Saturday, June 21, the Heart of Texas Chapter of the American Red Cross held a disaster shelter exercise in Bryan to enhance preparedness in the event of a disaster. Seasoned volunteers and new faces were present to help set up the mock shelter and test equipment, along with local Amateur Radio Emergency Service (ARES) operators.
Through the exercise, volunteers received hands-on training on many activities required to set up a shelter: they set up dormitory areas, practiced registration, learned to use radios for communication and went over feeding procedures. Volunteers were divided into two groups at the start of the activities and later reconvened for an overview on how to feed, accompanied by lunch.
Curtis Eckman, Regional Partner and Emergency Management Agency Program Manager for the Red Cross Central Texas region, said that the exercise was a success.
“Saturday’s shelter exercise really was helpful in getting some of our newer volunteers prepared to help in case our community should face a disaster,” Eckman said. “Practicing setting up the shelter and getting people registered through different scenarios was a good chance for people to ask questions and get familiar with what we should do in a disaster situation. We were also happy to work with ARES volunteers to test our communication equipment and see if we needed to do anything differently in our sheltering procedures.”
Many volunteers headed to St. Thomas Aquinas Church to conduct the exercise, while a small team of ARES operators and disaster technology specialists remained at the chapter office to conduct the exercise using radio communication.
Disaster services manager Rachel Petruska-Olson said that exercises like Saturday’s are important to make sure that the Red Cross is ready to help in the event of a community-wide disaster.
“Our goal with this exercise was to give our volunteers and staff the opportunity to walk through the steps of setting up a shelter in the event of a disaster. It allows us to assess ourselves and our capabilities. We are able to make needed adjustments to our plans before a disaster occurs which helps us effectively support the community,” Petruska-Olson said. “We were really happy with the turnout and we are so grateful to all of our volunteers and all the other community members and organizations that came out to support us—we couldn’t do this without them.”
While the shelter exercise was mainly for training volunteers in the event of a disaster, local community members can make sure they are prepared for a disaster by downloading Red Cross mobile apps for tornados, hurricanes, floods and shelters. The apps provide information not only about what to do in an emergency situation, but also how to create a family disaster plan and stay safe and prepared. Those interested in becoming Red Cross volunteers can visit redcross.org/bryan for more information, or call the Bryan office at (979) 776-8279.