As part of our training exercise for this evening’s ARES session, the team performed an evaluation of the Cooks Hill Community Church as a possible emergency sheltering site after a local or regional disaster. Many circumstances might result in the need to shelter local residents such as floods, fire, earthquake, natural gas leaks or even emergencies involving railroad equipment which travels daily through the downtown Centralia area.
While other agencies are very good at providing more long term sheltering lasting several weeks, there simply is no system in place to house multiple victims, short term, lasting perhaps 24-36 hours. Local churches, who often are willing to take on such work, have congregations and facilities capable of this support and can be set up and ready to take evacuees often within an hour or two. The ARES team trains to support those churches with volunteers and, more importantly, communications back to an Emergency Operations Center or the police & fire first responders who may have requested the assistance.
When evaluating a church we have visited before, the team is tasked with walking through the facility looking for some specific areas such as the best entry and registration point for evacuees, sleeping and eating areas, a large meeting room where evacuees can be given information and where questions may be answered. There needs to be room and services available for preparing food and a location is chosen where a communications system can be temporally set up.
After the walk through, the team takes time to talk through all the possible scenarios and is asked to come up with a shelter plan. Tonight, we were hosted by the Cooks Hill Community Church. We wish to thank Terry of the church staff, who patiently walked us through the building and took part in the shelter planning process. We never know if a particular church might be used as a shelter but preparing ahead of time for that possibility is wise and provides a great training exercise as well.