GAMBIER — After experiencing some problems with handling people displaced by the high winds generated by the remnants of Hurricane Ike last September, responding agencies are looking to improve disaster response in the county. One solutions is to designate the Gambier Community Center as a disaster shelter. Classes are being given for those who want to volunteer at the shelter during emergencies.
“The Buildings and Grounds Committee [of Gambier village council] decided to get a generator for the Gambier Community Center down here,” said Suzanne Hopkins, Gambier village administrator. “They thought it could run half the building, but they found out it runs pretty much the entire building except for the heating unit and about half the lights in the gymnasium. But it will run everything else in the building. So, when that was all done, they decided they would contact the Red Cross and see if we couldn’t make this a shelter for Gambier.”
Hopkins said the experiences with the 2004 ice storm and the high winds from Hurricane Ike showed village officials that a shelter of this kind would be beneficial to the community. Although the facility has no kitchen or shower facilities, food could be brought in by the Red Cross and it would be valuable for relatively short-term use.
Hopkins and Dee Hoeflich of the Knox County Chapter of the American Red Cross did a walk-through of the facility to see if it was appropriate to use as a shelter. There are a number of things the Red Cross looks for in a potential shelter.
“We look at square footage, for one thing,” Hoeflich said. “There’s only so many people allowed per square foot. We look at the generator, laundry facilities, cafeteria and handicap accessibility. The last is very important. We go over a lot of different things and, depending on the disaster, we would go through them and see which best fit our needs.”
“Several of us have taken training from the Red Cross,” Hopkins said. “We’ve taken training — mass care training and shelter care training from the Red Cross.”
During its use as a shelter in a disaster, the Red Cross would be in charge, with the trained volunteers taking care of operations. Training is conducted by the Red Cross.
“We talked about being able to be independant before help arrives,” said Linette Porter, the Red Cross volunteer who teaches the training classes. “I believe it’s 72 hours. You need to be prepared and even as a town you need to be prepared for 72 hours before the Red Cross comes in. We saw in [Hurricanes] Rita and Katrina that towns had to stay on their own and deal with things until reinforcements arrive.”
The training is done in two stages.
“We had a mass care class and a shelter operations class,” Porter said. “Then we had an opportunity to walk around the Community Center and talk about what needs the community would specifically have. We talked about the demographics. Were there a lot of elderly? Were there a lot of young people? So it was a great opportunity for everybody to think outside the box. And it gives us the opportunity to see the facilities and find out the real and special needs of the community.
“Mass care is an overview class that we teach at the American Red Cross,” Porter added. “If you were having to care for the masses, what would that entail? It is the overview for our more specific classes.”
Shelter operations is one of those more specific classes. It deals with procedures after the shelter is opened.
“Shelter ops is what you would need to know once the shelter was opened and needs assessed,” Porter said. “It’s more specific to communities’ needs than mass care.”