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MAINE EMERGENCY MANAGEMENT AGENCY
From the Director, for April: We Are All Volunteers
April 12, 2010
Volunteers are the backbone of Maine’s response to disaster. Volunteer firefighters make up the vast majority of fire departments here, and volunteer emergency medical services do great work as well. Our volunteer Search and Rescue teams are some of the most skilled in the country.
Over the last several years, the Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) program has taken hold in Maine as well. The CERT Program educates people about disaster preparedness and trains them in basic disaster response skills, such as fire safety, light search and rescue, team organization, and disaster medical operations. Using the training, CERT members can assist others in their neighborhood or workplace following an event in support of first responders. (You can learn more about the CERT program at: http://www.citizencorps.gov/cert/ )
Maine has recently received national recognition for its CERT growth. Since 2005. Maine has gone from 5 to 41 teams. This includes teams with a variety of specialties, such as CART (County Animal Response Teams), SAR (Search and Rescue) and Amateur Radio groups.
In addition to these established and growing groups, whenever there is a disaster in Maine, elsewhere in the United States or around the world, there is an outpouring of willingness on the part of Mainers to help.
So why worry about volunteerism when clearly we’re doing so well?
Because as much as we depend on volunteers and appreciate the ones we have, the need continues to grow. Membership in volunteer fire departments has been slipping over the years, as society has changed and fewer people live and work in the same town. Life just seems to busy for many to give additional time to their communities. The growth of our CERT programs, however, seems to buck that trend. But in order to maintain and grow our volunteer capacity, we need to do more.
Make it easy for your employees to volunteer in your community. Maybe you can flex hours, or even give occasional time off. You could also think about developing a CERT team within your business to respond during an emergency at work, and help in the community as well.
During the Ice Storm of 1998, we heard from many parts of the State that after several days, when their help was still much needed in the community, volunteer firefighters began to feel pressure to return to their regular employment. We know it’s hard to give up valued employees for days at a time. But we hope that you will be as generous as possible when the need is great. The volunteers who work for you will help put the whole community back on its feet. And that’s good for business.
Consider sponsoring a program such as CERT, and develop a team to assist your public safety agencies in events large and small. Local CERTs in various parts of the State assist with traffic control, search and rescue, disaster education, animal response, EOC coordination and communications. Funding is available through MEMA to support basic and advanced CERT training. If you want to start a program, contact your County EMA Director.
Having a trained team of volunteers is ideal. But in an emergency, you will have many people, some skilled, some not, who want to help others. Develop a plan about how you can put these spontaneous volunteers to work when you have a local emergency. The plan should include not just what kinds of jobs volunteers could do, but also how you will keep track of who is helping and what they are doing.
State law, Title 37-B MRSA Section 784-A, provides workers compensation coverage and immunity from liability for any volunteer involved in emergency management activities. That’s why documenting all volunteer activity, whether an organized team or spontaneous groups, is very important. This statutory coverage should take away any concerns about having volunteers participate in an organized response.
The desire of people to help others is one of the greatest forces for good you will ever see. You can harness that force to help your community respond to and recover from disaster.
If you think you could volunteer in a major emergency, think about what skills you have that could be helpful. Then look for an organization you can join up with. If you need additional training, the organization you join will provide the training. For example, the American Red Cross provides overall volunteer orientation, then specific training in many disaster tasks such as shelter management or first aid. If you are able to volunteer in a major emergency either here or elsewhere, you will be trained and ready to go. To learn more about how to help as a volunteer in a major disaster, visit Maine Prepares
Whatever your skill or interest, you can look for volunteer opportunities at VolunteerMaine This is a web portal sponsored by a number of non-profit and government partners. You can look for volunteer opportunities by the type of work you want to do, or where you live.
If you are interested in becoming part of a CERT, contact your County EMA Director. To become a CERT member, it takes 9 modules of training, 2 hours each. The training is life long, valuable training. In addition to working as a team, it makes you more personally prepared to take care of yourself and your family in an emergency.
You may not be in a position to leave home for weeks to help out in Louisiana or California. But the more you learn about emergency preparedness and response, the better job you can do helping your family, your neighbors and your community when they need it most.
Rob McAleer, Director, Maine Emergency Management Agency
Last update: 07/20/10
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