Millersburg residents, Red Cross host ‘Sheltering Essentials’ program Saturday

Severe weather saw 65 tornadoes kill at least 27 people throughout the Midwest in the past week, the Associated Press reports, and that death toll is expected to rise.

A group in Millersburg hopes to make that area more prepared this weekend should something like that happen in Callaway County.

The Millersburg Christian Church and Millersburg Lions Club are hosting an American Red Cross "Sheltering Essentials" training course, beginning 8:30 a.m. Saturday at the church. After a planning session and lunch at the church, patrons will move to the Lions Club where they will practice setting up and handling different scenarios if the county declares a state of emergency.

Although church missions committee chairperson Beth Haas called the timing of the workshop falling so close to the major storm system "unfortunately good," it is a project that has been in the works since 2012, when she and assistant chair Elaine Long tried to get the church declared as a Red Cross shelter before the group said the church building was too small and didn't meet requirements.

Though their focus was originally on preparing the church, Haas and Long said they soon realized they should focus on the entire Millersburg community. While they only have 14 confirmed attendants so far for the training session, Haas and Long have gotten involvement from Millersburg Christian and Baptist churches, the Lions Club, the Millersburg Volunteer Fire Department and the community at large.

"It's not been an easy task to find people to commit to this, and I can only guess that nobody wants to think about disaster," Haas said. "It's the same thing you get after a disaster, nobody thought that would happen here. We want to be as prepared as we can be, and also learning what the Red Cross can and cannot do for us."

The program, presented by regional Red Cross Regional Director Phil Iman, will help participants develop a plan for setting up and helping people should Callaway County Emergency Management Director Michelle Kidwell declare a state of emergency and open the Lions Club as a shelter. Then, Iman will oversee people as they set up at the Lions Club and run several simulations.

"The program is (over) what do you need to know in relation to sheltering ... and then we break into two groups — one is responsible for setting up and the other will act out so to speak like they're coming in distressed because there has been some ind of disaster," Long said. "How do you deal with people who have been drinking, or are screaming because they can't find their husband? How do you deal with those kinds of problems as they come in?

"They help with organization because there'll be so much confusion when something happens — where do (people) need to turn, what are they going to do, how are they going to get helped? By this training, you can be there to help these people and know how to get them started on a positive path."

Long said she and Haas became interested in disaster preparedness after attending a workshop hosted by Callaway Community Organizations Active in Disaster (COAD), a faith-based organization that serves the community, on the heels of the 2011 Joplin tornado.

Since then, Haas and Long hosted a community meeting addressing Millersburg's preparedness that was attended by more than 60 people, got members from both churches certified to handle food in a disaster and saw the Red Cross approve the Lions Club for emergency sheltering.

Haas said anyone interested in helping prepare Millersburg for a disaster was still welcome to attend the training session, and that Iman had extended an invitation to other people in the state as well.

"There's some people who think 'oh we'll just dial 911 or the National Guard will come in,' neither of which is true," Haas said. "So we're trying to get past the misinformation, and say this is what you've got to have in place to deal with people coming in, needing shelter, food, to communicate with loved ones."

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