Volunteers needed when disaster hits

In past weeks, the Local Emergency Planning Committee (LEPC) has shared the role of law enforcement and first responders during a disaster. Today’s focus is on volunteers – people just like you.

RSVP is an active member of the LEPC. In the event of a disaster, RSVP would be called into service by Jeff Lauer, the Washington County Emergency Management Agency Director.

After the 2012 derecho, RSVP volunteers delivered bottled water to residents without electricity. In the event of a larger, more widespread disaster, RSVP volunteers would play a role they have been practicing for the past year – setting up a Volunteer Reception Center (VRC). A VRC is located in an area away from the disaster. First responders, law enforcement and other agencies will call the VRC and request volunteers. It could be for people to help clear debris, fill sandbags, answer phones or any other activity that allows the agency to provide greater assistance to those in need.

Washington County is a caring community and many residents will hear about a negative event and instinctively want to help. These well-meaning citizens are considered spontaneous volunteers.

The spontaneous volunteers would report to the VRC where RSVP volunteers would match their skills and interests with service opportunities. The spontaneous volunteer would complete an application with name, address and emergency contact information. They would be issued a special identification card and instructions as to who, when and where to report for volunteer service.

There are many benefits to the VRC system. Imagine the chaos of fifty spontaneous volunteers descending on a disaster. The volunteer identification card allows the agency to keep track of who is on the scene at all times, to know that emergency contact information for the volunteer is on file and to be assured that volunteer will be relieved on schedule.

The Washington County Health Department is in charge of disaster training for RSVP volunteers, and has hosted numerous trainings and drills. Using an adapted VRC model, volunteers assisted the Health Department with two drive-thru flu shot clinics. In addition, RSVP disaster volunteers spend time at the Health Department learning to check paperwork and making sure information is filled in correctly, so that in the event of a mass inoculation clinic, the nursing staff would be freed up to administer vaccines.

RSVP is celebrating 41 years of service in Washington County. The mission of RSVP is to match individuals 55 years and older with challenging and rewarding volunteer opportunities that serve the community. For more information about RSVP call 373-3107.