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Residents Learn to Run Red Cross Shelters
Wednesday, March 12, 2008 • Posted March 11, 2008

Another 17 Blanco County residents spent their Saturday learning how to open and operate an emergency shelter to house their neighbors following a disaster.

It was the second class in a year taught by the Hill Country Chapter of the American Red Cross, and hosted by the Blanco County Disaster Response Group. The new class lifts the total number of trained shelter workers in the county to more than 50.

"That's a good, strong number for Blanco County," said Kristy Vandenberg, executive director of the chapter. "It means the county not only can take care of its own in a disaster, but is in a position to help its neighbors if their counties are hit instead. And, of course, those who continue their classes and become full American Red Cross volunteers can go anywhere in the country to help in our disaster shelters."

The students learned about the spectrum of services survivors of a disaster need from a shelter, and how to deliver them -- from a hot meal and a bed for the night to such specialized help as finding missing relatives and critical medical services.

They also learned the importance of intangibles, like the security of a safe place to sleep, the value of a consistent schedule in the midst of chaos, and the importance of a caring listener for people who have life-changing stories to tell.

"It's exactly the kind of thing churches ought to be doing in their communities," according to First UMC Pastor Judy Baskin. "The churches of this county are great about helping whenever there's a need. In a disaster, the needs will be so great that any church's capability, whether it's space for a shelter or feeding or just manpower, will be critically needed.

"And a community's churches are the best, quickest and most reliable source of those services."

In addition to basic services, the group learned how to solve the thousands of problems that can arise when people are suddenly uprooted and brought together in confined quarters and under stress.

What do you do when someone shows up with a pistol in his pocket? (Send him right back out; no weapons in shelters.)

Or someone wants a special diet, whether for ethical, religious or medical reasons? (You try to provide it.)

Or wants a pillow for their cot? ( pillows...but we'll show you how to fold an extra blanket to accomplish the same thing.)

For some, it wasn't a new experience. George Cofran, one of the leaders of the Disaster Response Group, was living near Houston after Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. He found himself suddenly assigned to manage a shelter -- and then a second one -- with maximum capacity and minimum outside help.

"One thing you learn quickly is that lots of people are willing to pitch in and help in emergencies like that," he recalled. "Another thing you learn is how important it is to have been through the training so you know what you're doing. There's no substitute for that."

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