As the East Coast's biggest hurricane in 100 years spun towards Montgomery County, county officials and representatives from American Red Cross prepared to transform White Oak Community Recreation Center into a shelter.
Eileen Bennett, who works for Montgomery County government as an ombudsman for long-term care facilities on most days, stood outside of the center anticipating the needs of county residents.
The center, at 1700 April Lane in Silver Spring, is one of three county facilities that will operate as hurricane shelters. White Oak, along with Activity Center at Bohrer Park in Gaithersburg and Mid-County Community Center in Silver Spring, opened Monday at noon.
Bennett said the county plans to staff the centers until noon on Thursday, Nov. 1, although they will "constantly reassess" needs and may amend those plans.
Providing cots, blankets, meals and services from mental health specialists, nurses and social workers is a joint effort between the Red Cross and Montgomery County, Bennett said.
"It is under the lead of American Red Cross because they are the ones that take over when it’s a declared disaster," she explained.
Materials provided by Red Cross are ready to go when they arrive—used cots are broken down, sanitized, re-washed and re-packed before heading to their next destination, same with blankets. Pillows are not provided and residents seeking shelter are encouraged to bring their own.
Bennett and her team are then tasked with the logististics of running a shelter that might accommodate 200 or so people at a time. Besides setting up distinct sleeping areas—there's one for families, one for seniors and one each for men and women—there's a medical station, a registration desk and an area for pets to assemble.
The White Oak shelter will be the first and only county facility to accept pets in addition to people. That portion of the shelter is under the care of the county's animal control department, which is prepared to accept small household pets of all sorts in addition to dogs and cats—as long as they're a species residents are legaly allowed to keep as pets, Bennett said.
"Animals and their owners will certainly be encouraged to have time with each other and not have a real barrier as such, but animals will be kept separate from the people," she explained.
For anyone headed to a shelter, the county urges that you bring prescriptions, important phone numbers and pillows.
Call 311 or 240-777-0311 from a cell phone for questions about county government services during the storm. Information is available online at www.MC311.com.