Picture an emergency response worker. Chances are you are thinking of someone official, like a police officer, paramedic or firefighter. But many of the people who play key roles during a disaster are people just like you who’ve stepped up and volunteered to help out. So here’s a key step for communities when planning for the worst: recruit and train good volunteers.
According to a 2008 community preparedness guide (pdf) from the Western New York Public Health Alliance Inc., volunteers should have a range of skills, including pharmacists; people who can communicate in different languages, including sign language; custodians; faith leaders; and county, school and government officials. Chances are your community can use someone with your skills as well.
Organizers should train volunteers in handling population surges, understanding how to respond to quarantine or hazardous materials situations, and calming people down. Volunteers also need to be informed of their legal rights and have emergency management training such as that offered through the Community Emergency Response Team program. Such training is often held one evening per week for seven weeks and is offered in many states, so if you want to help, check if it’s in your area.
In addition to training, volunteers need to also have the right attitude. According to the Louisiana 4-H Council volunteers need to be accepting, aware, attentive and have a positive attitude when dealing with disaster victims. If that sounds like you, then step up and make yourself known.
It’s also essential for planners to over-recruit volunteers in case some don’t show up when duty calls. Volunteers should know their town’s emergency preparedness plan and have copies of each other’s contact information.
If volunteers are properly trained and willing to help during an emergency, it can make all the difference when a crisis hits.