Do you know what happens in a disaster? The good news is that Americans respond by volunteering. They rush to the site of the disaster - ready willing and able to help in any way they can. Unfortunately, that's the bad news, too.
Emergency managers refer to the influx of unaffiliated volunteers as a "disaster within a disaster."
In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, first responders were inundated with spontaneous volunteers. Local police, fire and emergency personnel were busy ensuring the safety of their residents, and did not have time to manage the large numbers of volunteers who came to help. Emergency responders found that they needed a system to screen, assess and utilize the volunteers.
Planning for disasters is on the mind of Jeff Lauer, director of Washington County EMA and Betty King, Southeast Ohio Regional Public Health coordinator for Washington County Health Department. The first of several workshops planned to help better prepare Washington County for disaster will take place on Saturday, April 27, from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. at the Marietta Township Recreation Center (old Reno School) at 260 Sandhill Road and is open to everyone over age 18.
The training, offered by the Washington County Health Department, will teach residents how to set up and run a Volunteer Reception Center (VRC). Once trained, the VRC staff will work on two fronts during a disaster. The first will be to process spontaneous volunteers and to assess their skills and abilities. The second will be to work with local emergency and law enforcement agencies to find out what resources are needed and refer volunteers to meet specific requests.
Some VRC staff positions to be filled include greeters, runners, interviewers, data coordinators, credentials/ID checkers, safety briefers, phone bank volunteers, and oath and waiver administrators. The training will give volunteers an opportunity to actually perform several positions of interest to find their best fit. Quarterly VRC drills will refresh and expand on disaster response capabilities.
During a disaster, spontaneous volunteers will arrive at the VRC, making their way through stations manned by VRC staff volunteers. Greeters will meet people at the door and assist with registration. Once registration is completed, the volunteer will meet with the interviewer who will review their application and clarify the volunteers' skills and experience. If the volunteer has special credentials, those will be recorded and checked. Volunteers will be matched with agencies requesting assistance. The Data Coordinator will keep track of volunteer referrals made and follow up with agencies. The safety briefer will let volunteers know what to expect at their job site and how to be safe while volunteering. The last step is for the volunteer to sign an Informed Consent, Waiver and Release agreement and the Oath. Phone bank volunteers take calls for assistance requests and runners deliver the new requests to the interviewers. The VRC provides a safe, orderly method for deploying volunteers.
Students over 18 are encouraged to attend, especially those in the nursing, law enforcement and construction fields.
Instructors from Hands On Central Ohio, Stephanie Andrian, vice president of Information and Disaster Services, and Shaddy Swade, Disaster Preparedness coordinator will lead the workshop.
Future trainings include Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) and Emergency Operations Center (EOC) support, which will be offered by Washington County EMA Director, Jeff Lauer, in the new EOC scheduled to be completed in June.
For more information or to register for VRC training, call Lisa Valentine, 373-3107 at the RSVP office. This volunteer training is open to all residents 18 years and older.
Lisa Valentine is director of the Retired Senior Volunteer Program (RSVP) of Washington County, 333 Fourth St., Marietta. She can be reached at 373-3107 for more information on any of the informational sessions or about RSVP.