Volunteers looking to help out in an emergency are a disaster. That’s what she said. Actually, what she said is that they are disaster within a disaster. Great. Here I am, being trained to setup a Volunteer Reception Center, or VRC, and the first thing I learn is that spontaneous and unaffiliated volunteers during a disaster can be a total pain. You know these people – they are the ones that run toward the storms, standing out in a field when it’s lightening out or something. People much less risk-averse than me.
Our recent past has been a little too full of disasters. This year alone we had the Haiti earthquake and Gulf Coast Oil Spill. So, how were volunteers handled? Well, a quick search of recent news items reveals headlines like “Volunteers ready but left out of spill cleanup” and “Gung-ho but untrained, volunteers hit a wall in helping mitigate gulf oil spill“.
So, what can you do now to make sure you aren’t one of those untrained, spontaneous volunteers if there’s a disaster in your ‘hood?
– Get in touch with your local Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster (VOAD) or Community Organizations Active in Disaster (COAD) to find out about trainings offered by organizations in your area. Visit HERE to find an affiliate in your state.
– Sign up for a virtual VRC. In Maine, when you create an account with VolunteerMaine.org, you’re asked, “Would you consider volunteering in the event of an emergency or disaster?”. Say YES! You’ll be asked to provide contact information and an overview of your skills so that managers know if you’d be a good fit to volunteer during a particular disaster.
– Contact your local chapter of the American Red Cross – they have a full curriculum of training for disaster preparedness. Become a Master of Disaster and you could be deployed to disasters throughout the country.
– Additional trainings can be found through your local churches (many offer sessions to learn how to “muck out”, work a chainsaw, be an early responder, etc). There are also opportunities online for training – one upcoming session will be held on July 28, 2010. Register at http://www.humanservicesepr.org/index.html.
Knowing your limits as a volunteer is one of the best ways to help out during an emergency. Yes, it is hard to hear when you aren’t needed, but be honest about your skills and abilities. Get trained for jobs you’d be interested in before a disaster hits (or at least before you try to get involved). And, don’t forget that most disasters take a LONG time to clean up – there is generally an immediate outpouring of people willing to donate their time and money, so your help may be needed most weeks, months, or even years after the initial disaster.