Disaster Response series:
When we are all First Responders
The systematic recruitment of local 'active' volunteers to prepare for a widespread natural disaster is crucial. The US Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) calls this a "whole community" response. The evacuation, search, rescue, and critical recovery phase of disaster relief operations is the most critical period.
We use the term 'big government' to define the federal, state/provincial government agencies. To distinguish their response from that of the community and regional governments.
Buffalo, NY USA . . . a case study:
Our previous post, 'When Rescuers Need Rescuing,' noted there was little choice but to call out to volunteer responders in Buffalo.
For widespread natural disasters. FEMA Director Craig Fugate (2009-2017) considers this a "whole community" response. A term familiar to many emergency services agencies throughout the world.
FEMA promotes recruiting willing and able volunteers in advance and on the spot, what we call 'active' community volunteers—recruited to stand by until needed.
To help check on those at risk, deliver medicines, assist with rescues . . . and so forth. Some will have specific life-preserving skills. Others, as we have seen, with the right specialized equipment. All are available to fill the void when emergency services cannot alone. To help as needed . . . before big government and other relief can arrive. To help with emergency supplies, healthcare, medicines, shelter, transportation, and more.
Knowing Buffalo's lake-effect weather, one would think the region should have been better prepared for the severity of this storm. This time, local police had to reach out in an overwhelming emergency by posting on social media for public help and asking snowmobilers to call a police hotline for instructions on where to go and how to help.
On that note, in a severe snowstorm like Buffalo, volunteers with specialized equipment include those with snowmobiles. With hurricane storm surges, volunteers with boats are needed. In the wake of a tornado, it is citizens with ATVs. After an earthquake, contractors with heavy equipment remove rubble, and so on. When volunteers show up, we refer to them as 'spontaneous' volunteers. When recruited by emergency services, they are 'active' volunteers.
As the New York Times reported, Christmas morning saw off-duty Buffalo tow truck owner Chris Giardina, 43, respond spontaneously upon an urgent call for help.
For context, the woman and her car were stuck in the snow while picking up her husband's medication. After pulling her out, Chris volunteered to tow her as close to her home. It was challenging, with vehicles stuck all over in the middle of the streets.
One Landscape company owner spontaneously turned his trucks into snowplows to assist stranded motorists. Another volunteer drove his ATV into the streets, searching for milk and diapers for desperate children.
There was another social media post for a midwife to come to coach a woman through labour. This resulted in the region's EMS system being overwhelmed. When, as reported, 420 such emergencies went unanswered over the three days of the storm, That and other emergency response stressors saw many healthcare workers post their locations on social media in case of emergency.
The Times also reported on a Niagara Falls, NY resident, Shaquille Jones, responding to online posts for help after spending several hours stuck in a car. Once freed, he and his friends drove miles upriver to Buffalo in response to rescue requests.
Plenty of volunteers like Shaquille are able and willing to help, which is the central point here. Perfect strangers ready to save one another. Where courage, ingenuity and volunteer spirit abound. Demonstrating community resource managers should recruit able volunteers in advance . . . long before the next time.
Amongst all this goodwill, 60+ souls did not survive the Buffalo holiday blizzard of 2022.
Anndel Taylor, a 22-year-old woman, was but one who lost her life in the storm.
She was frozen to death while trapped in her car for 18 hours in 50 inches of snow. She had little recourse but to stay put in hopes help would come. Death came to her instead when emergency crews could not. To add some context. During her ordeal, Anndel posted a personal video via WhatsApp showing the weather trapping her to her family in another state.
The Bottom Line
We see from several reports that local emergency services management should undertake to fill shortages with able volunteers. Full Stop! Until 'big government' and other relief can get there.
With respect, society, at large, relies too much on 'big government' there when, in reality, because of logistics, we best not. How soon it can get there is the larger question. Ordering up the National Guard is one thing. The troops getting there to assist is quite another.
Therefore, incident managers should take heed to put those expectations into an operational perspective. Organize a prime list of active volunteers to help fill any gaps in emergency services as requested.
When they arrive late, their mandate is to focus on an entire region in crisis and not necessarily a single community. To meet the needs of many, they spread their resources as best they can. However, again, often after the fact, once the storm's initial search, rescue, and critical response stages have passed.
Budgeting for known unknowns, like natural disasters, can be a significant problem for community emergency disaster management. They deserve further scrutiny.
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)