Beaufort News

Red Cross offers training for local, national disasters

With hurricane season approaching and many volunteers already deployed to flood- and tornado-stricken areas, local American Red Cross officials say the need to train new volunteers is urgent.

To start the training process, the Bluffton-based Palmetto Service Center is holding orientation from 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Saturday at the Palmetto Electric Building in Ridgeland.

Chapter operations director Jim Hicks said the orientation will give volunteers all the training they need to serve in a pre- or post-emergency shelter. In an evacuation, the chapter would need to staff six shelters to accommodate about 3,000 area residents. An average shelter should hold about 500 people, Hicks said.

"We need to make sure we have the capacity to help locally and nationally," he said.

Five Red Cross volunteers from the Bluffton center have been sent to states devastated by the April 27 storms. They include Becky Barnwell, 64, a case worker stationed in Franklin County, Ala., one of the hardest-hit areas.

Barnwell, a retired S.C. Department of Social Services case worker who arrived May 6 in Franklin County, said the training she received prepared her for the worst, including the shock of seeing entire communities leveled.

"There are places where you can't see a structure standing for miles," said Barnwell, who was trained about 16 months ago. "The training teaches you how to take care of people and help them search for relatives, but it also helps you understand their trauma. We do a lot of listening."

Saturday's orientation will teach volunteers how to help their communities prepare for and respond to natural disasters and residential fires. Information about volunteer opportunities also will be offered. Participants must pass a criminal background check before they can volunteer.

"We chose to do the sheltering class because if we had a hurricane in the area, local volunteers could serve close to home," chapter spokeswoman Nancy Olson said. "Shelters are typically open for a long period of time, so it's critical for us to be able to staff them."

After completing the course, volunteers can serve locally or around the U.S., she said.