By Dianne Walbrecker
The superintendent of FEMA’s Emergency Management Institute welcomed 100 Corporation for National and Community Service executive directors and Points of Light affiliates to a first-ever joint training conference in Emmitsburg, Md.
The groups came together to share experiences and lessons learned from the response to Hurricane Sandy and to attend Management of Spontaneous Volunteers in Disasters training. Kellie Bentz, director, Disaster Services, Points of Light, and Kelly DeGraff, director, CNCS Disaster Services, presented an overview of the 3-day conference.
“It’s not normal to leave the warmth and comfort of your homes or to miss holidays and birthdays with your families so you can travel to a disaster to manage spontaneous volunteers,” said Tony Russell, Superintendent of the Emergency Management Institute. “So turn to each other and say, ‘I’m not normal.’”
Participants interacted with nine CNCS executive directors, Points of Light affiliates, and partners who managed spontaneous volunteers during the Sandy Response and Recovery. Called “Hurricane Sandy – Volunteer Response Center Fact or Fiction!” the panel was moderated by Julie Blanciak, a voluntary agency liaison from FEMA Headquarters.
After panel members briefly described their individual roles in VRC operations following Sandy, members of the audience answered “fact or fiction” questions and discussed them with the panel. For example, the first statement, “Every region of the country has a state agency, nonprofit, tribal, or faith-based organization that is responsible for operating a center during times of disaster; fact or fiction?” Of course, the answer was fiction.
“This is a hope and a dream,” noted Bruce Bailey, AmeriCorps St. Louis executive director. “Before we can make this a reality, we need to talk about the kinds of relationships that must be built among voluntary organizations and government agencies at all levels before a disaster.”
The class involved a few hours of theory and discussion, followed by a 3-hour VRC simulation. During the exercise, half of the participants worked as center staff while the others role played people coming to volunteer following a hurricane. The pace was fast to keep the pressure up. Students were allowed to make mistakes during the training in hopes that the lessons learned would prevent similar mistakes in the field.
During the second day of the conference, participants attended the EMI class Management of Spontaneous Volunteers in Disasters.
The value of the training will be magnified in the future, explained Dianne Walbrecker, EMI course manager.
EMI will offer course participants a video teleconference train-the-trainer venue to these participants so they can work with their state, tribal, and local emergency management trainers to deliver this course across the country. This type of force-multiplier effect has benefits that can improve assistance offered to disaster survivors from the “Whole Community.” To learn more about this course, check out EMI courses.
Tony Russell, EMI superintendent, welcomes the Executive Directors of the Corporation for National and Community Service and Points of Light Affiliates to the Emmittsburg, Md. Campus. Panel members Bill Driscoll, Executive Director at NECHAMA, Jewish Response to Disaster and member of the Board of Directors at the National Voluntary Organizations Active in Disasters speaks about his experiences operating a Volunteer Reception Center and working with spontaneous volunteers following Hurricane Sandy. Other members of the panel listen and make notes. Anna Tangredi, Texas State Voluntary Agency Liaison asks a question of the members of the panel called Hurricane Sandy – Volunteer Response Center Fact or Fiction!