Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Children's Disaster Services gears up for California fire response.

Fueled by dry brush and the relentless Santa Ana winds, as many as 22 wildfires have been raging for days in seven southern California counties, some of which are affecting urban areas. Close to 900,000 people have been evacuated, and the American Red Cross (ARC) has opened innumerable shelters.

A Rapid Response Team of volunteers from Children’s Disaster Services--a ministry of the Church of the Brethren General Board--are already at work in one of the shelters housing evacuees. The team of a handful of volunteers is coordinated by Sharon Gilbert, and is working in cooperation with local disaster relief agencies and authorities, said Roy Winter, director of Brethren Disaster Ministries.

Children’s Disaster Services is preparing to open up child care centers in ARC shelters as early as Thursday morning. Shelter sites may be anywhere from Ventura County south to the Mexican border.

The Rapid Response Team model enables volunteers to respond quickly to local disasters. Representatives are in the field actively assessing the situation and deciding where responses are most needed, and how volunteers can safely travel and stay out of harm’s way. "This rapid response team is what we hope to replicate throughout the country," Winter said. "It creates a first line of volunteers who are ready to respond. Once the response grows, we can send in additional volunteers from other states."

The situation in southern California "is more than we will be able to staff (with California volunteers) so the plan is to extend our reach as much as possible," said Judy Bezon, associate director of Children’s Disaster Services. "We will staff each center with less than a full team of certified child care workers. They would then work with and supervise local volunteers after presenting a brief orientation on the essential elements of our program."

Bezon has asked all Children’s Disaster Services regional coordinators to determine which of their volunteers would be most appropriate for this response.

San Diego Church of the Brethren is perhaps the closest Brethren congregation to the fires. It is located about three miles from the inner city of San Diego and about 25 miles away from the nearest line of fires north or south, said pastor Sara Haldeman-Scarr, contacted by phone today. The church has mostly been affected by smoke, she said. Several families in the church have been on evacuation alert, with two or three "packed and awaiting evacuation orders," she said.

Some members of San Diego Church of the Brethren are volunteering at Qualcomm Stadium, Haldeman-Scarr said. The stadium is serving as a shelter for more than 12,000 people. Church members are registered nurses and licensed practitioners, and are helping to offer medical services to evacuees.

The church is assessing how best to be helpful to the community, the pastor said, as well as doing a lot of communication with its 80-some members by telephone. Today, she said, she and her assistant "might just be calling every member of the congregation, and just touch base."

Pacific Southwest District disaster coordinator Everett Deidiker, who was contacted by telephone today, anticipates that Brethren from the district will help with clean up following the fires. "It is such chaos right now that we can’t do anything" at the moment, he said. "Often the organized work follows. The clean up part of it is probably where we would start."

For more about Children’s Disaster Services, go to

Source: 10/24/2007 Newsline Special Report

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