Disaster preparedness group seeks shelter volunteers

“Every time there is a situation, we find we are not as prepared as everyone seems to think we are.”

Following February’s snow storm, VashonBePrepared is looking for islanders willing to serve as shelter volunteers in an emergency or disaster.

Last week, the Emergency Operations Center (EOC) team dedicated a large portion of the meeting to the topic. The central message of the night was that there are many types of shelters — from large overnight shelters for hundreds of people that King County might provide, to smaller centers island groups could open to serve as daytime centers for warming up or cooling off, to shelters for animals.

Overall, though, EOC team lead Rick Wallace stressed that the critical issue on Vashon is having the necessary people to staff whatever shelter is necessary.

“It’s not about the building, its’ about the people,” Wallace said.

Making that point, Cathy Rogers, the island liaison to the Red Cross, said the Red Cross standard for staffing a shelter for 200 people is 21 staff or volunteers.

“We will never, ever meet the Red Cross standards,” Wallace told those gathered.

Wallace and his colleagues are interested in hearing from individuals who would like to step up, as well as organizations that might want to be involved.

“If some groups wanted to help, that would be amazing,” he said.

Once enough people have expressed interest, Wallace said there would be training offered, some of which can be done online.

He noted that the winter’s large snow spurred this effort forward. During the snow, he said, the EOC team was working to try to shelter five homeless people, who were concerned that tree branches would come down on their tents. Wallace said he was not successful, except that a church placed one of the people.

“What we realize is that every time there is a situation (such as the storm), we find that we are not as prepared as everyone seems to think we are, and we want to do better,” he said.

Vashon has approximately 15 locations that could be used as shelters, including the three public schools, several of the churches and the Grange Hall.

Rogers noted that the time of year of an emergency would make a big difference. If school is in session, she said, the schools would house off-island students and likely not be open to other members of the community.

Also, Wallace noted that shelters would need to serve islanders with diverse needs and across the age spectrum, from young children, to people with additions, to elders with medical needs.

Rogers and Wallace also explained that it could be three days before a shelter could be fully set up and ready to serve people after a disaster — and that islanders will have to do a lot for themselves, as county officials will likely be helping larger populations.

“Are they going to help us or thousands and thousands of people?” Rogers said.

Those interested in assisting should email volunteer@VashonBePrepared.org.

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