PORT TOWNSEND — During and after disasters such as an earthquake, wildfire or severe storm, the American Red Cross will open Jefferson County’s community centers to provide relief services to residents.
The Jefferson County commissioners unanimously agreed Monday to enter into a facilities-use agreement with the Red Cross to use the Brinnon, Chimacum Tri-Area, Gardiner, Port Townsend and Quilcene community centers in an emergency as disaster shelters.
The use will be free of charge although the agreement calls for the Red Cross to reimburse the county for certain reasonable expenses if incurred. This applies to costs that normally would not have been incurred but for the use by the Red Cross, including water, gas, electricity and waste disposal.
Before a facility is turned over to the Red Cross, it will undergo an inspection to document any damage that might have occurred due to a disaster to make sure it is safe to occupy.
The centers are in Brinnon at 306144 U.S. Highway 101, in Chimacum at 10 West Valley Road, in Gardiner at 980 Old Gardiner Road, in Port Townsend at 620 Tyler St. and in Quilcene at 294952 Highway 101.
Kitsap/Olympic Peninsula Red Cross Disaster Program Manager Stephen Finley said local agreements help build a national shelter system.
Finley said he works with Kitsap, Jefferson and Clallam counties to create opportunities that also include churches and schools. He said all must be Americans with Disabilities Act-compliant and include a kitchen facility and showers.
Finley said that if there is a disaster, the most important thing to do is be prepared.
“If there is an emergency, the first thing to do is shelter in place,” he said.
“It’s important to have supplies like a first aid kit at the ready. Then, even more importantly, we’ll open shelters for people in need. If they have their ‘go kits’ with medications and important information, it makes the evacuation experience less dramatic.
“It’s mitigation of personal preparedness. That’s the easy lift they can do.”
Finley said the risk of wildfires in Western Washington is high this year and that is a focus for all emergency management services. He suggested people get ready for such an event and be prepared for smoke settling into communities like last summer’s events on the Olympic Peninsula and British Columbia.
Jefferson County Department of Emergency Management Director Willie Bence said that the Red Cross works with him and his staff to coordinate response.
“Disaster sheltering is their core responsibility,” Bence said. “We are ultimately responsible, working with them in close contact, selecting a site that’s appropriate.”
Bence said there are a total of 22 locations throughout the county that can be used for shelters including the community centers.
“We’ll never be fully prepared for a disaster,” Bence said. “Our biggest threat is an earthquake. But every year there are wildfires, bridge closures and power outages that require our attention.
“This year, people in the county might not be directly affected by wildfires. But older people and those with asthma and other medical issues should be preparing to deal with diminished air quality.”
Bence said his department is encouraging people to get prepared by reading emergency information and connecting with neighborhood groups. The Red Cross is holding volunteer meetings and training.
Finley said if people want to help out in their communities they can visit www.redcross.org and sign up for Red Cross training and certification classes.
The Jefferson County Department of Emergency Management has several programs for disaster mitigation, preparedness, response and recovery. More information can be found at tinyurl.com/PDN-Resources.
Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) program training provides citizens with tools to help bridge the gap between the time an event occurs and when first responders are able to get to their location. Basic disaster response skills include fire safety, light search and rescue, team organization, and disaster medical operations. For more information email [email protected].
The Peninsula Daily News also publishes a Peninsula Emergency Preparedness Guide in print and online, and it is available at tinyurl.com/PDN-PrepGuide.
Jefferson County Reporter Jeannie McMacken can be reached at 360-385-2335 or at [email protected].