Red Cross shelter kits help ready peninsula for unexpected disaster

Posted: Monday, September 10, 2001

The threat of floods, earthquakes and wildfires is something that's part of living on the Kenai Peninsula. In an attempt to better equip peninsula communities in the event of a disaster, the American Red Cross, Tesoro Alaska Petro-leum Co. and the Kenai Peninsula Borough's Office of Emergency Management have partnered to purchase and assemble shelter kits that will be distributed in communities around the peninsula.

The shelter kits contain administrative and other supplies that would aid Red Cross workers and volunteers in setting up a community shelter for people who lose their homes in a disaster.

The kits themselves are 48-gallon tubs that contain items such as flashlights, scissors, Red Cross registration materials, batteries, tape, a radio, extra toilet paper and diapers.

"The kits are a little bit of something that will be useful in registering people and getting them into the facility and taking care of the needs of opening the shelter," said Jan Henry, coordinator of the Kenai Peninsula Borough's Office of Emergency Management. "So they're not going to help us feed or sleep anybody, but they will help, from an administrative standpoint, get the whole operation going faster."

The Red Cross, with the aid of the borough Office of Emergency Management and Tesoro, have purchased and assembled 19 of these kits to be placed in communities large and small throughout the peninsula. The communities already have been selected, but the location of these kits in the communities is still being decided. The Red Cross is consulting with its local advisory board, fire chiefs and other community heads to decide the best locations for the kits.

"The borough has the responsibility in disasters for ensuring that people receive aid and shelter," Henry said. "We do that primarily through opening up shelters in the schools. To open and maintain a shelter in a school we depend on the American Red Cross. So when they came to us about this we said OK, they are helping us fulfill our responsibility."

Most of the kits will probably be placed in the designated emergency shelter location in each community, which is usually a school. However, the security of the kit must be ensured in whatever location is chosen. If no secure location can be found in a community, than the kit must be placed elsewhere and transported in by Red Cross workers, Henry said.

Along with the placement of these kits, the Red Cross is offering training to interested community members in shelter management. The training includes self-study videos and instruction by the peninsula Red Cross training coordinator and the statewide Red Cross Disaster Specialist. This training would prepare community members to set up a shelter and register victims in the event of a disaster in their area.

"We want to recruit as many willing members of the communities as we can get," said Debbie Holle of the American Red Cross. "If you have a disaster of any size, it requires a good number of people to handle the types of things that come up. This way, in each of our communities we will have people who have thought about it ahead of time, participated in training and have an idea of how to handle it.

"If you're all of a sudden homeless, I think that people would feel more comfortable and in a much more homey environment if people from their own community were there to greet them at the door."

The Red Cross is willing to conduct training sessions anywhere on the peninsula that has at least six interested people willing to register, Holle said.

Before these kits were purchased, there was only one available on the peninsula. However, it is easy to imagine a situation where more than one community is stricken by a disaster at the same time, she said.

Holle said she got the idea for purchasing and placing the kits from a Red Cross training scenario where they were asked to open seven shelters simultaneously.

"I realized in a striking, fresh way that this is something we need to work on," she said. "So it's really great to partner with the borough and Tesoro in this way because we have so many disasters that could happen here.

"Just because we haven't had a '64 earthquake in a while doesn't mean it couldn't happen tomorrow, heaven forbid."

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