Team formed to provide shelter in emergencies in Murrysville
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A team of emergency volunteers were poised at their stations, ready to accept "evacuees" coming to Sloan Elementary School, the designated shelter for Murrysville's new Emergency Management Shelter Team.
Fortunately, there was no real emergency -- the group was holding a practice drill last week to prepare for an actual disaster.
"We've planned for this, but it's something you hope you never actually have to use," said Valerie Mittereder, who was surrounded by cots in the school's gym.
Mrs. Mittereder is the shelter manager for the team that falls under the umbrella of the municipality's emergency services, along with the fire, ambulance and police departments.
The new agency was established to provide shelter within the community in the event of a disaster that would cause residents to leave their home. There are six team leaders, many trained in CPR; Mrs. Mittereder is Red Cross trained.
"If there was a disruption in services or traffic or if a resident had no heat, he or she could come to the shelter instead of going to a fire hall and sitting on a chair," said Bill Yant, emergency services coordinator for Murrysville.
When residents lost power -- as many did during a severe snow storm several years ago -- there was no nearby facility that provided shelter, especially for the elderly and those with special needs.
"We found that a number of area emergency service organizations were stretched trying to help the community at large," said Dan Lawrence who directs the team and is the chaplain for the Murrysville Emergency Services Council.
There are six designated locations in Murrysville that serve as potential shelter sites, including Franklin Regional High School, Middle School and Sloan which is not on the main campus, said Dennis Majewski, director of district services for Franklin Regional.
"The high school is the logical choice because it's the largest school and already serves as a Westmoreland County Emergency Response Team and Red Cross shelter site," he said.
The shelter site is determined by its proximity to the disaster at the time of the disaster, Mr. Lawrence said. For example, if a gas leak should occur near the schools, a facility further from the campus would be used.
With a $10,000 grant from the state, the team purchased a 2-axel trailer, first aid equipment, 100 cots and personal hygiene kits. Murrysville residents Chuck and Sue Turner donated several hundred dollars to cover the cost of painting the lettering on the trailer, Mr. Yant said.
Those arriving at the shelter in a real emergency should have two to three days worth of clothing with them. Those with pets should first register them with County Animal Response Team representatives on site so than can be taken to Walker's Pet Hotail, a pet boarding facility on Route 22, Mrs. Mittereder explained.
For those who require medical attention, Jane Roberts, a retired registered nurse will assess the need at time of arrival.
"The first question we'll ask is 'did you bring your medications?' If they didn't, we are going to find some way to go back to their house to get them," she said.
The team hopes to identify residents with special needs, including those who are immobile with no transportation, so they can register with the municipality and be placed in a database. In the event of a disaster, emergency services would have their names and could check on them and if necessary bring them to the shelter.
"If you're there and we don't know you're there, we can't get to you," Mrs Mittereder said.
The shelter team currently has no budget, but if people want to donate, the municipality has set up a fund specifically for the shelter team.
"Residents of Murrysville can help neighbors in a time of need," Mr. Lawrence said.
"Getting the word out to the community is important. You want people to feel safe and know they have somewhere to go," Mrs. Mittereder said.
First Published July 19, 2012 4:57 am