Red Cross calls for volunteers

Organization seeks to establish disaster action teams for peninsula

Posted: Wednesday, March 26, 2008

In order to fulfill its goal of preparing the Kenai and Soldotna communities for a natural disaster, the American Red Cross of Alaska hopes to be active on the peninsula once more, but it needs help.

As part of a program to reach out to rural communities statewide, the Red Cross will offer free disaster training to peninsula residents; its first stop will be the Soldotna Sports Center. The training will take place this weekend from 6 to 9 p.m. Friday with a history of the Red Cross and an overview of its mission and principles. The training session will continue from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday, showing volunteers how to do client casework and provide victims of a family fire or other emergency with food, clothing and shelter. The session will end with a shelter operations simulation from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday.

"(We'll have) a disaster action team form so that when a disaster happens, we have a list of folks who are trained and qualified to respond and we can send them right out to the scene of a disaster," said Amy Danzl, Red Cross disaster preparedness and response director. "We can also provide limited basic health needs and mental health needs."

Danzl said this disaster training is part of a program to reach out to rural communities that may not have a Red Cross office. The Red Cross office in Kenai closed last fall. Disaster training sessions will also be held in Seward in April and Homer in May.

"We're starting a project soon to get into rural Alaska, to get into parts off the road system," she said.

Because the Red Cross often finds out about single-family fires and other emergencies through emergency management professionals, volunteers will learn about the organization's relationship with local fire departments and other emergency responders. They'll learn about the different jobs volunteers can do in the Red Cross, from transportation management to fundraising to working in a shelter. Danzl said volunteers can even be involved in staffing.

"A lot of different skills can be used during a Red Cross response," she said. "Volunteers bring so many different talents and skills to us, (that's) part of the reason we can respond in such a large way."

The two common disasters on the peninsula that the Red Cross is aware of are flooding and wildfires, Danzl said. If people weren't able to stay in their homes because of fire or flooding, Red Cross volunteers would be able to provide shelter and could follow up with food and clothing for victims. During the Caribou Hills fire, the Red Cross opened service centers in order to meet those needs, Danzl said.

Even though the Red Cross conducts disaster training in Anchorage and elsewhere across the state, the agency wanted to travel to the Soldotna-Kenai area because recently, emergency responders have called upon the Red Cross to respond, but the agency had to do its casework by phone.

"Right now we will provide casework via phone. We do it from our headquarters office, which is in Anchorage," Danzl said. "It's much better for the client to have someone there on scene. Across the nation we have disaster action teams, local volunteers responding to local disasters. That's what we hope to get in the Kenai-Soldotna area as well."

The best part about having local volunteers is that they know the community, Danzl said. If there's a fire, volunteers will be able to respond to the scene right away. No specific skills are required to volunteer. Though Danzl says the Red Cross has no immediate plans to open another office on the Kenai Peninsula, the organization will have a presence through its volunteers.

"We hope to have a really good presence after training these folks," she said.

Anyone interested in volunteering or who has questions can call 907-646-5401 to register, or they can e-mail Danzl at danzla@usa.redcross.org.

Jessica Cejnar can be reached at jessica.cejnar@peninsulaclarion.com.



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