Local Bay Area volunteers prepare to help South

SAN JOSE, Calif.

John Mearns has a lot to do before leaving for Mississippi.

"This will be my 16th time going out to national disasters," said Mearns.

Soon the retired software engineer will be in the middle of the disaster zone as a Red Cross volunteer. He'll need to set up a communications system.

"Building up the networks, configuring the computers, deploying all of the necessary support equipment," said Mearns.

A total of 12 Red Cross volunteers from the Bay Area will leave for the disaster zone in the next 24 hours. Several dozen more are already on stand-by, which means they could be deployed at a moment's notice.

Maintaining correct staffing levels is key. It's a lesson the Red Cross learned after Hurricane Katrina.

"I think we have a better handle on what resources are needed," said Cynthia Shaw from the Silicon Valley Red Cross. "Do we need shelter workers? People that do feeding? People that do mental health? People that do technology? So we have a better sense of what kind of staffing to send out there."

"There's a lot of things they're going to need before they can even get to the recovery phase," said Menlo Park Fire Chief Harold Schapelhouman.

Specialized staff, like California's search and rescue teams, have been contacted as part of the organizing effort. They haven't been called to duty, yet.

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