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'Answering the Call—Community Volunteers'

 Natural Disaster Response series:  

'Answering the call—Community Volunteers'

Selfless, courageous, resilient, skilled, and spontaneous, are all descriptors we use for local, community volunteers, who sign up to help tackle the human toll of widespread natural disasters at home. 

They are fellow citizens that give of themselves to backup emergency disaster response operations when overwhelmed and in need of help.

To reset the table, over the last 50 years, natural disasters have become five times more common because of climate change, according to the World Meteorological Organization.

This means that early in the disaster response cycle, the need for increased emergency evacuation, search, rescue and critical response capabilities has never been greater. Full stop! This is where a cadre of 'community volunteers' at their best, becomes indispensable.

The short of it is that 'normal' emergency response operations, operations set up to handle normal calls and normal call volumes, often become overwhelmed by the volume and somewhat dysfunctional. Or overpowered by the sheer magnitude of disastrous conditions. Either way, culminating in local emergency services operating beyond capacity within the onslaught of a disaster-level event and in need of help. 

It would be difficult to list all the likely scenarios in affected communities. We will share some further along.

Our wake-up came in 2001, as two widespread natural disasters landed here on the West Coast of Canada and the U.S.A. Over 3 months. Back to back. The first hardened the ground . . . setting the stage for the second. Our blog tells more.

We brushed up against climate-induced change. So began our journey to advance positive change in this arena where we can. In a community-minded, constructive way.

Our path follows decades-long experience assisting governments and other institutions in their safety educational programming and publishing. We could not be more grateful. What we call our ‘special educational’ initiatives.

We envision a systematic approach to aid overwhelmed natural disaster operations. With a focus on the evacuation search, rescue, and critical response stages, as all hell is breaking loose.  When first-response services will surely be disrupted and in short supply. If only temporally so. Hours to days before outside institutional help arrives from afar.

Are there not enough professional first responders? Not in sudden onset, extremes like those profiled here. Not on their own. For it is for those able and willing to band together, to assist local emergency services to operate, community by community, as effectively as-they-can.

Supporting early-stage 'local' volunteerism is where we can contribute the most. Three categories of volunteers are central to this effort.

Not professional volunteers like firefighters, for instance, but fellow citizens willing to brave the elements as soon as it is safe. Long before help from away can arrive.


Recruited, Active Volunteers

We borrow on the authority of the U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency's (FEMA) review and assessment, asserting that communities at large should take steps to further exploit the use of skilled 'Active volunteers' (our term) when needed. Specifically, to assist a community's core first responders as catastrophic events dictate. 

When, in extreme circumstances, core responders themselves are overcome and cannot answer the call. This is happening to communities across the globe as the frequency and severity of widespread natural disasters grow.

Our previous post, 'Who You Gonna Call—Community Volunteers', profiles some of these selfless individuals, what we call the 'Active Volunteers.' For lack of a more catchy term. Inactive volunteers would be those taken off the active list.

Within this group, we envision an organized brigade of skilled community-minded volunteers recruited to act as their training and experience allow. Addressed in the U.S. by FEMA post-hurricane, Katrina.

A broad, pre-established resource gathered from within the community. Made-up of nurses, doctors, engineers, drivers, and so forth. Brought together to assist front-line core responders when operating beyond the norm and in need of help. Before the dust settles, until reinforcements arrive.

Made up of fellow citizens, qualified and willing to lend their expertise and or special equipment to respective operational relief efforts. Some with higher standards of qualifications than the core first responders they are assisting. No surprise there.

Available to deploy as called upon, during the initial stages of evacuation, search, rescue, and critical response operations . . . or until no longer required. A precautionary measure that should be core to the average community-based integrated emergency disaster management plan. Part of an internal, community-based system of checks and balances to maintain readiness.

Again, to drive a central point. This concept is for incident commanders to have a short list ready for in-field human and equipment resources above 'ordinary' day-to-day operational services levels. Commensurate, of course, with the volunteer's individual skill set, capabilities, and ultimately, availability. Further, just because they are on the call list will not necessarily mean they will remain available. So the list should be exhaustive.

The more common scenarios would see those with specialized equipment assisting with light search, rescue, and critical response operations. Some reinforcing EMS services with professional health care personnel, as the situation demands. Amongst a multitude of possibilities.

This, where prudent and strategic. In a measured way. To minimize the risks—to help preserve life. 


Spontaneous Volunteers

To add to the pre-screened brigade of 'Active volunteers', as above, are hopefully an army of 'spontaneous volunteers.' Hopeful, because in the thick of it, these community-minded individuals act in the breach on their own or, from pleas for help. Our research has seen calls for help from both emergency services and the public via social media channels and otherwise.

We see this kind of ad-hock volunteer spontaneity all over the world . . . not always working in concert with emergency services if and as directed. Nonetheless, to a significant effect.

Signs of heroism, as some report, repeat in all four corners of this planet. Such as with the widespread lake-affect Buffalo snowstorm, for instance, at Christmas time 2022. Where the call for snowmobilers to help came directly from emergency services.

Courageous spontaneous acts of volunteerism happen with or without prompting from emergency services within the community. We suggest that more communities instinctively plan for it.

The widespread mass flooding in New South Wales Australia from March 2022 also provides 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 hock 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 ofABC News Australia:

"We had to do that because the emergency services could not and did not respond quick enough" . . .

"I would say if it wasn'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 certain 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 is 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, when people who were trapped in their houses couldn't get through to emergency services, community networks went into overdrive.

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 literally impossible," Mr. Ricketts said.

"There was a person on every roof."


Here is yet another uplifting story from The Guardian of a jet ski turning 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 an NSW pharmacist, Sky Swift, 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 point is plenty of enthusiasts love the outdoors and the power sports equipment that takes then them there. Many of these same folk would courageously volunteer their time and equipment in a heartbeat if asked. Counties and communities should exploit this more.


Resident Volunteers

This group of volunteers are those the U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency, FEMA, provides CERT training. . . for 'resident' volunteers.

This is a nationally funded program for those individuals that opt to receive disaster response training. To volunteer to set out in their own 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. Exemplifying 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 restrictthis 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.  


When volunteers come on board, as described in this series of posts, certain costs are inevitable. We have a funding solution to help with that.


An Alternate Funding Source

Ascent Provisions fundraising grant funds and or select safety equipment to affected communities, as described, worldwide. Providing there are available campaign funds then, that is. As global demand dictates.

Operationally, we call upon community emergency services to manage who gets what and when in terms of our available donor-funded resources. Targeting fire, police, search & rescue, ems, and so forth. Whichever local agency, agencies, or response teams fit the profile.

Contributing at arm's length to a community's overall emergency disaster planning is the goal. Having donor funds in the kitty must come first. Getting in touch, case by case will determine this.

Ascent's Global Fund Initiatives is a good idea whose time has come. There is no commitment from either party, unless or until funds are accessed. There are no charges for our services unless specifically agreed to.

To learn more or get on our contacts list, please follow the links below. Small-dollar donations are welcome.


Help Wanted

Emergency services personnel help people every day in hamlets and cities across the globe. It is what they do! More than a job, it is their vocation.

Supporting these dedicated women and men is central to this initiative. Particularly in their time of need. One disastrous cataclysmic event to the next. 

We can all use your help! This is a word-of-mouth proposition. Please like, share, and backlink. It will mean the world to us.

You will find us at ascentprovisions.org  to learn about our solutions, this outreach, and us.

Our next post: 'Answering the call—Local Volunteerism, on Point'
















World Meteorological Organization;

ABC News Australia;

Australian Associated Press;

The Guardian - Australia;

Global Fund

Choosing to give through our 'Global Funds' take a bit broader approach. Flexible enough to move in time with what's surely coming next!

Donor Gifting

We are marshalling small-dollar giving for select emergency equipment deployment into regions affected. This is 'Donor Gifting.'

For Safety's Sake initiative logo


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