Before counselors at Crisis Services of Buffalo had heard the news Tuesday morning, their phone lines were already buzzing.
As soon as Crisis Services Executive Director Douglas Fabian learned of Tuesday's terrorist attacks on New York City and Washington, D.C., he and other staffers at the counseling center began preparing for the solemn day ahead.
"We got a spike in phone calls this morning almost immediately after the news came out," said Fabian. "The first thing we did was to call everybody we could, and try to increase the number of people we had on the phones"
Fabian and Erie County Commissioner of Mental Health Mike Weiner are working to coordinate area agencies together to provide "as much help as possible" to those in Western New York coping with the loss of a loved one.
The center, which on a typical day has five or six people helping approximately 250 callers, had around 30 workers answering calls by mid-afternoon. Former employees volunteered to help; one worker missed her cousin's wedding in Lancaster.
At the same time, the Western New York chapter of the American Red Cross was inundated with calls from "people who desperately wanted to help any way they could," said Michael Empric, public information coordinator for the chapter.
Empric said the Red Cross was accepting calls from those wanting to help at both crash locations, but was screening callers for those with previous emergency experience. He said Tuesday afternoon that he had a team of approximately six volunteers awaiting dispatch orders from the national coordinators; more than 10,000 Red Cross and other volunteers scrambled throughout the morning to assist others in New York City and Washington, D.C.
Although Buffalo was not directly touched by yesterday's catastrophe, its Red Cross chapter has been on active standby since receiving news of the disaster. Its Aviation Incident Response Team would have been prepared to respond to any incident, said Empric.
"Last Saturday, we held a disaster simulation at the [NFTA] airport, one which involved unexpected aviation disasters," said Empric. "We would be able to coordinate very quickly. ... We already have agreements in place with local schools, shelters and hospitals in the case of an emergency."
Although Empric said the number of calls to the Crisis Center lessened as the day went on, people's reactions were no less severe. Federal policy prevents any information concerning those injured or killed during an emergency from being released unless requested by an immediate family member or significant relation, who must wait between 24 and 48 hours for confirmation.
"We've had a lot of calls that have made me want to cry. ... People are watching the television, and they don't know if someone they know down there is okay," said one crisis worker, who could not give her name under center policy.
"As the day continues, we're expecting more calls from kids who are coming home and seeing the news," said Fabian. "We've had a lot of elementary schools calling us, so we've made up packets of handouts for kids to bring home and share with their families."
"The packets assure children that they are going to be safe, that they are secure, that there is no threat to their lives," said Fabian.