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Pa. Red Cross volunteers train for disasters, which are increasing with climate change

A man gives a speech next to a large projector in front of a crowd.
Jeremy Long
Dean Leis, shelter lead, talks to volunteers as The American Red Cross Central Pennsylvania Chapter held a shelter simulation on Tuesday, Nov. 14, 2023, at the Mechanicsburg Brethren in Christ Church.

Red Cross volunteers are preparing to offer emergency shelter to people who might be displaced by disaster.

Disaster program manager Melinda Rosario said the most common disasters in Pennsylvania are house fires and floods. Severe storms and flooding events are expected to increase in the state as global temperatures rise.

Rosario said the changing environment means volunteers can be called up any time.

“We used to have spring flooding and fall flooding and now we just have flooding all the time,” Rosario said. “We’re in a state now where we’ve gone from acute to chronic disasters just due to our environment changing. Folks are deploying more and more.”

The American Red Cross is conducting trainings to make sure volunteers are ready to set up and run temporary shelters for people who can’t return to their homes.

In Mechanicsburg last Tuesday, volunteers with the Central Pennsylvania Chapter learned how to register clients, prepare a dormitory with tarps and cots, and how to accommodate special needs and even pets.

Organizers said the main goal is to provide calm for people as they process the recent trauma of losing their home or being displaced.

So far this year, the United States has had 25 climate-related disasters that cost more than $1 billion each, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association.

In the 1980s, such expensive weather-related disasters averaged about 3 per year.

The American Red Cross Central Pennsylvania Chapter says its volunteers responded to nearly 300 disasters and helped more than 1,200 people in 2022. Incidents range from a single house fire to multi-state natural disasters, such as a hurricane.

This story is produced in partnership with StateImpact Pennsylvania, a collaboration among WESA, The Allegheny Front, WITF and WHYY.