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Preparing for disaster, readying for the next emergency

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Local churches host Red Cross training From Post staff reportsWhen the next crisis sends hundreds of evacuees to Wilson County, will we be ready?

That’s the question that two local churches will address with the help of the Red Cross.

College Hills Church of Christ and First United Methodist will host Red Cross training in February for disaster relief shelters. The sessions will meet on Saturday, Feb. 14 at College Hills and Saturday, Feb. 28 at First Methodist from 9 a.m. to noon.

The churches scheduled the training as a result of College Hills hosting more than 130 evacuees from Hurricane Gustav in September 2008.

Butch Humphreys, who served as a volunteer at the Gustav shelter, realized the need for training. “When we worked at the 2008 shelter, we didn't know anything about how to be a ‘volunteer.’ Although we hope we will never be needed again, this training will help us learn what we need to know. We were in the dark at the last evacuation.”

Training will address basic shelter operation, safety and procedures. Participants will be registered as volunteers for future emergency shelters but will not be obligated to serve.

The Red Cross will offer identical training at both sites. Training is free of charge and is open to the public.

Carolyne Humphreys, who served at the Gustav shelter, explained the importance of this training. “A shelter isn't just for someone from another state. It could be our family next time. In Tennessee, we are experiencing more disasters including tornadoes, ice storms and potential floods. When disaster happens, everyone wants to do something.  This is our opportunity to plan to help when it does happen.”

A total of 12 churches in Wilson County have agreed to serve as shelters. Emergency workers are likely to use these sites because of proximity to the airport and interstate, and because of the distance from the downtown area. 

Dee Lineberger, Wilson County Emergency Management Agency planning officer, said, “Shelter hosts need to be prepared to provide a large variety of goods and services for evacuees. It takes several hours to several days for the Red Cross, FEMA and other agencies to assemble and distribute resources to areas where incidents have occurred. We want to be self sufficient at the local level to be able to assist those in need of services and shelter on an immediate basis.”

During last September’s Gustav evacuation, College Hills provided facilities, food, toiletries and clothing for evacuees for nearly a week. FEMA provided cots and Red Cross operated the shelter, but most of the supplies and volunteers were provided by local organizations.

“We discovered that we were unprepared,” said John Grant, equipping minister at College Hills. “Essentially, we had to provide everything for over 130 people for a week. They had to leave quickly, so they brought little besides the clothes they were wearing.

“Even though it was a challenge, it was a positive experience for our church. We received immense support from local law enforcement, businesses, schools and other churches. It was truly a communitywide effort. But next time, we want to be better prepared.”

Registration for both seminars is online at www.collegehills.org under the Red Cross Training tab. For more information, contact Butch or Carolyne Humphreys at 754-5079 or Patty Caldwell at 444-3315.

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