- by Alan Martlin Updated February 27, 2023 4 min read
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. What the US Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) callsa "whole community" response. The evacuation, search, rescue, and critical recovery phase of disaster relief operations is the most critical period to cover. Often before big government can get there.
We rarely know what comes next. So community-by-community, volunteer recruitment planning had best be with forethought. This is important to cover the what-ifs during a disaster. Again, before 'big government' and other relief, can arrive on the scene.
The term 'big government' is 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 certain life reserving skills. Others, as we have seen, with the right specialized equipment. All are available to fill the void when emergency services cannot on their own. 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. Where this time local police ended up having to reach out in an overwhelming state of emergency by posting on social media for public help. Having to ask 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, it is volunteers with boats. In the wake of a tornado, it is citizens with ATVs. After an earthquake, it is contractors with heavy equipment to remove rubble . . . and so on. When volunteers just show up, we refer to them as 'spontaneous' volunteers. When recruited by emergency services, they are 'active' volunteers.
As reported by the New York Times, 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 as he could. With vehicles stuck all over in the middle of the streets, it was difficult.
One Landscape company owner spontaneously turned his trucks into snowplows to assist stranded motorists. Another volunteer drove his ATV into the streets in search of 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 from the region's EMS system being overwhelmed. When as reported, 420 such emergencies were unanswered over the 3 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 he had spent several hours stuck in a car himself. Once freed, he and his friends drove miles upriver to Buffalo in response to rescue requests.
There are plenty of volunteers like Shaquille, able and willing to help. Which is the central point here. Perfect strangers willing 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 that lost her life in the storm.
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 way off in another state.
The Bottom Line
We see from several reports, 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. To 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. Although again, often after the fact, once the initial search, rescue, and critical response stages of the storm have passed.
For community emergency disaster management, budgeting for known unknowns, like natural disasters, can be a major problem. Deserving further scrutiny.
When volunteers come on board, as described, 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.
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.
Look for our next blog, 'Funding a "Whole Community" Response'