By the time this hits the newsstands/email inboxes for The Observer [Laytonville] readers, it will be three weeks to the day my husband Roland Spence and myself sacrificed 36 hours of our lives to operate an “emergency shelter” on our own in Laytonville, during one of the worst snow storms our area has seen in decades. It took almost 3 weeks for a member of the County to contact me for a follow-up conversation and to offer additional resources/pledges of future support. They also offered an apology as there was a sense that things could have gone better, but didn’t, and the county is offering resources to our area and those most impacted by the recent snow event.
I figured it would happen sooner than later, but now we’re being made to be scapegoats in what I’m calling a Protocol Pissing Contest. In a Facebook post by Mendocino County Supervisor Ted Williams, he writes in a comment to one of his page followers “The county does not open warming centers, only evacuation centers. The trailer has supplies for declared evacuations. Nonprofits run warming centers and are suppose (sic) to be able to maintain for 72 hours. Protocol allows local fire departments to request evacuation from County’s Office of Emergency Services. This did not happen. Rather, at 8:30 p.m., a request came, with roads already closed, not from the fire department, to open the container for supplies.”
Funny this statement comes from a Supervisor who doesn’t represent our district, and I don’t know who Supervisor Williams spoke to, but it wasn’t with me or the local fire department who was on the ground requesting assistance before and after “8:30 p.m. with roads already closed.” Should we have waited before roads were closed to predict that people (some with medical conditions) would be stranded in Laytonville for the next 2 days? Or should we have waited 24 hours once Highway 101 re-opened to south-bound traffic to make a call requesting assistance?
Let’s join the pissing contest, shall we?
Fact: I was called by Sue Carberry at about 6:15 p.m. on Thursday, February 23 after Highway 101 had been closed in both directions due to hazardous road conditions, traffic accidents, and further north in the Leggett area, trees and power lines down across the highway. Several inches of snow had already accumulated on local roads and highway. Sue is the retired Laytonville Fire Department Chief, but she is also a current EMT and was acting as incident command for Laytonville Fire Department while the Fire Chief and other department personnel were on the ground assisting with traffic control due to the highway closure as well as responding to accidents and medical calls that night. The acting Fire Chief requested Sue make contact with our organization to set up an emergency shelter because of all the stranded travelers in Laytonville. The fire department relayed information to the Chevron station as well as local radio station KMUD after Roland and I agreed to open the “shelter” at Laytonville Healthy Start. The fire department was encouraging stranded motorist to go to our office to get out of the snow storm. If you read last week’s Observer, you may have read a letter from one of the stranded travelers who relayed that they found out about the “shelter” because a member of the fire department confirmed via a call back after she had heard information at Gravier’s Chevron that we had opened up as a shelter.
Fact: In her role as incident command and a member of the Laytonville Fire Department, Sue began reaching out to county personnel to let them know about our situation. She also passed along phone numbers to me and gave who she was speaking to my number. The first call I made was to the Office of Emergency Services rep. I was asked by this person who I was and why we had opened our doors. I let him know the local fire department made the request and that I currently had about 15 people in my office and I was requesting to access the trailer that was sitting outside my office. I let him know that I was worried more people would show up and I was hoping to access the supplies inside the trailer. I was told “We will continue to monitor the situation and call you back” I didn’t receive a call granting us access to the emergency trailer supplies until about 9 a.m. the following morning, Friday, February 24th.
I have a few problems; one is with Supervisor Williams’ insulting comments about our situation. Here we go back to that damn rulebook. Rather than Roland and myself and the volunteers who helped us in our situation get some praise, or heaven forbid an official apology for not stepping up Thursday night when we needed it the most, we are made to look like idiots because in a bureaucrat’s mind protocol or chain of command wasn’t respected nor followed. This is a slap in the face.
Instead I guess we were supposed to stand-by with our 15+ guests in the middle of a horrible snow storm after 9 p.m. with Highway 101 shut in both directions and await while Bureaucratic Phone Tag was played. A request to gain access to a trailer already parked at my site, stocked with all the basic supplies to offer some people comfort wasn’t granted permission until the next day. Question: would it have cost the county money to allow us permission Thursday night to access the trailer? What was the difference in granting access 12 + hours later? Did they want us to prove that people were actually in need of a place to sleep? To make people more appreciative after they slept on my office floor to receive a cot and a blanket the next day?
I have never heard from any County official that it is the non-profit’s duty to open a ”warming center” and be ready to keep it open for 72 hours. My site staff were trained on emergency shelter management through the Red Cross after we signed an agreement with the County being designated an emergency shelter site. I was told that in the event of an emergency, we may be called upon to open our doors and handle things until the county could send a shelter team or Red Cross could respond.
When Sue and I spoke to the various officials we spoke to, neither one of us used the term “warming center.” We specifically said shelter and we were looking to access the emergency shelter supplies trailer to help people who were stranded in our community. Because it was already late into the evening, even if Highway 101 were to miraculously open up in the middle of one of the worst snow storms, I doubt any of our guests would have opted to drive off into the dark and snowy night in hazardous road conditions.
If someone coordinating emergency response thought that was an option in an area of the county with limited resource and first responders already stretched thin to send people out into the storm, I don’t even want to think about that outcome. The people occupying my office were safe and sound and out of the storm- isn’t that the ideal place in such a situation?
A former colleague, retired from the County, let us know that Social Services is mandated by law to open emergency/disaster trailers in the county. This person, familiar with protocol because they helped establish disaster trailers to the outlying areas, wrote to me and my dad, Jim Shields, after my article appeared, “This was a well-coordinated system, clearly laid out with all concerned, so everyone was empowered to do what was needed for the safety of the public. It is apparent that now, that system, those policies, those close, well-established connections to the communities no longer exist.”
The experience of 36 hours of running a shelter on our own and the insulting response from Supervisor Williams further solidifies for me a lesson learned that in the event of the next disaster (not a matter of if but when), our community needs to be prepared to handle things on our own.
Thanks to the generosity of the people near and far who read my article “We Ran an Emergency Shelter and All We Got Was This Lousy Pile of Laundry” or heard/saw us on the news, we are getting closer to gathering the basic supplies we need in the event we have to open our doors in the next emergency/non-emergency/non-disaster/disaster. We have been offered additional training by a volunteer disaster response group. People have come forward and pledged to help volunteer in the next event. I am looking at establishing formal agreements with local partners so we can call on each other to respond and utilize existing resources within our own community.
Walking away from this experience, I am grateful that Sue and the Fire Department made a call that night that I believe saved a few lives. I am thankful to my husband Rolo who burst into action, welcomed our guests in for 2 nights and even played the card game Apples to Apples with those sheltering. I appreciate those who stepped forward and brought food, supplies and came by to lend moral support and give us a pat on the back when we needed it most. The outpouring of kind words, donations and “Atta boy” and “Atta girl” are further proof that we stepped up and did the right thing during a time when I wish we would have been taken seriously and treated as though our situation was important that Thursday night and extending a simple blessing of “go ahead and get into that trailer”.
I believe we did what we do best in Laytonville: we see a problem or a need and we put our heads together, pool resources and make it happen.
To learn more about our efforts or to assist us in establishing basic supplies for our “Laytonville Emergency Shelter” donations can be made to: Harwood Memorial Park-FRC with “Shelter” in memo line, PO Box 1382, Laytonville, CA 95454
Donations can also be made via the Healthy Start website at Laytonville.org/healthystart and select “Donate” under Ways to Help. I have also established an Amazon Wishlist that I’m happy to share, just shoot me an email.
I would like to express a heartfelt appreciation to those who have donated to our cause. Your kind words of encouragement and praise mean so much to us.
For more information, feel free to contact me at (707) 984-8089 or firstname.lastname@example.org
There was some initial hope for a change when Williams was first elected, but that has evaporated. Another obfuscating bureaucrat. All he needs now is a support animal.
There is another significant storm coming tomorrow.
In spite of the BS you got for your great efforts last time, I’ll bet you are ready to do it again.