Emergency shelter exercise prepares for the real thing

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RENO, Nev. (KOLO) It could be an earthquake, a severe storm or a wildfire. Disasters happen and when they do, they often drive people out of their homes. Their only refuge may be a Red Cross emergency shelter.

And to make sure that shelter is ready to go in an emergency, everyone involved needs to practice. That's what they did Thursday morning at two local schools.

The scenario was a fictitious 3,000-acre wildfire in Washoe Valley forcing the evacuation of 300 homes. Those who were around in 2012 won't have stretch their imagination much. They can just remember the Washoe Drive Fire. It burned homes, forcing the evacuation of whole neighborhoods of people, pets and livestock.

That's just the kind of emergency this exercise was meant to prepare for. The scenario was fictitious; the purpose was real.

"It's important for us to be able to help people," says Zanny Marsh, Executive Director of the Red Cross of Northern Nevada, "and to know that we can give them shelter, we can feed hem and together as a community we can work together."

The exercise was coordinated by the Red Cross as it would be in a real emergency, but it involved a number of agencies and volunteers, each filling the role it would be needed for during the real thing.

To keep track of the flow of people in and out of the shelter, they were registered. First aid was offered. A dormitory was set up. Amateur radio operators, a welcome addition to many emergency responses, were on hand.

Marsh says the public was invited to take part as well.

"The way the exercises work best is when you put us to the test. We've got signs up to tell you where to go, where the shelters are going to be. We just hope everybody takes advantage of this and goes through the paces with the rest of us."

And that provided an opportunity to remind them and the rest of us that we too should be prepared.

"What we really want people to do is to pack a go bag and that means anything you would need to sustain yourself for the first few days of an emergency or disaster."

And take it with you to the shelter.