News

Shelter from the storms

By JACINDA HOWARD, The Mirror

During this past winter’s windstorms and resulting power outages, St. Vincent de Paul Parish continued to congregate — despite the fact that 60 percent of parishioners lacked power at their homes.

Church member Greg Vicars said the storm helped leaders realize that St. Vincent de Paul Parish and other community organizations could do more to assist Federal Way in an emergency.

“It is important that we as a community start working together,” Vicars said.

Since June, when Emergency Management Coordinator Ray Gross introduced the Community Organizations Active in Disasters (COAD) program, the city has made strides in increasing emergency shelter options and improving communication with residents during these situations.

Last year, Federal Way citizens had two emergency shelters available. This year, the city, with assistance from volunteer organizations, has established seven facilities, including St. Vincent de Paul Parish.

Six of the shelters are recognized in the American Red Cross database and at least one of them, DeVry University, has offered to operate as a shelter and dormitory, Gross said.

In an emergency, Federal Way residents’ first options for shelter and protection would be the Federal Way Community Center and the King County Aquatic Center, Gross said. The community center is a new asset to the city and is expected to receive a 1,000-kilowatt generator in December for emergency sheltering needs, Gross said.

Since last year, the King County Aquatic Center has become more prepared for emergencies. King County Natural Resources and Parks department has a supply of cots and blankets that will be made available to the aquatic center during an emergency, said Larry Kimble, the department’s maintenance supervisor.

Kimble is also working to secure a 300-plus kilowatt generator for the center that is expected to be in place before winter 2008, he said.

If an emergency called for more than these shelters, the American Red Cross and the city would rely on the seven community organizations for assistance, Gross said.

The American Red Cross and Federal Way would provide some staffing and cover operational costs to maintain shelters at the establishments, Gross said. Individuals at these organizations may also be called upon to assist in operating the shelter. Volunteers from each shelter were required to complete training and assist the city in identifying how their space could best be used in an emergency, Gross said.

Individuals representing each shelter took part in a shelter operation training class. Here, they spent four hours learning what to expect from residents during an emergency and how to operate a shelter, Gross said. Then, they participated in a simulation in which they were expected to utilize what they learned.

The decision to serve as a shelter was a natural one for St. Vincent de Paul Parish, Vicars said. The windstorms demonstrated Federal Way’s need for shelter for its residents, he said.

“We felt we needed to step up, not only for our parishioners, but the residents of Federal Way,” Vicars said.

The decision came easily for DeVry University as well, said Bruce Hurley, DeVry’s emergency management coordinator. If the American Red Cross chose to enlist DeVry University as a shelter during an emergency, the school could provide overnight amenities for about 200 Federal Way residents, Gross said.

“Both (St. Vincent de Paul Parish and DeVry University) are very eager to address the need,” Gross said.

In addition to the city’s progress in identifying shelters, efforts are under way to improve communication with residents so they will know what shelters are available. By the end of this year, the city will utilize an emergency mass notification system, known as CodeRED, and its own radio station, Gross said.

CodeRED software uses Internet mapping capabilities and warns residents of coming disasters by delivering a 30-second specialized recorded message. The message could be delivered to residents’ home and cell phones and would provide information on the emergency, Gross said.

The software would allow the city to direct Federal Way residents to its radio station, which in turn could direct them to the nearest open shelter, Gross said.

Though Gross and the city have not reached all their emergency preparedness goals, residents will have more sheltering and communication options by the conclusion of this year.

“The (COAD) program has come a long way,” Gross said.

Contact Jacinda Howard: jhoward@fedwaymirror.com or (253) 925-5565.

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Learn more

Federal Way and American Red Cross both offer shelter operation training. To learn more about the training or when it takes place, contact Ray Gross at ray.gross@cityoffederalway.com.

“It is never too late to get involved,” Gross said.

To learn more about CodeRED, visit www.coderedweb.com/.

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