Red Cross organizing Hill volunteers

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Michelle Aleman (left), disaster program coordinator for the American Red Cross of Orange, Riverside and San Bernardino counties, and Patricia Schnetzer, the Red Cross volunteer coordinator for Idyllwild’s Mountain Disaster Preparedness group, spoke to a large gathering of volunteers at the Idyllwild Fire Station last week.  Photo by J P Crumrine

Michelle Aleman (left), disaster program coordinator for the American Red Cross of Orange, Riverside and San Bernardino counties, and Patricia Schnetzer, the Red Cross volunteer coordinator for Idyllwild’s Mountain Disaster Preparedness group, spoke to a large gathering of volunteers at the Idyllwild Fire Station last week.
Photo by J P Crumrine

Despite the lack of an imminent emergency, several American Red Cross officials were in Idyllwild Tuesday evening, July 22. And they were very complimentary of the local residents involved in Red Cross efforts and the Mountain Disaster Preparedness group’s efforts to keep the Hill prepared for a potential disaster.

“Idyllwild is a model program,” said Debbie Leahy Graves, the Regional Disaster program officer. She shared that the district executive officer frequently mentions and points out the Idyllwild effort as a model program to other communities.

Since the initial meetings in the early fall of 2013, MDP has focused its attention on gaining a bond with the Riverside Red Cross Chapter. One of the major steps was recruiting Pat Schnetzer, a former registered nurse, to head the effort of finding and training Red Cross volunteers.

The regional Red Cross has already recognized her success. In the intervening 12 months, Schnetzer has recruited 40 volunteers to help with Red Cross events on and off the Hill.

Red Cross service is “an opportunity to help people in need,” Graves commented. “I commend all of you and the entire community for what you’ve done to bring [Idyllwild] to the next level. That’s preparedness.”

Graves and others promised a prompt Red Cross in case a catastrophe might occur on the Hill. “You might be alone for awhile, but we’re in the background ramping up to get here,” she said.

“You’re a unique group; head and shoulders above most communities in preparedness and resiliency,” said Tom Hyatt, disaster program manager for the Riverside County chapter.

Red Cross plans to hold quarterly meetings in Idyllwild. Also, both Michelle Aleman, disaster program coordinator and her boss, Hyatt, will support the Idyllwild Red Cross initiative.

“Going forward, we need more frequent training,” Schnetzer said. And Graves and Hyatt are prepared to deliver.

“We’ll focus on training and building capacity,” Hyatt promised during the meeting. “The bottom line is we’re here to support you.” One of the first training sessions will be explaining and preparing participants to use the Red Cross’s online features, especially “Volunteer Connection.” Future sessions will address access to online training capabilities, too.

One of the needs for many of the local volunteers is more training and participation in the Disaster Action Team activities. Since these teams are normally activated in response to home fires, limited opportunities are available on the Hill. In response to a question from Dr. Dick Goldberg, one of MDP’s medical coordinators, Aleman said, “There are several areas with few calls, so we can create some scenarios to produce and engage between calls so you can get together with fellow volunteers.” She also added that shelter training could be simulated, too.

On Wednesday after the session, Goldberg was very positive about the future relationship between Red Cross and MDP.

“We were very impressed and gratified that the Red Cross leadership came up here to talk to us,” he said. Then he modestly added, “The compliments were ahead of the curve in terms of preparedness. I don’t think any of us feels that way. There’s so much to do such as managing shelters and the medical aspect of disaster preparedness. But I’m gratified they will really be a presence here and are willing to help Idyllwild.”

The next Red Cross meeting for the Idyllwild volunteers is at 6:30 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 4, at the Idyllwild Fire Station. Hill residents interested in becoming Red Cross volunteers may contact Pat Schnetzer at patschnetzer@gmail.com or call her at 818-571-6079.

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