Simulating disaster: Red Cross prepares for landslide drill at UAS, seeks volunteers

In the early hours of Aug. 18, heavy rainfall and wind loosened the earth above a small neighborhood at the base of Harbor Mountain in Sitka. By late morning the unstable ground gave way, and several landslides tore down the mountain in a matter of seconds. All told, the landslides killed three men, destroyed at least one house entirely and caused several families to evacuate their homes.

It was Andrew Bogar’s second day on the job as a disaster response specialist for the American Red Cross in Southeast Alaska. He was tasked with setting up a shelter for those displaced by the slides. Now, five months later, Bogar is once again preparing to set up a shelter for landslide victims. This time, though, the people using the shelter will be actors, and the landslide, imaginary.

This Saturday, starting at 9 a.m. in the University of Alaska Southeast Joint Use Facility, the Red Cross will be hosting a “sheltering exercise” following a mock landslide to determine how prepared Juneau is for a disaster similar to the Sitka slides. The landslide in this case will not be real, but Bogar said the experience the volunteers take away from the event certainly will be.

“This will help engage as many volunteers as possible,” Bogar said. “It’s really kind of a chance to put a finger on the pulse of our organization to see where we stand.”

Come Saturday morning, about half of Bogar’s 30 Juneau-based volunteers — perhaps more depending if more show up at the last minute — will set up a shelter as if they had just received a disaster call. The event is open to the public and will function both as a drill for volunteers and an “open house” for any community members who are interested in stopping by.

Bogar is relying on community members to play the role of people affected by the mock disaster. “The more realistic we make it, the better it will be for our volunteers,” he said.

Though the event will last most of the day (there’s no set end time), Bogar said that community members are free to stop by at any point and don’t need to stay longer than an hour if they don’t want to. Attendees will be free to participate as actors, but they will also be free simply to observe the exercise if they want.

“It’s really important that we engage everybody in the community to the lowest level possible — Capitol to cul-de-sac,” Bogar said. “A disaster isn’t going to RSVP.”

Bogar and his team will be serve participants breakfast, including Heritage coffee, and lunch during the exercise.

As far as Bogar know, this will be the first such exercise held in Juneau “in a long time,” but he’s looking to change that. Bogar hopes to make this an annual event, and Red Cross spokesperson Beth Bennett said that Juneauites can expect that to be the case.

“Andrew is very dedicated to helping people prepare for disasters, and he’s a real go-getter,” she said. “We want to provide as much training as we can to anybody who is interested.”

Bennett, who is based in Anchorage, will be flying down to Juneau for the weekend to participate in the exercise, too.

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