A week after the Homeland Security statewide full-scale exercise was to take place, members of the Local Emergency Planning Committee (LEPC) and volunteers with the Office of Emergency Management (OEM), as well as emergency management enthusiasts from hours away, banded together for a shelter training exercise which aimed to make up for the canceled event. Tyler County OEM Director Tom Cooper deemed the training a success.
According to Penny Howard, event instructor, those involved with the Tyler County OEM and LEPC constitute one of the largest volunteer groups in the state. Howard brought with her experience from the US Army Security Agency, Communications Security Specialist in Military Intelligence, and US Army Reserves and Military Police. She has an Associate of Arts degree in Human Services and a Bachelor of Arts degree in Forensic Psychology. She has also volunteered for and been employed by the Red Cross as coordinator in Wheeling for the Northern Panhandle, as well as serving on various Community Emergency Response Teams (CERT) and in Search and Rescue (SAR) groups.
Howard emphasized the importance of staying educated. She took pointers from other state shelter trainings for her presentation.
Participants vest up as staff members to simulate admitting clientele into an emergency shelter.
"My background and research from other states is what helped me write the course," she said, explaining that the ultimate goal was to have better trained volunteers.
While noting that a shelter should be able to accommodate whatever needs come through its doors, she made it clear that it is a place to stay and not a place designated to treat the sick, elderly, or disabled. Any person who requires additional special care should enter a shelter with their own personal items, medicines, and professional care providers. They also clarified that shelter coordinators are dedicated to safety, placing that above luxury.
"You can't make it a Hilton," said Cooper.
The presentation was designed to teach volunteers how to select a site for a shelter as well as how to open, operate, and close a shelter, noting the importance of regular inspections to ensure safety and handicap accessibility. It listed regulations which must be followed, accommodations, and items which must be made available, designated areas for male and female hygiene, separate meeting areas for the staff, duties of staff members in their separate roles, communications devices and handlers, meal provisions and proper preparations by those with food handler cards, the importance of documentation and paperwork, the proper channels of information, the correct handling of disruptive clients, and the expectations of volunteers and clients.
After the presentation, the group paired off for a registration exercise, practiced signing people into the shelter, filled out family registration sheets, and examined cots and safety aspects. Other matters addressed were handling the media, possible changes on intake forms, and the different arrangements made for sex offenders or others with violent criminal records.
Mike Walker of Homeland Security was in attendance. According to Howard, he asked for a copy of her presentation for the headquarters in Charleston, W.Va.
She also reported that she was asked to teach another training class by two visitors from Marshall County OEM.