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Volunteers Prep for Disaster at Shelter Exercise

Red Cross Los Angeles Volunteers Prepare for Disaster
We were able to practice our skills and address unexpected challenges.

More than 80 volunteers from the Red Cross L.A. Region and San Gabriel Valley partner agencies had an opportunity to practice what they constantly prepare for by participating in a mass shelter drill Jan. 17 at Mt. San Antonio College in Walnut.

The scenario was a wildfire in the San Gabriel Valley and the volunteers were charged with opening, operating and closing a shelter in the Mt. Sac gymnasium for “clients” forced to evacuate.

Under the leadership of experienced Red Cross volunteers Cathy Sproule, and Frances Weigand, both of whom are Mass Care leads, the exercise participants were assigned the roles of various Red Cross workers, as well as disaster clients, observers and evaluators.

The two seasoned disaster experts added a number of real-life challenges for Alex Mendoza, the exercise’s shelter manager, and his team. The exercise tested and evaluated the following: feeding, sheltering, health and mental health services, elements of logistics support and a trial text-based volunteer notification system.

Volunteer Danielle Mareschal offered a special training before the exercise about the Red Cross pet policy, explaining that “An estimated 60% of American households have pets, and the American Red Cross is prepared to help clients find a safe place for them.”

Joining the disaster volunteers were Ben Green, San Gabriel Pomona Valley Chapter executive director, 17 student actors from Red Cross youth clubs and Caltech, as well as volunteers from Red Cross partner agencies including Community Emergency Response Teams (CERT), L.A. County Animal Care and Control and the Tzu Chi Buddhist Foundation. All participants have completed the American Red Cross Shelter Fundamentals course.

Long-time volunteer Dee Falasco, who worked at the Emergency Operations Center (EOC) said, “We were able to practice our skills and address unexpected challenges. I enjoyed helping with special situations, as well as the movement and action in the exercise.”

The drill aligned with the fundamentals of the Homeland Security Exercise and Evaluation Program (HSEEP). Sproule and Weigand are HSEEP-certified American Red Cross disaster volunteers.

“I was happy to see so many volunteers feel excited and inspired after the exercise,” said Sproule. Our “after-action report” will provide useful information about our strengths, as well as our challenges and become a building block for mass care activities in 2015.”