Volunteering - The Force Multiplier
The Importance of Community Volunteerism
When disaster strikes, there is one common occurrence that can be counted on. That is people showing up willing to help. In fact, insisting on helping. Too often, the professional responder community has seen these people as problems instead of assets. The fact is that volunteers can be either a huge asset to the professional responder OR a huge problem.
Most of us want to help in some way. Those of us who are trained professionals are there and working at what we do. How can we utilize those that just "want" to help? The key is TRAINING. Having untrained, unknown individuals wandering about is just dangerous. It is a danger to them, to us and to disaster victims. It is the coordinated, trained volunteer that becomes a force multiplier for the professional. There are a number of organizations that can provide volunteer guidance and training. These organizations work with the professional community so we know how to best utilize them and acknowledge them as "credentialed" volunteers. First, as a professional Emergency Manager, I encourage people in my local area to get trained. The American Red Cross is a world class organization when it comes to disaster response. They provide FREE training to their volunteers. There are few things that the non-professional can do that are as rewarding as running a disaster shelter, or helping to find a place to stay for a displaced family. And us in the firefighter and police world like to see that Red Cross truck role up to a disaster scene with hot or cold drinks, snacks and a smile. Another thing I talk about in my community is VOAD. Volunteer Organizations Active in Disaster (VOAD) is an national umbrella organization for groups that want to help in disaster response. Our local chapter has members from non-profits, faith based and community service groups. VOAD coordinates these various groups, some training is provided and each group gets an understanding of what they can and should do to help. Lastly is CERT or Community Emergency Response Team. This federally funded Citizen Corps program was started after 9-11. It provides comprehensive training to civilians that want to take a lead role in supporting disaster response. CERT programs exist in many areas of the US. To find one near you just visit http://www.citizencorps.gov/cert/. And for those of you "non-professionals" that want to feel really, really good about yourselves......go visit one of these groups and volunteer. You'll be glad you did.