First Time Volunteer – Things to Consider
As a first-time volunteer out of my area for hurricane Florence, there were very clear lessons that may help you be more prepared if you want to get involved. As a Florida resident having survived several hurricanes over the last 50 years, helping with the rescue and recovery efforts of Florence seemed like a logical civil service. Deploying to a disaster zone is very different than working from your home, being gone for the day and then returning to a clean bed at night. What I learned was that I needed to be better prepared, and there is a huge need to coordinate the army of volunteers ready to jump in and do what they can, thus Pubsafe. The bravery, sacrifice and general hard work demonstrated by the search and rescue teams, government and civilians is noteworthy. You cannot appreciate what they do until you get to the field and see the conditions. These people head into the storm while others head away – the definition of a hero in my book.
If you are considering volunteering for a disaster rescue or recovery operation, prepare yourself mentally and physically, improve your rescue skills and assemble and prepare all types of equipment. FEMA offers online courses geared toward the governments response program but there are many CERT groups that teach how to be an effective member of a SAR or CERT team. Match these things with the types of disasters you want to respond to and do not be afraid to say “I’m not ready for this event.” The Pubsafe public safety mobile app is intended to help volunteers and government personnel know where, when and how to deploy these resources. Be part of the solution, contribute information to the community, and go where your skills make you the most effective. Having good information makes you more efficient and effective.
Thoughts…in no particular order
- If you do not have some level of training, do not go into a rescue situation. Help at a distribution center or coordinate online. Most field skills from the military are a good starting point but refresher training and working in a disaster zone is different.
- Connect with an organization like the Cajun Navy or Crowd Sourced Rescue. They can pair you with others with more experience and a team is better than going it alone.
- Install and learn how to use the Pubsafe mobile app. You can be effective just by sharing information. Flood levels, closed roads, areas not in danger, etc all helps focus relief efforts. It also shares your location for safety and reference to the information you post.
- A tent doesn’t work in heavy rain and wind. Find a building, bring a camper or be prepared to sleep in your vehicle after a hard day of being hot and sweaty. Understand the risk of a tornado, falling trees or flooding when not staying in a building. A camper is nice so you can move to where the action is but it is subject to high winds.
- Taking an enclosed trailer means you can leave it at camp and use your vehicle to get around. If everything is in your vehicle you cannot give others a ride.
- Bring knee-high boots and waders for all water events. It helps to have dry feet around camp. Water turns to mud when water drains and rubber boots are helpful. Waders are good if you hope to stay dry. In the summer, you might as well not wear them and stay cool. You may dehydrate faster in waders but you are subject to what is in the water.
- Bring a few life jackets. One per volunteer but also for the people you will rescue. Be sure it fits well and consider a kayak life jacket because they offer good mobility. You may even want to bring a life vest or noodles for animals.
- You cannot plan on there being restrooms if you cannot identify a volunteer shelter to stay in. Showers are unlikely.
- Install the Zello app and learn how to use it. It is used by SAR groups to communicate quickly to lots of people at once. Join a search and rescue (SAR) channel and keep quiet unless you are involved in a rescue.
- Don’t get there too quickly, stage outside the disaster area, and come in behind the pro’s. You won’t miss the action and you may avoid being a casualty. You are also less likely to get banned from the area by the government if you are not in their way.
- Bring backup batteries for phones and computers. A solar charger or generator to recharge is a good idea.
- Bring gloves that work when wet. Leather may not be the best choice.
- Bring a neon and reflective safety jacket. Check Harbor Freight.
- Bring a throw rope for boat work.
- A flat-bottomed boat, canoe or kayak are the only real options. Fiberglass v-hulls have far fewer applications. Being able to carry the boat is also helpful in launching in very shallow water. A rubber boat, like a Zodiac, is ideal and why professional SAR teams use them.
- Bring boots for water work since you cannot see what you are stepping on or in. The sandals may go over the booties if they don’t have a sole to protect your feet. Wear your life jacket at all times when in the water since you can step into a hole, open sewer hole, etc.
- Plan to cook with a propane stove and cooking gear. MREs are a good choice since the have heating pockets in them.
- A popup rain fly or party type tent is a good idea to get out of the rain and rest in the evenings.
- Finding fuel is a problem and volunteers are second to last on the priority list. Bring lots of spare gas, outboard fuel oil, and diesel to run boats, vehicles and generators.
- Food, water, ice will be 100% your responsibility.
- Form a team and designate a leader. Coordinate with others in the area to learn where you can be helpful. Check the Pubsafe mobile app for help requests or read sitreps (Situation Reports) for info on where resources are needed or available for distribution. Tell citizens to get on it and start posting to share information.
- Share details via SitReps on directions and for GPS location. The pictures, video and information help everyone in the area and potentially FEMA.
- Consider a kayak splash jacket, eye protection and helmet for safety gear.
- Figure out how to communicate when the phones aren’t working. Radios and chargers of some type are needed. Marine radios which are waterproof and float are a good consideration.
- You may be planning to do boat rescues but bring a chainsaw, pry bar and other tools. You may need to clear the road so you can launch your boat.
- Bring a tow rope or strap to move cars, trees and things.
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