Emergency Preparedness Volunteer Opportunities

When we become involved in an emergency, it is our nature to want to help. It will of course be beneficial to have some preparation and training so that our helpful efforts can be productive and safe. Communities provide several avenues for people to join with other helpful types to jointly prepare for the time when assistance may be needed by others near us.

FEMA provides the umbrella structure for volunteer organizations through its Citizen Corps policy initiative to make our communities safer, stronger, more resiliant. All volunteer activity is initiated and organized at the local community level, via a variety of somewhat overlapping functional groups. FEMA provides some standardized training packages used by these groups. Their on-line self-study courses (quick and easy) are:

The following volunteer programs offer training in my small corner of Snohomish County WA. Some of my neighbors have received this training. These are largely adult programs with no upper age limit. Volunteers must complete an application with affidavits of a personal record clear of crime, specifically crimes against those of our citizens who are less capable of protecting and defending themselves. Confirmation background checks are performed by the State Patrol or County Sheriff.

CERT (Community Emergency Response Team)

CERT became a national initiative in 1993, evolving from a LAFD program developed in 1985. Currently it is a FEMA-sponsored initiative implemented by local communities per FEMA guidelines and standards. CERT is the ‘boots-on-the-ground’ realization of the FEMA Citizen Corps initiative. Hence there arose an apparent overlap in use of the two program names, one referring to the framework and the other to the deployment.

CERT develops a general emergency response capability by providing volunteers with 20-24 hours of training. CERT training emphasizes leadership and neighborhood organization skills, and hands-on skills in fire safety, emergency first aid, light search and rescue, communications, and disaster psychology. Other volunteer programs are available to extend specialized training in areas of medical aid, communications, and search and rescue.

Trained CERT volunteers help t0 organize and prepare neighborhoods to handle themselves in the initial 72 hours of an emergency when outside help is likely unavailable. Thus CERT volunteers and their able neighbors will be the de facto first responders in the neighborhood. Their efforts will leverage the efforts of the professional emergency responders who will eventually get into the neighborhood.

CERT facilitates the interface of volunteer first responders and the professional emergency responders who follow (fire, public safety, paramedic professionals). All professional responders operate under a heirarchical FEMA Incident Command Structure. The volunteer first responders will form the lowest rungs of this command structure in each organized neighborhood. The neighborhood units will be setup per FEMA standards and guidelines to play well with the professional levels of structure when they arrive on the scene.

MRC (Medical Reserve Corps)

MRC is a FEMA-partner program consisting of local community groups trained to help medical first-responders. MRC uses some CERT guidelines and training courses, as there is overlap in their missions.

SCVSAR (Snohomish County Volunteer Search & Rescue)

SCVSAR works cooperatively with the Snohomish County Sheriff to help people in need, from lost hikers to a mentally challenged person who wanders off. SCSVAR members leverage law enforcement when disaster recovery mission is required.

ACS (Auxiliary Communication Service)

The Amateur Radio Relay League (ARRL) has long been associated with emergency auxiliary communications through its Amateur Radio Emergency Services program (ARES). More recently, Radio Amateur Civil Emergency Services (RACES) was created to provide volunteer auxiliary communication networks to governmental agencies that need them. The rules governing who can do what to whom are complicated when dealing with interactions between these two groups, so there is now a third coordinating program, the ACS that operationally replaces RACES. ACS volunteers must have at least an FCC Amateur Radio Technician license.

VIPS (Volunteers in Police Service)

Our local police department has a volunteer program that trains citizens to assist the department in any matter not requiring the presence of a sworn officer. Citizen patrols, search for lost children, and house checks are some of the potential involvements.

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