When major disasters strike, such as tornadoes or hurricanes, one of the first disaster relief organizations on the scene is the American Red Cross, often setting up emergency shelters to house those who are suddenly homeless. ]
What if such a disaster were to hit Upson County? Where would people go? Thanks to the training of local volunteers on September 5, Mountain View Baptist Church on Jeff Davis Road is now a Red Cross Disaster Shelter.
Upson County is part of the 22-county Central MidWest Georgia Red Cross Chapter, which has four offices in LaGrange, Macon, Warner Robins and Newnan. Jessica McFadden, Emergency Services Program Coordinator for the chapter, said the training on Sept. 5 was their annual shelter drill they run each year in the chapter.
“It is really just to teach volunteers about the basics of sheltering – opening, operating and closing a shelter,” she said. “It is actually the perfect time with Tropical Storm Erica out there, so we’re just trying to make sure that we’re all prepared and ready to go in case something should happen in the event of a disaster.
“We usually rotate where our shelter drills are held every year, so we chose Upson County because it was a more centralized location for our chapter territory. We recently restructured last year, and this is the most central location for us.”
Volunteers are the backbone of the Red Cross, and volunteers such as Gaines Harmon of Meriwether County did the training. Harmon said Mountain View Baptist is an excellent spot for a shelter.
“The other reason for us being here is the church has been so cooperative,” Harmon said. “They asked us to come in and do some training for them. Their goal is to actually help and be an active part in operating a shelter in this facility. They’ve been wonderful. This facility is excellent for a shelter because of the space. You’ve got the space in the gymnasium that we could use as a dormitory. We could put 200 people in this shelter. Then we’ve got feeding areas outside, so it is a very good match.
“We try to evolve with our shelter exercises and do a little better every year. In this particular one, we’re trying to show the actual set-up. It would look exactly like you see it here today. We would start off with just these few cots, and as people came, if we had 200 of them, we would eventually fill the whole thing up in here with cots.
“But we’re going to focus on registration. There are things they need to know there, and it’s in the place it should be. We’ll focus on the feeding part of course, three meals per days. Then we have the dormitory, tell them how to open and close the shelter, the information and client services, and the health and mental health services. This is going to be one of our better ones in which we walk around and show people what to do at each one of those activities.”
Harmon added that by having volunteers who are associated with the church or the Upson County area itself available, it frees up other Red Cross volunteers for other duties.
“In a major disaster, we have a lot of things that need to be done besides sheltering, but sheltering is our number one. It has the highest visibility and is the thing that GEMA and FEMA counts on us to do,” Harmon said. Our goal, and we’re pretty good at it, is to have a shelter available to take in clients within two hours of being called to set it up by the EMA. We’re pretty good at that, and that’s another reason we need to train these folks. We’ve got to hit the ground running. We would want this shelter capable of taking in clients within two hours of the storm.
“Running drills like this is a great way to build and strengthen our partnerships that we have within the community. It is Mt. View Baptist, the group Families Feeding Families, plus the county Emergency Management Agency. We work with everybody because we can’t do it alone.
“One of their goals, which matches our goals, is this is something they really envision being actively involved as the team. We might have some experienced Red Cross people here working with them, but they want to be able to run this thing themselves as a Red Cross shelter. That’s fabulous, to be able to do that really helps us, and we could work that out with any other partner groups that wanted to do something like this.
“Keep in mind, in 2011, we had the two tornadoes that went through, one a little bit north, one a little bit south of here. We opened four shelters for that one. So in a major disaster, this may be only one of four or five shelters, so having a group like this that is supporting of this is so helpful to us, because we may not have it in other places and we need to take our volunteers and go there. If we can have these folks to help us with something like this, it is just wonderful.”
Harmon added that the Red Cross is always looking for more volunteers, and not just for assisting with providing shelters.
“We always need more volunteers. We have things like this where we have to open shelters, but we have other activities we have to do in a disaster, like disaster assessment and all that, we need folks for that. And we’re doing a Home Fire Campaign right now, where we’re installing alarms in homes – usually older homes – we want to reduce the number of home fires and home fire deaths and injuries. So any folks that want to volunteer, we’d love to have them join us. We have stuff that needs to be done.
“We also need volunteers to work single fires. That is our Disaster Action Team, and we definitely need volunteers in this county and the surrounding counties.”
Anyone interested in volunteering with the American Red Cross can contact the Chapter office in LaGrange at 706-882-5853, in Macon at 478-743-8671, in Warner Robins at 478-923-6332, or in Newnan at 770-253-2056.
Larry Stanford may be reached at 706-647-5414 or on Twitter @LarryStanford7.