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Red Cross shelters: ‘Practice makes perfect’


It’s been awhile since Ken Curry needed to set up a shelter.

Cots and blankets were quickly arranged inside the Warsaw High School cafeteria Saturday morning, along with a first aid corner. With luck, they’ll never be used for real.

“It’s been a long time since we had a shelter in Wyoming County,” said Curry, the county’s Emergency Services Red Cross coordinator. “We’re confident enough we can do it and make it happen.”

American Red Cross chapters statewide opened emergency shelters Saturday as part of a practice drill — an event carrying particularly eerie timing, given the earthquake, tsunami and nuclear disasters in hard-hit Japan.

The locations would provide a safe place to stay in similar emergencies. Besides Warsaw, the Tri-County chapter opened shelters at Byron-Bergen and Albion high schools.

Middle Schoolers and senior citizens portrayed displaced people in Warsaw. Some were diagnosed with “medical conditions” such as dementia and breathing difficulties requiring special care.

Twenty-four people were processed overall, though the shelter could accept more.

The reality is the stay would be Spartan. People are asked to bring their own extras and any special items in a real-life emergency.

“I talked to some of the volunteers who came in for the simulation and reminded them you can get Red Cross brochures that let you know what you can put in a bag for a disaster,” said Assistant Coordinator Vernon Baker. “That bag should be at your doorway or the foot of your bed. If something should arise quickly, you should grab that bag and you should be comfortable for a couple of days.”

The bag should include any medications, a change or two of clothing, and maybe some children’s activities and bottled water, he said. A deck of cards can also prove handy.

The Red Cross provides “comfort bags” containing basic hygiene products, but anything beyond that is up to the individual.

Food and security are key issues.

“One of the reasons we do it at the school system is they have a full-functioning cafeteria,” Baker said. “We usually know by the paperwork how many people are allowed to be in here, and there are usually enough food stores here which the Red Cross would pay back.”

“It used to be we could open up in churches anywhere, but now you need to meet certain criteria to have a shelter,” Curry added. “You’ve got to have security and be big enough. Right now we’re designed for the schools in Wyoming County.”

The buildings are safe, comfortable and capable of meeting immediate housing needs, they said. Shelters would be open a minimum five days in an emergency, and the regional Red Cross would help for longer durations.

The Warsaw shelter was opened in conjunction with Wyoming County’s Emergency Services and Public Health departments. An Amateur Radio Disaster Services volunteer was also on-site.

Box lunches were provided by Batavia’s Salvation Army chapter. The nice thing about Warsaw, Baker said, is Wyoming County Community Hospital is just across town in any severe crisis.

The last time emergency shelters opened locally was during the surprise Oct. 13 snowstorm of 1996. Saturday’s drill lasted three hours and was complete by 1 p.m.

“Practice makes perfect,” Baker said. “You never know. With everything that’s happening in this world you never know ... New Orleans had it a just a few years ago. We’re practicing this to keep the local people safe.”

Shelter were set up at the following locations:

Byron Bergen High School

6971 W. Bergen Rd.

Bergen, NY

Charles C. D’Amico High School

324 East Ave.

Albion, NY

Warsaw High School

81 West Court Street

Warsaw, NY