California launches first US disaster relief corps The nationís first disaster corps is meant to professionalize and standardize volunteers at the state level
We have the Peace Corps, the Job Corps and AmeriCorps, and now we have the Disaster Corps.
In June, California launched the first-of-its-kind program to professionalize, standardize and coordinate disaster volunteers statewide.
During the Southern California wildfires in recent years, thousands of people showed up in affected areas to volunteer to assist with response operations. In 2003 and 2007, for example, during the San Diego Cedar and Witch Creek wildfires, volunteers staffed 2-1-1 call centers, provided logistics support to fire base camps, conducted fire watch patrols, and assisted with mass care and shelter.
Last year, during the Los Angeles Station Fire, volunteers filled more than 740 shifts supporting the Incident Command Post, helped provide food and water to firefighters, and performed traffic control duties.
Sacramento recognized that it might be good idea to coordinate disaster volunteer efforts in all phases of emergency management, from preparedness to response to recovery. The Disaster Corps is the result.
“Currently, disaster volunteer resources are not integrated into the State Emergency Plan and are spread across a multitude of different organizations and programs, varying in function and mission,” said Disaster Corps secretary Karen Baker.
Baker said the Disaster Corps program will train a cadre of 1,000 government-affiliated volunteers, united under one brand that can serve as a statewide deployable resource.
Disaster Corps volunteers will be assigned to one or more of six specialist classifications:
- Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) Member
- Mass Care – Shelter
- Mass Care – Feeding
- Radio Operator
- Traffic Control
- Law Enforcement
The advantage of having specialist classifications is that it allows Disaster Corps volunteers to support key emergency management functions. That way, those who use Disaster Corps volunteers will know they’re receiving volunteers who are trained and credentialed and have passed background checks.
“Disaster Corps volunteers will free up first responders to focus on first response operations and provide much-needed support to those involved in sustained operations,” Baker said.
The program, however, is not open to just any fire or police groupie. Baker told Homeland1 that a potential volunteer must first be a member in good standing of a local disaster volunteer program.
“Any concerned citizen who is already a member of a CERT, Volunteers in Police Service or Fire Corps is eligible to volunteer for the program,” Baker said. Local volunteer program coordinators will nominate, train, screen and then register Disaster Corps volunteers.
Five of California’s most-populated counties are currently participating in the Disaster Corps program: Los Angeles, San Bernardino, San Diego, San Francisco and Riverside.