Drill tests Red Cross response readiness

Published 6:00 am Friday, November 9, 2007

Volunteers for the American Red Cross Mid-South Chapterscrambled to accommodate Brookhaven residents affected during aChapter Disaster Readiness Exercise Thursday during a drill.

The drill, which was conducted entirely on paper, was monitoredby two facilitators from the national Red Cross office.

“It’s a tabletop exercise simulating a tornado hitting a trailerpark on Union Street,” Layla Case, chapter director, said Thursday.”We’re doing everything, basically, except physically going to thelocations.”

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Red Cross volunteers were actually called, but were not requiredto physically report to the office, she said. The names of thosewho said they would be able to assist in the surprise exercise werewritten on Post-it notes and assigned to a location.

Eight key personnel, however, had to physically report toconduct the exercise. Those participating in the exercise includedboard members Mary McMorris, Sherry Course, Betty Griffin, RufusHarris and volunteers Shorty Lofton and Shana Turnage.

Case said one of the first issues addressed in the exercise wasa test of the chapter’s shelter organization. Melissa Smith,operations manager for the exercise, called Joe Davis to open ashelter at First Baptist Church for approximately 30 people who haddamage to their trailers.

“He had no idea we were going to call, but said they wereready,” Case said. “He said they could provide facilities for up to100 people.”

The national facilitators also complicated the exercise bysuddenly tossing in obstacles for the volunteers to overcome, suchas a shortage of supplies.

“It allows us to fine tune our disaster response plan. This isthe first time we’ve ever done this,” Case said. “I think we didgood. They were really impressed with the initial response.”

Elaine Clyburn, a facilitator, said she was impressed by theknowledge of the volunteers.

“The people are capable of doing a lot of different activities,”she said. “Typically in small chapters they don’t have enoughpeople to have expertise in every aspect we have to manage.”

Volunteers in smaller chapters often have to “wear many hats”while larger chapters can assign volunteers to specific tasks,allowing them to specialize their training, she said.

“It’s more of a challenge in smaller chapters, but they’re doingvery well,” Clyburn said.

The weaknesses identified during Thursday’s drill were to beexpected in a chapter the size of Mid-South, which covers Lawrence,Lincoln and Pike counties, she said.

“They could use more people trained in mental health or healthservices, like EMTs or doctors, but those are not the kind ofpeople you can just pick up because of the licensing,” Clyburnsaid.

Case said in the weeks following the drill, the chapter willdevise a plan that will attempt to address the weaknessesidentified.