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Red Cross training volunteers to help after weather disasters

Severe weather season began in early March and lasts until September, and it brings the potential for dangerous storms or even tornadoes to mid-Missouri.

State and federal leaders are working to improve their responses to disaster situations that result from dangerous weather so the American Red Cross is hosting a summit in Columbia this week on strengthening relationships and cooperation between organizations in disaster situations.

The summit is at the Stoney Creek Inn Conference Center on Providence Road.

Organizations from across the state are gathering at the summit, including Catholic Charities, UnitedWay, The Salvation Army and the Department of Social Services.

The summit began with remarks from Gov. Jay Nixon.

“The bottom line is we need to be prepared in a state like Missouri that gets all kinds of weather: ice storms, floods, snowstorms, tornadoes. We need to be prepared,” Nixon said. “That’s why training like this is the best way to be prepared for what comes our way.”

The Red Cross says the goal of the summit is to bring together community partners from across Missouri to build, strengthen, and define relationships between response organizations before the next disaster.

The agencies and volunteers that came together in Columbia were part of relief efforts that helped Missouri communities in the aftermath of serious floods in 2015 that wiped out roads and displaced thousands of people.

While leaders believe the response worked well then, they think there’s always an opportunity to improve communication.

“The breakout sessions that we have enable us to really listen to what other agencies are saying and better communicate with them and each other,” said David Griffith, executive director of the Red Cross.

The sessions Wednesday focused on a multi-agency resource center or MARC simulation, where volunteers assumed the role of disaster survivors in order to better understand how to work with them after a disaster and to figure out what resources are available to them as well.

It’s meant to be a one-stop shop for survivors to get all the resources they need in one place, including psychological help as well.

“The folks that have lost everything they have are in a place they’ve never been before, facing the darkest hour that they have,” Griffith said. “For us to be able to recognize that and to be able to provide them with the mental health services they need could begin that road to recovery.”

Griffith said this is the first time he remembers actually have a summit to get all the organizations together in one room to get them all on the same page about the MARC process.

He said that would allow the volunteers to let survivors know immediately where to go if they need help.

“When [the survivors] walked out of there they had hope,” he said. “They knew that something good was going to happen later on. It may not be right now but there are resources available to them.”

On Thursday, the organizations will learn how to get to know the community before the disaster hits and that way survivors know who they can turn to right away.

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