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Winter weather shelter at Montana Western

UMW News Bureau

When inclement winter weather closed Interstate 15 near Dillon, Mont. twice this winter, Montana Western aided volunteers with the American Red Cross of Montana in sheltering stranded travelers at the Keltz Arena on the UMW campus. By Kaitlin Ens The cold, snowy winter in southwestern Montana and most of the United States has led to consistent dangerous road conditions and frequent road closures. When such weather closed Interstate 15 near Dillon twice this winter, the University of Montana Western aided volunteers with the American Red Cross of Montana in sheltering stranded travelers at the Keltz Arena on the UMW campus. The partnership between Montana Red Cross and the University of Montana Western has been in existence for some time. Road conditions this winter proved how valuable the partnership is; inclement weather closed large sections of Interstate 15 near Dillon on Nov. 23 and Dec. 30, 2011. The Keltz Arena is a convenient facility for Montana Red Cross to have as a winter weather shelter. In addition to having the necessary storage for shelter cots and parking for those using the shelter, Red Cross organizers say the Keltz Arena also offers a sense of calm for travelers. Lori Grannis, who directs the Montana Red Cross Community Support and Public Affairs offices, says the Keltz Arena also offers other advantages: entertainment for the kids, basketball, a large white wall to set up a DVD player to watch movies, and other natural distractions. Grannis said such amenities are all important elements to soothe and calm people displaced due to weather and can offer travelers a sense of comfort and a home away from home. During a time when people are unsure of what will happen next, normalcy means a calmer environment and less stress. The Keltz Arena helped shelter over 200 stranded travelers in November and December 2010. In both instances many of those who stayed at the shelter donated to help fund future use. While money donated just to American Red Cross rarely makes it way to Montana, money donated specifically to Montana Red Cross at either or 1-800-ARC-MONT remains in the state to be used as needed. In addition to receiving funding from donations, winter weather shelters such as the Keltz Arena are staffed by volunteers. Shelters are staffed by Disaster Action Team (DAT) volunteers. A full team of seven to 10 will start and the number will be cut back to two or fewer once the shelter is operational and people are checked in. Bernie Childers is the DAT team leader and co-chair for the DAT team in Dillon. Volunteers learn disaster protocol through classes facilitated by Childers. While it is always better to not need those skills, Dillon volunteers remain prepared to help travelers when the occasion calls for it. “People in Dillon are incredibly generous and rally around others in shelter situations,” Childers said of the community. “They offer their support and help, from volunteering with helping shelter pets traveling with families during road closures to coming down to help staff and aid in bringing refreshments. The law enforcement here are also proactive in helping guide people to the shelter during road closures and are friendly and courteous and great to work with. It's one big, cohesive team in these situations between the Montana Red Cross, the University, local businesses and law enforcement. We treasure the partnerships we've forged here.” The partnerships formed between UMW, law enforcement, and community members makes responding to situations much easier for volunteers. The busiest time for volunteers at the winter weather shelter is within the first 10 minutes of hotels being filled by stranded travelers. Childers said knowing UMW athletic director Mark Durham will always be at the Keltz Arena to turn over the facilities to Montana Red Cross volunteers is a comfort. “Montana Western provides so much more to our community through these partnership services,” Childers added. “Montana Western's response to disasters and emergencies is a huge humanitarian gift.”