With about half the volunteers it would need to adequately respond to a major disaster, the local chapter of the American Red Cross is making an effort to gain some new recruits over the next couple of months.
"At one time we had at least 100 volunteers, but now we're down to about 50," said Sheri Schwartz, executive director of Washington County's Red Cross chapter.
She said the need for more volunteers was underscored after the June 29 derecho wind storm that caused widespread power outages throughout the region and beyond.
"We were able to handle it, but we were definitely short on volunteers," Schwartz said, noting the number has dwindled due to volunteers moving out of the area or other life changes.
To help address the shortfall, a free informational disaster volunteer education class is being offered at the local chapter house on Monday and again Oct. 11 from 6 to 8:30 p.m.
Peggy Pruitt, a longtime volunteer and disaster coordinator for the Southeast Ohio Chapters of the American Red Cross, will provide an introduction to disaster presentation during those sessions.
Want to help during a
Attend a free disaster volunteer education class-Introduction to Disaster-this Monday or Oct. 11 from 6 to 8:30 p.m. at the Washington County Red Cross Chapter, 401 Fourth St., Marietta.
Register by calling the chapter house at 373-0281.
"She'll be able to answer any questions people may have about volunteering and responding to disasters," Schwartz said.
Volunteers are needed for a variety of tasks, from answering phones and doing light clerical work to providing food, water and other assistance to local first responders and victims during structure fires, floods and other disasters.
"We'd like to maintain a minimum pool of 100 volunteers that we could draw from during a disaster or other event," Schwartz said. "And a large event requires a lot of people. For example, setting up and maintaining a shelter for 50 people takes at least 15 volunteers."
Washington County Sheriff Larry Mincks said his office often calls on the Red Cross for help.
"They were very helpful in the days following the June 29 storm. Sheri worked with us at the command center," he said. "And during the recent drowning event near Devol's Dam they provided help for the survivors as well as food, water and a place to rest for the rescue workers."
Josh Booth has been a volunteer with the local Red Cross chapter since 2006.
"I started out working with the military families support group, and later became a member of the chapter's board of directors," he said. "Now I have my registered nurse certification and help organize all the volunteer nurses in addition to running on fire and rescue missions."
Booth received both hands-on and classroom training through the Red Cross, providing him with the experience the agency needs from volunteers when disasters strike.
"They can call me 24/7, anytime of day, and if I can go I'll go," he said. "After the June 29 storm we were handing out ice and water across the county. It's a big county, and more volunteers would definitely help. But you do what you can with what you have."
Schwartz said she hopes more people from Washington County and surrounding locales will become involved with the volunteer effort because they're familiar with the area.
After attending one of the two disaster volunteer education sessions, anyone interested in volunteering can move on to more specialized training in Athens on Oct. 27 and 28, she said.
"That training focuses on more specific areas of service where people can become involved," Schwartz said. "And once volunteers gain enough experience, they can be placed on the active list and be called out to assist in any national disaster event if needed."
She noted more than 1,900 American Red Cross volunteers worked on recent recovery efforts from Hurricane Isaac in southern states.
"(Hundreds of) people stayed in Red Cross community shelters in Louisiana and Mississippi," Schwartz said. "More than 330,000 meals and snacks have been distributed there."
Those efforts take a lot of organization and logistics, Schwartz said.
"But sometimes volunteers will just be asked to walk around an area to see what needs to be done or to hand out food and water and provide other assistance," she said.
Schwartz added that volunteers may also work with individuals or families who have been displaced from their homes due to a disastrous event, setting up cots, providing blankets and pillows, or arranging activities for children to help make the situation less traumatic for them.
"We have some volunteers who just want to be active for larger-scale events. Others want to be involved by helping families during structure fires or other smaller disasters," she said. "But we just hope people will see the need and come out to volunteer."