Restricting Volunteer Help During Disasters

Goya - Disaster of WarThis is one of those Let’s Shoot Ourselves in the Foot articles.

The Federal Government (wait for it…FEMA) is establishing new rules and tightening others regarding access to disaster areas, in order to “get professionals on scene quicker and keep untrained volunteers from making tough work more difficult.  Critics argue that it’s just a way for the government to restrict finger-pointing at its own incompetence.  The new rules include establishing a first responder ID card that indicates the responder is certified.  That’ll keep them volunteer varmints away!

This AP article tries to present both sides succinctly, using the World Trade Center and Katrina disasters as examples. 

And what good examples they are, of both government officials and professionals completely overwhelmed by the enormity of the disasters.  Yet the government wants to restrict the amount of support they get in the first days of a disaster?  They argue that there are cases where volunteers just get in the way.

The Federal Government should take note:  Several years ago Oregon put together a very short checklist for state officials to follow in the face of a disaster.  This easy-to-read paper embraces the idea of assigning an official to act as volunteer coordinator and assigning a staging area so that volunteers could be assigned roles in a coordinated manner.  It is a simple, straightforward and logical way to make sure that disaster recover professionals and volunteers are working together smoothly.  Florida, too, has an active volunteer program that stresses coordination and training, but doesn’t appear to turn people away when hurricanes hit.  I suspect that most states have programs that run counter to FEMA’s intended direction.

Rather than creating yet another ID card (how many days after a disaster will that take to implement?), perhaps the Feds could follow Oregon’s lead and create an official Volunteer Coordinator position, whose sole job would be to synchronize volunteer activities with the heads of the disaster recover teams.  I bet the Red Cross and other agencies would jump at supporting this.

I used to think that the Government embraced the harmonization of government and citizen involvement.  Of late I’ve come to believe that it’s Them against Us.

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One Response to Restricting Volunteer Help During Disasters

  1. Becky says:

    The federal government has control issues.

    Tomorrow, in honor of the Clarence Center Volunteer Firemen, along with all the surrounding area groups, I will have a post about how you too can become a volunteer…or you can look now on the erie.gov site under Emergency Services (I copied):

    http://www.erie.gov/depts/community/emergency_fsd.asp

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