The Alliance Center for Independence hosted an overnight shelter exercise last month at the Livingston College Recreation Center at Rutgers University to help shelter volunteers learn how to effectively serve shelter clients with access and functional needs during a disaster.
American Red Cross volunteers trained in shelter management were on hand to observe the exercise and guide shelter volunteers from participating government and non-profit agencies through best practices used to help support and enable people with disabilities in a shelter setting.
The Livingston College Recreation Center was set up with cots, blankets and shelter supplies, similar to how the facility looked when it was utilized as a shelter during Hurricane Irene and Superstorm Sandy. Approximately 20 adults with access and functional needs agreed to spend the night at the mock shelter to help shelter volunteers better understand the needs of individuals with disabilities during a disaster.
“In addition to being a valuable opportunity for volunteers active in sheltering during disaster to familiarize themselves with how to best assist individuals with access and functional needs, the exercise also allowed the participants to experience how their needs can be accommodated in a shelter setting,” said Mike Prasad, disaster support functions director, American Red Cross North Jersey Region. “It helped reassure them that shelters can meet their needs should they need to evacuate during an emergency.”
Following the exercise, the Red Cross volunteers provided feedback on the execution of the mock shelter to help county, state and federal agencies and organizations active in disaster response evaluate any necessary changes in processes or procedure that would allow shelter workers to better serve individuals with access and functional needs.
“The American Red Cross strongly promotes disaster resiliency, which includes personal preparedness and community readiness,” said Steven Sarinelli, regional disaster officer, American Red Cross North Jersey Region. “We were glad to be able to support this emergency overnight exercise with trained Red Cross shelter managers and look forward to additional exercises. We need more people to join us now and be trained as volunteer shelter workers as we prepare for future disasters in New Jersey.”
Participating agencies included the Middlesex County Office of Emergency Management; the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA); Rutgers University; New Jersey Division of Disability Services; Middlesex County Health Services; Middlesex County Office of Aging & Disabled Services; Middlesex County Medical Reserve Corps; The Salvation Army; Ocean County Sheriff’s Department; Disaster and Risk Associates, LLC; and Community Emergency Response Teams from North Brunswick, Old Bridge, Piscataway, South Plainfield and Woodbridge.
“We are grateful that county, state and federal agencies have joined ACI in addressing issues of individuals with disabilities during a disaster,” said Carole Tonks, executive director of the Alliance Center for Independence.
The New Jersey Office of Emergency Management offers a web-based program to assist individuals with access and functional needs in the event of a disaster. Register Ready helps emergency responders in the location and evacuation of individuals who may not be able to evacuate themselves during a disaster. Individuals with access and functional needs are encouraged to register for the free and confidential program at www.registerready.nj.gov or by contacting New Jersey’s 2-1-1 service.
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