Employees Practice Running Disaster Shelter

If a disaster struck tomorrow, do you know where you would go if you couldn’t go home? According to a recent study by the County Office of Emergency Services, 17 percent of San Diego County residents said that in the event of an emergency evacuation, they wouldn’t know where to go.  

That’s why, during disasters, the County and community volunteers provide designated shelters for people and pets who have to evacuate due to wildfires, floods, or earthquakes.  In the 2007 wildfires, half a million County residents evacuated their homes, and thousands took shelter at the Del Mar Fairgrounds. During the devastating wildfires in Northern California a few  weeks ago, 43 different shelters opened.

But shelters wouldn’t be possible without trained disaster workers who are ready to jump in and help at a moment’s notice. So drills like the Shelter Team Exercise the County held recently are critical to keeping up with the demand for disaster shelters when the need arises.

Approximately 70  employees from the County came together at Golden Hall in downtown San Diego to practice setting up and running a realistic disaster shelter in a scenario most San Diegans know too well: wildfire.

“We tried to make it as real as we could,” said Julie Jeakle, OES’ Emergency Services Coordinator who ran the exercise. “These are all scenarios we’ve experienced in shelters before.”

Hundreds of County employees volunteer as trained shelter workers and managers, and the County provides trainings each quarter. The goal is to nearly triple the number of trained employees who would be available to respond in an emergency in the next few years.

One volunteer, Leonor Chairez, works by day as a licensed marriage and family therapist with Behavioral Health Services. She first volunteered two years ago to become a trained a shelter worker and was ready to help if called upon during the Northern California wildfires.

“It’s a passion of mine to help others, especially when they’re in need,” Chairez said. “I feel that part of our jobs as clinicians is to help in crisis.”

“You have to be prepared to drop what you’re doing and go help,” said HHSA Senior Office Assistant and shelter volunteer Tim Hahn. When he saw the recruitment for shelter volunteers on the County’s employee web page, he signed up.

“I just wanted to do something for the community,” he said.

Currently, over 240 County employees have been trained to act as emergency shelter workers and managers during a disaster, but there is still a need for volunteers. For more information on becoming a trained shelter worker and the County’s Advanced Recovery Initiative, check out OES’ InSite page. If you’re interested in volunteering as a shelter worker, fill out the Shelter Team application form and send it to the Office of Emergency Services.