Folks at the Red Cross say the organization's middle name is "prepared," and the three-day Disaster Academy held at the U.S. Olympics Training Center in Colorado Springs meant to solidify that moniker. Running from Friday to Sunday, this year's training brought together about 100 volunteers - some new, others experienced - to get the training they need to be ready for disasters or emergencies that may strike in 2014.
"We have a very strong and well-trained group of volunteers in El Paso County," said Pikes Peak Chapter disaster training lead Larry Cornett. "This is an excellent way to get everyone up to date and ready to go, on the same page."
The Waldo Canyon fire in the summer of 2012, the Black Forest fire and the massive floods at the end of last summer put the Pikes Peak region's volunteers to the test as they set up shelters for evacuees, mobilized resources and offered relief to thousands.
"The biggest shortfall we had was (the number of) instructors (in 2013), and that has been one of my major emphasis: We need more instructors," he said. "Our scope and outreach was not large enough to connect with everyone in the communities, so in a few months there will be about 20 fully trained instructors, so we can really teach the masses."
This was the first time an academy of this magnitude was held in Colorado Springs and the first time the organization partnered with the U.S. Olympic Committee, which allowed the Red Cross to use its facilities to hold the training classes, said Red Cross spokesman William Fortune.
"The facilities are amazing and our partnership with the USOC will keep growing, because they've been amazing to us," Fortune said. "Every volunteer is so excited to be training at the Olympic Training Center, not everyone gets an opportunity to do that."
Instructors from all over Colorado and as far as Wyoming traveled to Colorado Springs to offer volunteers as many classes as possible in one weekend, including introductory-level training, disaster frontline supervisor training, psychological first aid and public relations.
"We have so many volunteers and it's extremely efficient to be able to get them all together in one weekend and offer so many classes," he said. "We've gotten such positive feedback, and the volunteers are truly motivated to attend as many classes as they can."
Two Colorado Springs residents found their calling to volunteer with the Red Cross as photographers and public affairs specialists. Tess Behrends, 46, a cardiac sonographer, and 51-year-old Dale Poll, a business analyst, said their shared passion for photography during their free time turned into a tool to help their community and tell the stories of people struck by disasters and emergencies.
"It's about what the Red Cross means to all of us and how giving they are," Poll said. "They do so much with donations, and more than 95 percent of the organization is made up of volunteers."
Through their training, Behrends said, they learn that everyone has a role to play and how they fit into the relief and support efforts the Red Cross participates in.
One of the greatest challenges, she said, will be to face the emotional toll of the connections that volunteers make with disaster victims and being able to show compassion while doing their job efficiently.
Contact Andrea Sinclair at 636-0235.