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Emergency shelter at Napa Valley College

The scene outside Napa Valley College's evacuation center after most of Calistoga had been evacuated during the Tubbs Fire in October 2017.

When the next major natural disaster menaces the Napa Valley, county emergency officials will be able to turn to the local college as a refuge for evacuees.

A five-year agreement between the county and Napa Valley College, ratified by the college’s board of trustees Thursday night, designates the school’s main campus on the Napa-Vallejo Highway as an emergency shelter and care center.

Upon an emergency declaration by the county, its Office of Emergency Services will have free access to NVC’s gymnasium and campus parking lot.

The deal, which runs through June 2024 and can be renewed annually, formalizes the role of the two-year college in providing beds, food and other aid to those driven from their homes by a major disaster – a role in which NVC hosted hundreds of people forced to flee the Napa Valley wildfires in October 2017.

Under the agreement, Napa County will activate the campus as a shelter on the request either of OES or the county’s Emergency Operations Center.

Once an emergency is declared, county staff will survey the grounds with college staff to decide which areas should be used, and shelter workers would gain 24-hour access to the NVC gym and its attached bathrooms as well as the parking area, part of which would be set aside to shelter small animals.

County and college are to cooperate on signage to guide evacuees, staff and helpers to the shelter, as well as on news releases and publicity. Each agency may use the other’s name and logo to promote use of the shelter.

One clause in the agreement was a sticking point to trustee Elizabeth Goff, who questioned why its terms require the county only to “assist in seeking reimbursement” for NVC for any on-campus damage, rather than the county itself committing to making the college whole.

“They’re putting us in a position where if we don’t open the shelter, we look selfish,” she said before the vote. “If we open the shelter and, God forbid, someone burns down half the college …”

NVC was the largest of four evacuation centers to emerge – others opened at two Napa churches and American Canyon High School – shortly after four major wildfires erupted on the night of Oct. 8, 2017. More than 680 people found their way to the Napa campus, including many fleeing Calistoga ahead of the Tubbs Fire, which forced the evacuation of the Upvalley city.

The campus became a clearinghouse for supplies like bottled water, bedding, clothing and toiletries, with the goods stored not only in the gym but at the racquetball courts, coaches’ offices and a yoga room. As Calistoga and other communities were reopened with the containment of the fires, more supplies were packaged into “go-boxes” that shelter volunteers passed to evacuees as they left NVC.

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City of Napa/Town of Yountville Reporter

Howard Yune covers the city of Napa and the town of Yountville. He has been a reporter and photographer for the Register since 2011, and previously wrote for the Marysville Appeal-Democrat, Anaheim Bulletin and Coos Bay (Oregon) World.