Exercising the Red Cross sheltering muscle

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By: Betsy Robertson

Every nine minutes the American Red Cross is called to bring help and hope to people in need.  Most often that comes in the form of two volunteers providing immediate comfort and assistance to victims of a single family home fire. But what happens when multiple families are impacted and the need for an emergency community shelter arises?

Stephen Finley, Red Cross Disaster Program Manager for the Kitsap and Olympic Peninsulas knows the importance of being able to scale up quickly and is making sure his team knows which muscles to flex if and when that time comes.

“Our volunteers need to have an understanding of the process so we can make that happen as smoothly as possible,” said Steve Finley.

On Thursday, June 8, Finley arranged for the Red Cross to hold sheltering exercises in two locations on the peninsulas; St. Luke’s Episcopal Church in Sequim and the United Methodist Church in Silverdale. Each drew around 20 volunteers who practiced setting up the three fundamental elements of an emergency shelter: registration, feeding and a dormitory.

“Anytime you do something in a classroom or read about it, you only retain so much of it. You have to actually go out and do it,” said Janet Piccola, a 6-year veteran volunteer.  “You learn how to communicate, you learn how your team is going to function in a real disaster. If something really does happen you know who your go-to people are. You know who’s going to stand up to the pressure.”

martha_fbMartha Read, Senior DPM for the Northwest Region led the training exercise in Sequim. She knows all about the pressure Red Cross volunteers face during a response and how it relates to the individuals they’ve been called to serve.

“For most people, it’s the first of the Red Cross they see after something really bad has happened to them, so it’s incredibly important that we’re open and welcoming and make people feel like they’re going to be in a friendly and supportive place,” Read said.

Read was delighted to see a strong turnout from veteran volunteers and a few new ones including Mel Melmed who was inspired by her own preparation efforts.

Mel_fb“I live in a remote area here in the Olympic Peninsula, so we’re gearing up locally and that led me back to the Red Cross to get some really good training and understanding,” Melmed said.

“What I’m super excited about as a new volunteer is the whole get to yes idea of being really accepting of all people, whether transgender or they have a disability, just recognizing that they’re in crisis and making them as comfortable as possible makes me excited to be a member of the Red Cross.”

Volunteers like Melmed and Piccola are always in high demand for the American Red Cross. Compassionate individuals who are willing to learn a role, stay up to date on training and respond to help their communities when the need is there.

The first step to becoming a Red Cross disaster responder is going to: http://www.redcross.org/volunteer/become-a-volunteer

We hope to see you at our next event!

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