Washington, DC -- They are at every disaster, usually on the front line helping to meet the immediate and urgent needs of disaster victims. Some bring specialized skills and expertise; others offer an extra pair of hands or needed manpower. While their tasks may be different, they all share a desire to help and make a difference. They are volunteers.
More than 200 - both trained and spontaneous, unaffiliated - volunteers answered the call in the District of Columbia during Hurricane Isabel. The D.C. Commission on National and Community Service's D.C. Citizen Corps, and community partners, mobilized and assigned people to distribute 515 tons of dry and wet ice, 21,000 sandbags and assist in the feeding of more than 8,500 District residents.
"Government can't do it alone and our experience with Hurricane Isabel clearly showed that," said D.C. Emergency Management Agency director Peter La Porte. "Volunteers play a critical role in emergency response and were an invaluable resource during this disaster."
D.C. Citizen Corps, part of a national program administered by Department of Homeland Security's Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), started after September 11, 2001, to harness the power of individuals through education, training, and volunteer service, trains volunteers in crime prevention, emergency preparedness, mitigation, and response to all hazards- crime, terrorism, natural, technological and man-made disasters. The D.C. Citizen Corp's Community Response Team (CERT) program, trains people in basic disaster response skills and helps them take a more active role in emergency preparedness.
The first group of D.C. CERT trainees finished their training a week before Hurricane Isabel made landing. One graduate, Nancy Page, assistant general counsel with the Commodities Futures Trading Commission, saw the benefits of the CERT training while deployed at one of the city's ice distribution sites.
"When going through the training, I couldn't see how I would use all the topics covered," said Page. "But it all came together while working at the Backus Junior High School ice distribution site. The customer service training was especially helpful in maintaining line control and communications with the people who came to get ice."
Greater D.C. Cares (GDCC), a Citizen Corps partner, managed and coordinated the people who responded to Mayor Williams' call for volunteers. Working from the city's Emergency Operations Center, GDCC assigned volunteers to the Food Bank, D.C. Central Kitchen and Washington Parks and People.
Voluntary agencies have a vital role in the Federal Response Plan that FEMA activates in disasters. The American Red Cross is the lead organization for administering response activities that meet the urgent needs of disaster victims on a mass care basis.
During Hurricane Isabel, a collaboration of the American Red Cross, Salvation Army, Southern Baptists, D.C. employees, and other volunteers worked together to set up a mass-feeding program that provided more than 22,000 meals to District residents.
"You can't overstate the importance of volunteers," said Washington, D.C. federal coordinating officer Scott Wells. "Their giving personalities make them good team members that you can count on at a disaster. You don't always know who they are or where they come from, but you know they will always be there."
On March 1, 2003, FEMA became part of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. FEMA's continuing mission within the new department is to lead the effort to prepare the nation for all hazards and effectively manage federal response and recovery efforts following any national incident. FEMA also initiates proactive m...