My ride-along… and stickers

February 27, 2010
By Mathan_Ratinam

My ride-along was on Friday 19th Feb, from 6am-2pm. There is a lot of overlap with what everyone else here has experienced in terms of arriving and being introduced to the equipment and such, so perhaps I’ll just speak about what might have been unique on my ride.

I was with Stephen who, aside from doing the 6am-2pm shift regularly during the working week as a Red Cross Responder, is also a Marine, a volunteer police officer and in what spare time he has left over works at a sports bar. I don’t think I’ve ever met someone who lives to serve the public in such various ways (no pun intended). We were very quiet around each other for the first little while but I put that down to the 4:30 rise for a 6am start, because by 9 we were into chewing the fat and the rest of our shift involved quite a few laughs and casual conversation. Early on I was a little disappointed as we just missed a 4 alarm fire downtown so our morning was a little quieter than i had hoped but towards the end of the shift we did a vacate in Brooklyn. This was not far from where I live so felt like I was getting a more intimate understanding of my neighborhood. When we were driving along the street I was trying to look out for house numbers but Stephen was just looking for a door with the eviction notice stuck to it from the Dept of Building (DOB). As we were entering the building we took note of what was mentioned on notice, which stated that two apartments didn’t have access to fire exits, and then went to those apartments to see if people were in.  In one of the apartments the tenant wasn’t home and we placed a sticker on the door with contact details if they wanted to reach out to the Red Cross for assistance. With the other apartment the tenant was home and I hung back and watched Stephen go through the procedure of introducing himself to the tenant (client) who had apprehensively only opened the door a few inches to speak to him.  Stephen eventually gave him a sticker as well with notes that he had written out about how the RC could help if he needed housing but I think it wasn’t until 5 minutes into the conversation that the tenant understood what the Red Cross was doing there and the we were an advocate trying to assist him. When he realized, he then invited us into the apartment saying that he had discussed with the DOB official that he did in fact have unobstructed access to the fire escape and showed us, and he was right. When we left and were driving back to the headquarters I kept thinking about how even with that minor interaction I noticed two instances where the confusion about what the Red Cross do could be improved. It is definitely an issue of communication design.

First the Red Cross sticker. Imagine you’re the client and you just came home to find, in bold red and black text, a blunt and alarming notice to vacate your apartment on the front door of your building. I suspect you would feel somewhat threatened and anxious, amongst other things. Then imagine moments later getting to your apartment door and finding a sticker from the Red Cross that unfortunately shares the same colors as the DOB notice (white, red and black). You would be forgiven for confusing the two notices as being from the DOB when in fact the serve countering interests. The DOB are making you homeless and the Red Cross would like to put a roof over your head. So something could be done here to better design the sticker so that it immediate communicates in a reassuring manner (as opposed to the DOB notice) that the Red Cross is here on your behalf. The other area is whats communicated in the initial moment when a client and Red Cross responder meet. The client is perhaps not in the most stable or at least a normal state of mind and so perhaps the responder needs to go to extra lengths to make clear why they are their how they intend to help. Everything from the from a smile and looking at them in the eye and how a responder might shake their clients hand or make any physical contact, particularly if there are children involved. And somehow these sociable and direct qualities need to be translated and embodied in the stickers as well because the sticker that contains some handwritten content still contains the presence of someone who came to see them specifically (or at least it should) and peeling the sticker from ones front door makes a client feel very aware that someone has entered into their personal space. Then there are the straight forward functional aspects of the stickers and if they can be easily removed and remain intact so that they can be taken into the apartment and referred to when someone reaches their phone. Should it be folded over on the door for privacy so neighbors don’t see the contents? where on the door should it be placed? So I think something as simple as redesigning the stickers and any other such notices can go a long way when we consider how important their simple roles are.

Whilst not as eventful as it was for other I really enjoyed my ride-along (no two are the same) and I was pleased to have met Stephen. I’m commited to the idea of going back to continue with the responder training.

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