Thursday, July 12, 2007

Can I Get a Volunteer?

Bob Jaffin at In Homeland Security has written a nice piece about the shortage of volunteers to staff emergencies at the local level. A few excerpts:

Current estimates indicate the real number of volunteers actually available within a small to medium sized area would be some 25 - 40% less than the aggregate count on the volunteer lists ... This is a daily concern for local emergency planners, yet not one that gets any attention at the state, regional, or national level.

"Especially in small communities, you may have a person in the National Guard, working for the fire or police department, who may also be a part-time ambulance driver. So when you lose one person to deployment, you actually lose several functions,” states Randal Noller a National Guard spokesman in a Yahoo News article dated June 14, 2007.

Clearly the good news is that there is a cadre of Americans who can and do volunteer in their own communities and adjoining communities. The dual realities here are that this is still a relatively small number of our neighbors and co-workers, but, much more significantly, many of these selfless individuals are already on the public protection-first response payrolls. ... Yet another side of the volunteer issue is that of our public-spirited citizen-soldiers serving in the armed forces.

Three things are clear:

1. We cannot look to limit volunteerism in any way. It is an intrinsic part of the fabric that makes America great.

2. We need to involve a much larger segment of the American public in volunteer programs related to manmade and naturally occurring disasters.

3. Regional cooperation and coordination based on data sharing is neither a luxury nor a theoretical goal; it is an immediate necessity.
Can't disagree with any of that.

Another thought: This is a problem that may extend beyond the most common instances of disaster response (e.g., tornadoes, hurricanes, earthquakes). In the event of a public health emergency such as a flu pandemic, trained volunteers will also be needed (see this post).

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