Volunteers learn about possible problems when it comes to operating a shelter after a disaster

Sep 12 2011 - 9:52am

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(NICK SHORT/Standard-Examiner) Volunteers stay at a test shelter for the Northern Utah Chapter of the Red Cross at the Ascension Lutheran Church in Harrisville on Friday night.
(NICK SHORT/Standard-Examiner) Volunteers stay at a test shelter for the Northern Utah Chapter of the Red Cross at the Ascension Lutheran Church in Harrisville on Friday night.

OGDEN -- Though the emergency sending dozens of Top of Utah residents seeking shelter was make-believe, the lessons learned from the mock disaster were real.

Hurricanes on the east coast have had thousands of Americans seeking refuge in American Red Cross shelters. The Top of Utah can expect a rockier natural disaster. The state is due for an earthquake as severe as magnitude 7 or larger, according to the U.S. Geological Survey.

So the Red Cross held shelter boot camp exercises spanning Friday night into Saturday evening in several cities to prepare for such a catastrophe. In Ogden, about 68 volunteers and participants stayed at Ascension Lutheran Church, 1105 N. Washington Blvd., in Harrisville, simulating conditions following a disaster in which people would require shelter and food.

"We learned a lot. This was our first opportunity to work in collaboration with partnered groups," said Fred Henderson, emergency services director for the American Red Cross of Northern Utah.

The exercises were designed to have Community Emergency Response Team, Southern Baptist Convention and Red Cross volunteers practice working together and hone their skills so that when disaster does strike, they can work quickly and efficiently as a team.

Part of that practice dealt with potential problems. The Ogden shelter was short 30 cots, so coordinators had to find and deliver more. There was also a problem with food delivery.

"Our logistic situations were ... we made promises about meals at a certain time, and some of our meals were late," Henderson said.

He said the volunteer groups, now that the exercises are over, will come together and hash out how they can solve their logistical problem of delivering necessary items to the right locations on time.

The event also was designed to show Utahns what to expect if they become shelter occupants following a disaster.

The coordinators purposely cut off volunteers and participants from electricity and cell phone use for the first few hours to make the two-day exercise more realistic.

Ogden rests on soft sediment that would shake especially violently during large earthquakes and would disrupt gas, electric, water, communication and transportation services, the USGS reports.

Like other young people at the shelter, Shelly Trierweiler wished she had her music to listen to during the exercise.

She was happy to see the lights come back on about two hours into the night, so she could finally occupy her time with her physics homework.

She came with her mother, who was one of more than a dozen CERT volunteers at the exercise.

"I probably would have been freaking out" in a real disaster, said Ogden resident Alexandria Perez-Ortiz. She was grateful to go through the motions of a mock disaster. And though the hours were many, she said it was fun having her aunt and cousins around.

Logan and Brigham City also went through the same two-day shelter exercises. Later this month, the Red Cross will continue the exercises in Provo and Salt Lake City.

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