The American Red Cross held disaster preparedness training in Roswell last weekend. David Chayer, Executive Director of the American Red Cross, El Paso and Southern New Mexico, said the training was intended to work in concert with efforts being made by government agencies to increase emergency preparedness.
“The state of New Mexico is doing a statewide disaster drill called Vigilant Guard,” Chayer said. “Chaves County Emergency Management was participating in it. We decided that it would be good, as part of an off-shoot of it to look at testing and strengthening our shelter capacity in Roswell and Chaves County.”
Vigilant Guard is a joint effort of the Department of Defense and other agencies designed to increase emergency preparedness from federal to municipal levels. New Mexico’s Vigilant Guard exercises are happening over the month of August.
The Red Cross filled the weekend with a number of classes.
“We worked on having a number of free disaster classes,” Chayer said. “We had 10 volunteers that came out from the surrounding area including Artesia, Clovis, Portales and Roswell. They took a class called Shelter Fundamentals beginning Saturday morning. This class teaches the basics about how to open a shelter. It’s a five hour class that includes a whole host of details that show why you don’t just open up a gym and say, ‘OK, everybody come in.’”
With expertise and supplies provided from all over the region, it was an informative weekend.
“A part of the shelter fundamentals class has an exercise where they bring in the cots, set up water, registration, signage; they decide where case workers are and where sleeping areas are,” Chayer said. “The volunteers went through all of that with support of other volunteers and staff from Red Cross offices as far away as Oklahoma and Phoenix. Our disaster program manager was there from El Paso along with me. We had seven Red Cross staff from across our region and division bringing support such as shelter trailers, equipment and a number of emergency response vehicles.”
The emergency response vehicles are central to the Red Cross’ efforts.
“As part of this weekend’s activities we trained five new volunteers to be certified to drive those response vehicles,” Chayer said. “Now we have five more people who can bring in one of those vehicles which help provide food and disaster relief supplies.”
Volunteers also learned how to assess damages after a disaster hits.
“We also had a class called damage assessment,” Chayer said. “Volunteers learn to go out following a disaster and make initial observations and judgments on whether a home has minor damage, major damage or is destroyed. The information we get from these volunteers helps us determine roughly how many families are affected. That helps us determine how much food, shelter and other resources we’re going to need.”
Along with learning how to set up a shelter, they learned how to assess established shelters.
“The volunteers took a shelter survey class,” he said. “With this knowledge they can walk into any shelter facility and determine whether or not that facility is going to meet Red Cross standards. There are a lot of things that go into making a shelter fit Red Cross standards, such as showers, water and a separate food area.”
Saturday was a 12-hour day. Chayer said Sunday was intense in its own way.
“We have a program called the Home Fire Preparedness Campaign,” he said, “where we go into neighborhoods and go door to door offering to provide and install smoke alarms in homes that don’t have them, or in homes where they are more than 10 years old. We installed 18 smoke alarms in homes near the college campus on Sunday morning.”
Of course a safe home needs more than smoke detectors, it also needs a plan.
“We also provide fire safety information,” Chayer said. “We give them a refrigerator magnet so that they can develop and post their own fire escape plan in their home.”
Another program the Red Cross has helps alleviate problems across cultures.
“We have a program called Latinos Preparados,” Chayer said. “With this program we’re recruiting bilingual volunteers to go into an affected area where the families don’t speak English, or don’t speak it well. By removing the language barrier we can get help to those families faster. We have four bilingual volunteers in Roswell who got more information on Sunday about the program.”
Chayer recently had an experience with a bilingual volunteer that illustrated the need for Latinos Preparados for him.
“I had the experience of helping to install smoke detectors in a neighborhood in El Paso where there had been a recent fire,” Chayer said. “This one lady, as we were installing the smoke detectors in her home, kept on repeating ‘gracias!’ over and over again. Through a volunteer, she told us that she felt safer in her home because of our help.”
Local emergency preparedness leaders were on hand to ensure full coordination of efforts and resources.
“We had the local emergency manager from Chaves County there along with the one from Artesia,” Chayer said. “They had the chance to visit with the regional disaster office and the division disaster director about the support that we can offer your community in the event of a disaster.”
Roswell’s American Red Cross office is located at 2708 N. Main St. and can be reached by phone at 575-622-4370.
Features reporter Curtis M. Michaels can be reached at 575-622-7710, ext. 205, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.