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Red Cross Trains Local Disaster Managers


April 25, 2006 – Red Cross volunteers in the Virgin Islands recently completed a six-day training session to qualify as disaster managers. The training prepares them to manage all aspects of disaster coordination.
In the St. Thomas-St. John-Water Island district, 22 volunteers participated in the training. On St. Croix, 24 volunteers took part.
The training would allow Virgin Islanders who assist in disaster relief around the country to be placed in a supervisory position and organize relief efforts. The good news for the territory is that qualified local disaster managers could speed up relief effort at home in the event of a disaster.
Marla Matthew, St. Croix Red Cross disaster chair, said the training gives volunteers the managerial skills to operate and man disaster situations.
She said the training makes the islands self-sufficient by relying on local expertise. Matthew pointed out that because hurricanes form in the Caribbean and travel to the U.S. mainland, the window of opportunity in the event of a hurricane is small, so it is important to have a trained local quick-response team because of the time lapse in relocating volunteers from national chapters.
Bill Young, a St. Thomas-based Red Cross executive director, said the training was a good start to developing local leaders.
"Instead of waiting for mainland volunteers to coordinate, we are now self-sufficient," Young said, adding that in times of disaster mobilization, teams and other resources can be sent from one island to another.
The St. Croix training was conducted by Ed Robertson and Ron Speakes, two national Red Cross trainers. Robertson said that since Hurricane Katrina, the number of Red Cross volunteers has increased. He said what was needed now is people trained to manage the volunteers.
Red Cross volunteer Cenita Heywood called the training "excellent." Heywood, who has volunteered with the organization for 18 years, said the group performed mock scenarios including how to handle a situation as a site manager, including placing volunteers, opening centers, and obtaining and locating resources. "You are in charge," said Heywood. "You need to know all the policies and regulations."
Another volunteer, Kenneth Selkridge, said with the advanced training the volunteers are now capable of managing the disaster operations of a category-3 hurricane.
In April 2004, the national office determined that the St. Croix chapter would merge with the St. Thomas branch. The St. Croix branch was closed for two years prior to the change because of structural problems (See "Red Cross Re-establishing Community Ties").
Although Young said the merger between the two chapters was a wonderful thing and a good opportunity, he said the cost of simultaneous training in the Virgin Islands is costly.
Young said while stateside training would cost approximately $8,000 (including lunch and snacks), the same training costs $40,000 to $45,000 to conduct because of geographical challenges.
The training sessions, which ran from April 19 to 24, were held at Nisky Center on St. Thomas and the Red Cross center on St. Croix.


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