First and foremost, with any disaster, DO NOT SELF DEPLOY! The only exception is if “it” occurred in your hometown.
I know you want to help, I know your heart goes out to the families in trouble, so does mine, however, please don’t burden them with your presence. Why? Well, what is your plan? Pack up like you were going to Eureka Springs? Really?
I may not be the foremost authority on these situations, however, I volunteer frequently and even more frequently I train. Training is essential, training is survival as my friend Matt Canovi says. If you just pack as normal, where will you stay? Who will feed and water you? Have you had your shots (Tetanus), do you have proper work gloves, proper work boots, clothing? Can you work with people you never met? Take orders from those who you don’t know? Where will you go to the restroom? Shower up? The questions can be endless.
I understand in 1979 you received your Eagle Scout, I am glad you lettered in Debate in High School, please understand, this does not qualify you to jump in and start going through debris at a disaster site. It’s really alright, I am an Eagle Scout, I did letter in debate, I lived in the Galveston / Houston Texas area for 32 years. I helped, that however is not the point of this article.
PPPPPP – Proper Planning Prevents Piss Poor Performance! Right now if you must do something, give cash to an established organization that you have heard of. I have my preferences and those I refuse to give to, maybe at some point I will write an article on them and why. My personal suggestion, give to the Salvation Army in this instance.
If you really want to physically help recover in a disaster, here is the perfect plan, yes, I said perfect! My wife and / or ex-wife may disagree but hey, that’s life.
Get a hold of your local County or City Emergency Management office, attend a MAP Your Neighborhood seminar. They are about 2 to 4 hours. The class will teach the infant crawling steps of being prepared and assisting those on your block when a disaster comes. By being prepared for a disaster yourself and self-reliant you decrease the need for others to help you. That is you reduce the burden of other volunteers. If you also have your neighbors partially self-reliant then you have just helped all emergency workers by decreasing their burden and workload.
Next take a C.E.R.T. (Community Emergency Response Team) class, this is one level above the MAP training. It is more in-depth than the MAP. The MAP is more “on paper” while the CERT classes are more hands on. You learn basic search techniques, how to remove a wall off a victim, some first-aid, how to shut off your gas line and so much more. This is, in my humble but amazingly accurate opinion, the perfect starting point for your efforts to volunteer. It teaches you how not to be a victim, how to be less of a burden on first responders and even have to be an asset to them and your neighbors in case of a catastrophic event. Every county in the US of A is supposed to have and offer this free training, if your local Emergency Management Office does not, check with the counties connecting to yours, it is worth it.
Once you become a CERT there are countless trainings available to you from your local cities, the county, SEMA (State Emergency Management Agency) and FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency), all free of charge. You can choose what interest you most. Many of these trainings are over the web, some are in person and some require travel, which is possible reimbursed or paid up front by your SEMA or FEMA.
In the last year, the Christian County Emergency Management office has offered, coordinated or supported such training as, Medical First Responder, allowing those who participated to become licensed EMS First Responders (the Highlandville Fire Department put this on for fire fighters and CERT members), a beginning HAM operators course put on in conjunction with the local ARES (a big thanks to Pat for all his time and effort). They (Christian County EMA) have also put on Search and Rescue training in conjunction with the Nixa Fire Department, Animal sheltering (in conjunction with the Red Cross). They have put on classes and training on Weapons of Mass Destruction, Sheltering Operations (Sponsored by the Red Cross), Weather Spotters training, Search and Rescue, Mental Health (for victims and first responders), Orienteering / Compass training (for wilderness S&R), Damage Assessment Training, and how to coordinate Spontaneous Volunteers.
In Christian County, there are a variety of volunteer opportunities such as VIPS, Fire Corps and Medical Reserve Corps (MRC), as far as I know, all the people who are involved first obtained their CERT training.
As you can tell the Christian County EM office works closely with local fire departments, law enforcement and medical facilities as well as the Red Cross. You may not need to be a CERT to volunteer and train to be a VIPS or Red Cross Shelter volunteer, however, it is a great help and shows the instructors and programs that you are involved and dedicated.
If you really have the heart and urge to help, prepare. You can search through rubble, clean up debris, search for survivors, feed the hungry, medically assist the injured, shelter the homeless and so much more, if you first take the time and effort to train.
The Red Cross has trained people to baby sit both the victims and the volunteers so they can do their jobs, they also have a digital department where you can help with fund raising or use Social Media to search for missing people (We found numerous survivors in Joplin that way), you can help by cooking and distributing food to the hungry (both victims and those in the field), you can provide a safe place to stay and sleep for victims and volunteers, you can provide shelter, food and safety for pets and animals, all through the Red Cross, but first you must take the training. With proper Red Cross certification, you can literally travel all over America and the world to volunteer and assist those in need.
If the Red Cross is not your cup of tea, then consider becoming an Amateur Radio Technician aka a HAM operator. These guys and gals are GREAT! They provide vital information to you, the public, local media and the Emergency Operations Centers, before, during and after a storm.
The Greene County ARES group provides, free of charge a 2 day class on how to take and pass your Technicians license, I did it! The Christian County ARES (Amateur Radio Emergency Services) group, thanks to Pat, has a multi-day class on how to use your equipment, which is totally different than getting your certification. Most ARES members that I know are also certified weather spotters. If communications is your game, or you love tracking down storms, ARES is for you. Also, I know several ARES / HAMs that are physically disabled, they cannot crawl through mounds of debris, they cannot operate a shelter for 12 hours a day, but they can keep everyone up to date with their radios.
Another option for you, and a more intimate setting might be through your religious denomination. The Lutherans, Baptist and Methodist all have disaster groups. You can run a chainsaw, feed people, I have even seen portable showers and washer / dryers brought in by these Christians (yeah for clean clothes!). You might even be able to open your church building to aid with temporary shelters during storms / tornados, long term shelters, or as food or clothing / material distribution points. FIRST contact the Red Cross, they will certify your building in what you can do, this will reduce or even eliminate the legal liability as well as prevent hassles. If you just open as a shelter and don’t have enough showers, well stinky is as stinky does, if you provide food on your own but little old miss Betsy has pneumonia or salmonella and contaminates 250 sandwiches, you now have created a new crisis on top of the one you were attempting to solve, so for the sake of love, contact the Red Cross and get their assistance BEFORE you are needed.
There are probably hundreds of volunteer organizations you can help through that I have not mentioned, many are local, many help your community 365 days a year, not just during a disaster, please don’t forget them. The Least of These and Victory Mission are two such places in the Greene / Christian county areas, you will have your own.
Finally, you can volunteer, train and be part of the National Guard, your State Guard (also commonly called State Defense Force or State Militia – all of which fall under the Governors command) and of course the unorganized Militia. Before you freak at the Militia word, or get offended by being called the unorganized Militia, hear me out. The non-government controlled Militia is by very definition called the unorganized Militia, even though most have an internal structure and planned training. By law, most states say any able body person between 17 and 65 (ages vary) is part of this, however, there are groups, sometimes statewide that meet, train and prepare to assist during disasters.
The Missouri Militia is one such group, they are state wide in Missouri, and have strict standards on joining (no freaks, liars or conspiracy theorist, only people dedicated to helping). The Missouri Militia 4/8 requires you to be a CERT to join.
This article was intended to give you ideas on how to volunteer and where to volunteer in order to help, after all, that is what Americans are known for, so start training and be a prepared, reliable volunteer, not another victim or burden on those responding to a disaster.
Until we meet again, have a virus free week.