Add the service member's information. This is the other sticky one. Hopefully you know your service member's unit number. But many spouses and parents don't -- and an emergency so dire that you're sending a Red Cross message isn't really the time to figure it out. If you don't have their information don't worry about it -- if you have his social security number, just enter that. The more information you have, the faster the message will get to your service member.
You'll be asked to provide his name, last name, unit information, installation where he is stationed and whether or not he knows about the event already.
9. Hit submit! As soon as you hit submit you'll receive an email confirming that a case has been open. That's where my testing stopped since mine was a fake emergency. However, Red Cross officials told me that in the case of a real emergency, you'll receive email updates every step of the way, including after the message is delivered.
Hopefully you never need to use this system -- but there is great comfort in knowing that it is available and that it works the way it is supposed to.