Effingham Daily News, Effingham, IL

Local News

March 21, 2012

Red Cross training shelter volunteers

EFFINGHAM — The American Red Cross needs you. The organization is seeking to train local residents to run shelters in the event of a disaster.

    A Red Cross representative will be in Effingham Thursday presenting a “how-to” mass sheltering class informing residents from Effingham and surrounding communities how to manage their own shelters without assistance from the Red Cross.

    The class is in response to a shortage of Red Cross-trained volunteers who provide such services.

    It’s a problem Effingham County Emergency Management Agency Director Russ Thomas discovered when an ice storm blanketed the area early last year.

    Widespread power outages, some lasting a week or longer, prompted the need for a shelter, so Thomas turned to the Red Cross for assistance.

    But with no local chapter, the nearest help would have to come from St. Louis. Already overwhelmed by the storm that covered the entire midsection of the country, no one was available to help.

    So, a local shelter was set up in Effingham with some help from local Red Cross volunteer Sally Perles, who is trained for disasters and had some knowledge of shelters.

    Perles, who has been a volunteer since 2003, admitted finding well-trained volunteers is difficult.

    “If there’s a disaster, I grab my circle of friends,” she said.

    It’s a dilemma the organization is experiencing everywhere.

    “We need more volunteers,” said Perles. “The Red Cross is more than blood banks.”

    Perles does not recommend training people during a disaster or crisis, but rather ahead of time so a shelter can be set up more quickly and run more smoothly.

    The Red Cross has different levels of shelters. Thomas said the class would train people to open the lowest level of shelter without financial assistance from the Red Cross.

    “It would depend on donations or the local town,” he said.

    That’s why church groups, Perles and Thomas said, would be ideal for providing such shelters.

    Thomas noted the shelters would only provide short-term relief, lasting normally 24 hours to two days. The national Red Cross would step in if a shelter is needed longer in the event of a larger disaster, he added.

    Thomas said anyone can attend the one-time class and no requirements are necessary.

    The class is free and will be from 7 to 10 p.m. Thursday at Effingham County Emergency Operations Center, located at 311 Miracle Ave. in Effingham. No preregistration is necessary.

    Similar classes, covering disaster service, shelter operations and client case work, for Red Cross volunteers will be held March 31 and April 14 at Effingham Central Fire Station, 505 W. Fayette Ave.

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