American Red Cross of Mid-South

The American Red Cross prevents and alleviates human suffering in the face of emergencies by mobilizing the power of volunteers and the generosity of donors.

Red Cross Volunteer Family: Prepared When Disaster Struck

By Robert W. Wallace/American Red Cross

Clements, Alabama, May 7, 2014. Robert Rolf and his wife Sharon are dedicated volunteers for the American Red Cross: They helped with the Red Cross relief effort in New York and New Jersey after Superstorm Sandy, Robert Rolfe routinely responds as a Red Cross volunteer to home fires in the Limestone County, Alabama area, and he currently serves as Chairman of the Board for his local Chapter of the American Red Cross.


Robert Rolfe standing in front of his tornado-damaged home, telling his story of planning and preparation for a tornado to Huntsville’s WAFF TV48 reporter Sarah Navoy.

Now, however, Robert and Sharon Rolf are experiencing life as survivors of the tornadoes that ravaged North Alabama just over a week ago and find themselves recipients of disaster services from the Red Cross.

Robert Rolf credits his experience as a Red Cross volunteer in being prepared when the tornadoes struck his Bay Hill Community. “When disaster strikes it is too late to bring together disaster supplies…we prepared, we had a plan,” said Rolf.

On the evening of April 28 Robert and Sharon Rolf and their three-year-old grandson were at their home on the shore of Wheeler Lake. As they listened to the weather reports on televison, the weather outside their home continued to deteriorate. As a precaution they had retreated to their basement, what they refer to as their light shelter. It’s a place where they often sleep when the weather is threatening.

Weather reports indicated tornadoes to the southwest of them heading in their direction. “I saw the greenish colored front approaching over the lake…The last thing we heard on TV before losing power was to take shelter immediately if on the shore of Wheeler Lake. That’s when we retreated into our deep shelter,” said Robert Rolf.


Robert Rolfe describes the disaster supplies stored in the “deep shelter” area of the basement of his home.

The Rolf’s deep shelter is a place further recessed in their basement that is closed off from the exterior and sheltered from all glass. It’s where they keep their emergency supplies, which include three days of food and water, blankets, extra clothes, hard hats, a first aid kit, lanterns, a battery powered radio, extra batteries, sleeping bags, and even shovels and an axe in case they should have to dig their way out. “Somewhere along the way I damaged my cell phone,” said Rolf, “but I had an old one stored away with the disaster supplies. All I had to do was pop in the SIM card from the damaged phone, charge the old one in the car, and it was good to go.”

“The tornado was incredibly noisy even in our deep shelter,” recalls Rolf. “Debris was hitting the house from all sides….I could feel the air being sucked out of my lungs, my ears popped, and we could tell that the house was flexing.”

When the storm passed, Robert Rolf ventured outside to assess the damage. His house was still standing, but all the trees on the property were down. Thankfully, none of them fell on the house. Windows were broken, portions of the siding and roofing were ripped off, both air conditioning units were destroyed, a three panel door wall was blown in, and his steel and concrete dock was completely mangled, all contributing to what is now estimated to be around $40,000 in damages.

“We were fortunate,” said Robert Rolf, “so many times I’ve responded to fires for the Red Cross and found people standing in front of rubble that was their home….Very quickly, I changed from survivor to first-responder mode, going around and checking on all my neighbors.”

Since the storm, “The Red Cross has come by almost every day offering food and cleanup supplies, said Robert Rolf. “I feel somewhat guilty,” Rolf shared as he spoke about how he was much more used to being the one offering disaster help than receiving it.

No one was injured, we lost none of our personal items, and we have very good insurance that will pay for the restoration of our home. “Our plan worked,” Robert Rolf concluded.

Is your family as prepared for a tornado as were the Rolf family? Be Red Cross Ready: Get a Kit. Make a Plan. Be Informed. If you have a smartphone go to your app store and download the Red Cross Tornado App. It will provide everything you need to know to prepare for a tornado and can be programmed to alarm when a tornado warning is issued in your area. From your mobile phone, call “**REDCROSS” (**73327677) and you will be sent a link to download the app to your phone or you can download them directly from the iTunes or Google Play app stores. If you do not have a smart phone go to and download the Red Cross Tornado Safety Checklist.


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This entry was posted on May 7, 2014 by in Uncategorized.

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