Hurricanes, wildfires, thunderstorms and certainly tornadoes are all common occurrences across the state of Texas.

That’s why it’s imperative that the American Red Cross, an organization responsible for bringing comfort to Mother Nature’s victims, is as prepared as possible in advance of any unexpected event.

For the first-time ever, occurring from the Rio Grande to the Red River, 23 Red Cross chapters will join forces on Feb. 26 and simultaneously test their ability to respond to a simulated devastating tornado outbreak.

The role of the more than 600 disaster assessment volunteers will be to determine the types of residential damage caused by the mock tornado outbreak.

Throughout the statewide exercise, volunteers will approach specific pre-selected neighborhoods.

On stakes that will be inserted into the ground, the volunteer will have a visual image of a home that has been impacted. They will have to determine the type of damage and then relay that information back to Red Cross and to FEMA Region VI officials. This step is the catalyst to all Red Cross services.

“It’s critical that we have an accurate assessment of impacted homes as quickly as possible,” said Shelly Campbell, branch manager, Ellis County. “That step tells us how many meals need to be prepared, how many volunteers need to be activated, how many shovels and rakes we need to have on hand and so much more. It drives the entire Red Cross response.”      

In the Ellis County area, the Red Cross has partnered with Ellis County RACES/ARES ham radio club to get the best results with limited communications.

Volunteers will report to Midlothian at 8:15 a.m. on Feb. 26, participate in a briefing and then hit the neighborhoods by 9:30 a.m. The drill is expected to last until noon, followed by an after-action review until 2 p.m.        

“Without question, this drill will help the Red Cross be better prepared for future disasters,” Campbell said. “We saw with Tropical Storm Hermine last year that disasters can and do affect the entire state. The more we train through exercises like this one, the more we can help our neighbors when they truly need us.     

“If you’re interested in becoming a trained Red Cross volunteer, please know it’s not too late,” Campbell said. “We have a disaster assessment course coming up so come down and join our team. It will be the best job you never got paid to do.”    

For information on becoming a trained Red Cross volunteer, go to Iwww.redcrossdallas.org or call 903-874-4551. Follow the drill in real-time via @RedCrossDRILL on Twitter.