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PHCC to be a shelter
For displaced Virginians in emergencies

Sunday, June 30, 2013

By SAM JACKSON - Bulletin Staff Writer

Patrick Henry Community College has been designated a state-managed emergency shelter.

PHCC Police Chief Gary Dove said the college is the first state-designated shelter on the U.S. 58 corridor between here and the East Coast. That means in the event of a hurricane, about 200 people could be housed in the college’s gym.

The facilities also are equipped for up to five people with special needs such as wheelchairs, he said.

PHCC was given the state designation because its facilities, such as the gym’s shower and locker room facilities and cafeteria and ability to store food and supplies, fit the criteria for an emergency shelter, he said.

On Friday, state and local workers gathered for a training seminar at PHCC’s Stone Hall to discuss how various organizations and workers would respond if the campus became a shelter and how emergency operations would be run in the case of a situation in which people were displaced from their homes.

The training, Dove said, was to “prepare for and get our readiness up in case of an emergency.” He added that managing manpower and supplies are the biggest challenges.

“You have to have cots (and) blankets all the way down to food,” he said. “And when you’re feeding people for up to a week or more, you’ve got to have a place to put it.”

About 75 people from organizations such as the Henry County Department of Public Safety, state Department of Social Services (DSS), Virginia Defense Force, state Department of Health, Virginia State Police and Memorial Hospital in Martinsville were in attendance.

Michelle Pope of the DSS led the discussion at the seminar, and instructed the emergency workers on how they would be contacted and mobilized in the event of an emergency as well as how they should respond.

“When you get an alert, it will have instructions” on where to go, she told the group. “You have to read it and know what to do.”

It is crucial for all emergency personnel to respond to “situation statements” immediately, especially to let state coordinators know their workers themselves are safe, she added.

Shelter workers typically will pull 12-hour shifts, from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. and vice versa, Pope said.

Trisha Snead of the DSS also advised those present to remain ready to be deployed in the case of an emergency. They cannot make excuses, such as a lack of available child care, she said, adding, “you’ve got to make a plan” for such situations.

Friday’s meeting was the first to be held at PHCC, Dove said. He hopes to make it an annual event.

However, “when you deal with this many state agencies, you have to take into account their calendars,” he said.

Dove, who also is PHCC’s emergency planner, said he also coordinates efforts with local volunteers and health workers to keep PHCC ready in the case of a local emergency that would not be managed by the state but still might require the use of PHCC’s facilities.

“I always ask ‘what if,’” he said, envisioning the worst-case scenario, and “then hope and pray it never comes.”


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