The American Red Cross-Central Coast Region, encompassing Santa Barbara, Ventura and San Luis Obispo counties, is readying volunteers to be deployed to assist with the emergency preparation and response for Hurricane Irene.

“As we are potentially facing a very major event with Irene,” said Paul Deis, director of emergency services for the Central Coast Region. “We will need tens of thousands of trained Red Cross volunteers over the course of this response to meet the needs of those requiring assistance.”

Dean Phaneuf, emergency services manager for the region, added: “From our local communities, we have more than 20 Red Cross-trained volunteers ready to leave within 24 hours to assist. Volunteers throughout Santa Barbara, Ventura and San Luis Obispo are letting us know if they can lend a hand for up to two weeks with the emergency.”

Marion Cozort and Pat Burkard, both registered nurses and experienced Red Cross volunteers, were in the Red Cross office Friday making preparations to deploy.

“I receive more from my deployment than I give,” said Burkard, who has been a volunteer with the Red Cross for more than four years and has been a volunteer on at least four emergencies, including recently in Joplin, Mo. “The Red Cross has very effective health services and mental health services, and I know I am really helping people when I volunteer.”

In volunteering for the past eight years, Cozort has found that she likes to be on the front lines.

“I was evacuated during a local fire and realized I wasn’t as prepared as I could have been,” she said. “That led to the Red Cross, and I have been volunteering ever since.

“The Red Cross has a really good reputation. When people are in a disaster, they need a lot of guidance and support — to find their medicines, glasses, teeth. I like to be there to help them with their medical needs.”

Hurricane Irene is expected to make landfall along the East Coast on Saturday with winds gusting as high as 150 mph, and the Red Cross is getting ready for a full response by preparing shelters for evacuees, pre-positioning numerous emergency response vehicles and disaster supplies, and mobilizing disaster workers to parts of the country expected to see impact from this large storm.

“This storm is getting stronger as it moves toward the East Coast, and people who live in or are vacationing in areas that could see its impact need to get ready now,” said Charley Shimanski, senior vice president of disaster services for the national American Red Cross. “We urge them to take the threat of Irene seriously and finalize their hurricane preparations and get their emergency kits ready.”

Red Cross workers in countries in the Caribbean are already responding to Hurricane Irene. In Haiti, where many victims of last year’s earthquake are still living in camps, disaster preparedness activities have been ongoing for months. Ahead of the storm, camp committees were notified and emergency response teams put on alert. The Dominican Republic Red Cross evacuated residents ahead of the storm and provided emergency shelters for those affected. The Bahamas Red Cross is coordinating with the national emergency office to initiate preparedness activities. And the Turks and Caicos Red Cross has volunteers ready to assist in community shelters, as well as provide first aid.

Red Cross disaster preparedness starts long before a hurricane makes landfall, beginning with keeping supplies and equipment on standby all year. On average, it spends about $450 million on disaster relief every year. To support Red Cross disaster efforts by making a donation to American Red Cross Disaster Relief, click here, call 800.RED.CROSS or text the word REDCROSS to 90999 to make a $10 donation.

—Alicia Baker is the development coordinator for the American Red Cross-Central Coast Region.