Disaster Response series:
'Answering the call—Community Volunteers'
Selfless, courageous, resilient, and spontaneous are descriptors we use for local community volunteers who sign up to help tackle the human toll of widespread catastrophic disasters in their communities. Fellow citizens who give themselves to backup emergency disaster response operations when overwhelmed and needing help.
According to the World Meteorological Organization, over the last 50 years, disasters tagged as Natural have become five times more common because of climate change. We are also not forgetting the global ebbs and flows of armed conflicts, which also fits our outreach profile.
This means the need for increased emergency evacuation, search, rescue, and critical response capabilities has never been greater early in the disaster response cycle. Full stop! This is where the inevitable flock of 'community volunteers' showing up for their fellow citizens is indispensable.
The short of it is that 'normal' emergency response operations, operations set up to handle routine calls and average call volumes, often become overwhelmed by mayhem and dysfunction. Most often overpowered by the sheer magnitude of disastrous conditions. Culminating in local emergency services operating beyond capacity within the onslaught of a disaster-level event and needing help.
We finally woke up to these worldwide issues in 2001, as two widespread natural disasters landed with devastating force here on the West Coast of Canada and the U.S.A. over a short 3-month period. Back to back. The first was a ‘heat dome’ that hardened the ground . . . setting the stage for the second, a series of atmospheric rivers, resulting in cataclysmic flooding. Our blogs on the subject tell more. . .
The short of it is that personal experience with considerable swings in climate-induced atmospheric changes prompted our journey to challenge existing norms in search, rescue, and recovery—where we have professional associations and experiences to draw on. For us, this path follows a decades-long experience assisting governments and other institutions in their safety educational outreach.
We envisioned a systematic approach to aid, within our particular skill set, overwhelmed disaster operations across the globe. With a focus on the evacuation, search, rescue, and critical response stages of community disaster management. When first-response services are sure to be stretched and in short supply of crucial equipment for their front-line volunteers.
Of course, there are insufficient core first responders to handle the accelerated call volumes—not in the sort of sudden onset extremes profiled here. This is where the community-based volunteer must come into play to assist local emergency services in times of crisis. Community by community, as their pool of respective skill sets dictates—as safely and effectively as possible—only a few sign up to volunteer in advance, while many arriving on the scene have not.
There are three categories of volunteers addressed here. Not professional volunteers like firefighters, for instance, but relatively average citizens willing to brave the elements to pitch in during crisis and need.
Recruited, Active Volunteers
For this profile, we site a U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency's (FEMA) review and assessment, asserting that communities should take steps in advance to use skilled 'Active volunteers' (our term) when needed. Specifically, this is to assist a community's core first responders as catastrophic events dictate.
In extreme circumstances such as these, core responders can also easily be overcome and unable to answer the call. This is to be somewhat anticipated as the frequency and severity of widespread disasters grow.
Our previous post, 'Who You Gonna Call—Community Volunteers,' profiles some of these selfless individuals called the 'Active Volunteers.' For lack of a more catchy term. Inactive volunteers would be those taken off the active list.
Within this group are organized, community-minded volunteers recruited to act as their training and experience allow—with advanced recruitment criteria developed in the U.S. by FEMA after being overwhelmed operationally by Hurricane Katrina. To help maintain readiness in case of emergency.
These are human volunteer resources from the community comprised of nurses, doctors, engineers, drivers, etc. To be called upon to assist front-line core responders as needed. Qualified and willing to lend their expertise and/or special equipment to operational relief efforts.
A preventive measure core to some community-based integrated emergency disaster management plans. They hope to deploy as called upon during the initial stages of evacuation, search, rescue, and critical response operations.
To add to the pre-screened brigade of 'Active volunteers,' as above, are the 'spontaneous volunteers.' These community-minded individuals act in the breach on their own or from pleas for help. Reporting indicates calls for these sorts of volunteers from emergency services and fellow citizens directly via social media and other means available.
This is ad-hoc volunteer spontaneity by citizens not always working in concert with emergency services —nonetheless, generally to a significant effect.
These volunteers are those for whom the U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency, FEMA, provides CERT training . . . for 'resident' volunteers.
This is a nationally funded program for those individuals who opt to receive disaster response training. Volunteers who set out in their neighbourhoods to help themselves and their neighbours. Community-minded individuals elect to train on the mere prospects of a climate or other natural event ravishing their community. This exemplifies the saying: 'Be aware—get prepared.'
What is interesting about FEMA delivering CERT training to U.S. citizens, regardless of where they live, is that it does not restrict this to what one might surmise are more vulnerable communities—a tacit reminder of the realm of possibilities for natural disasters wherever one lives.
Invaluable to the overall response and relief effort.
Note: We categorize all these stand-up individuals volunteering into one group we call 'Citizen-Volunteers' —for which we will speak in future posts. Watch for our 'Responder's First' postings.
Buffalo, NY, USA
For instance, the widespread lake-affect Buffalo snowstorm at Christmas time 2022. Where the call for snowmobilers to help came directly from emergency services.
New South Wales, Australia
Then, the widespread mass flooding in New South Wales, Australia, from March 2022 also provided a window for this where the 'tinnie army' of volunteers came out to perform rooftop rescues by watercraft (tin boats, kayaks, PWCs, and so forth) on mass. Even by private helicopter in another instance. Although somewhat ad hoc at first, as local emergency services became overwhelmed, instinctively, courageous volunteers came together in an organized way.
Down Under, these spontaneous volunteers report having 'banded together' to provide an emergency response of their own, says Ella Goninan, in telling a bit of her story. From Michael Lloyd of ABC News Australia:
"We had to do that because the emergency services could not and did not respond quickly enough."
"I would say if it weren't for spontaneous volunteers, many would have died, many would have been left unaddressed, many would be very sick."
As with 'Active' volunteers, many 'spontaneous' volunteers arrive on the scene with specific skill sets and or specialized equipment. Both groups are eager to lend their skills and equipment as volunteers. They are the same save for one, perhaps, the first signing on more formally.
Here, in another report from the Australian Associated Press:
But 3.30 am was too dark to launch a rescue.
At first, light, which came later than usual because of the vast cloud cover and torrential rain, Mr. Ricketts took to the water.
First cab off the rank was neighbour Val Axtens, a 92-year-old woman.
"From the moment I stepped foot into that tinnie and started rescuing people, I completely just focused on that," Mr. Ricketts said.
And he wasn't alone, with the SES and police overwhelmed by calls for help.
That's when the 'Tinnie Army' and people with jet skis, canoes, kayaks and surfboards stepped up.
During the escalating natural disaster, community networks went into overdrive when people trapped in their houses couldn't get through to emergency services.
Mr. Ricketts, along with fellow rescuer Tim Somerville and other members of the tinnie army, were getting message after message with pleas for rescue.
They had no way to triage, so they just went house to house.
"It was impossible," Mr. Ricketts said.
"There was a person on every roof."
Then there is yet another uplifting story from down under from The Guardian, where a jet ski turned up with world surfing champion Mick Fanning on it to ferry locals through the northern NSW floods.
Mick answered a request via social media from a NSW pharmacist, Sky Swift, who was determined to get to work to distribute medication.
"We were all flooded out of the CBD," the pharmacist said. "But Tuesday morning, I woke up and thought, 'I want to be at work today.'
"Everyone told me I couldn't because the roads are closed, so I posted on Facebook saying if anyone can devise a way for me to get to Murwillumbah by boat, I'll open the pharmacy."
The 'Responder's First' initiative
The 'Responder's First' initiative grants select emergency and safety equipment to affected communities, as needed, worldwide. To fill inevitable shortfalls of safety and emergency equipment for citizen volunteers arriving ill-prepared at the front lines. Providing campaign funds are available to purchase and deliver the equipment when called upon. That is, as critical needs continue to dictate.
Operationally, we call upon community emergency services to manage who gets what and when regarding localized donor-funded resources. For example, fire, police, search & rescue, etc. Depending on the situation, whichever local agency or response team is best equipped to coordinate this for their community. These equipment donations may be relatively small but certainly impactful.
Fund-US - Disasters Aid to Citizen-Volunteers
We need help! Your support will make a world of difference in response to catastrophic disasters across the globe!
The cost of a pint or a glass of wine will help address the critical shortage of emergency equipment amongst citizen volunteers thrust into joining search, rescue, and recovery operations worldwide. This all-hands effort is to shore up their safety and effectiveness—while reducing suffering and loss of life. We are all first responders . . .
The smallest of giving adds up, and we cannot do the work without it. $10-15 per donation is good – less or more, whatever is manageable. Donations in kind, back-linking, etc. and sharing this along are all valuable ways to contribute.
To fund and deliver humanitarian equipment aid to the citizen-volunteer front line. The volume of equipment delivered worldwide is wholly dependent on the donations received. There is no shortage of need.
#HumanitarianAid, #Responder'sFirst, #Fund-US, #AscentProvisions
Phone: 604-732-4042; 1-800-361-0473 (N America)