Suggestions and ideas gathered at the kickoff workshop on emergency preparedness Saturday, Jan. 22, had participants brainstorming to coordinate volunteer emergency responses to a local disaster without adding to peoples’ problems.
The Pima County Citizens Corps Council workshop’s aim was to develop and improve coordination among the various county and regional volunteer emergency responders trained to assist official agencies in the event of a major natural or terrorist sponsored catastrophe.
“Emergency preparedness has a special place in my heart,” said Oro Valley Mayor Satish I. Hiremath during opening remarks welcoming the volunteers to the Hilton El Conquistador. Hiremath said nobody wants to need emergency services, but in the wake of the Gabrielle Giffords’ shooting Jan. 8 and anticipated deeper cuts in federal, state and local budgets, “it’s good to know you are there.”
The Honor Guard, which presented the United States and Arizona flags for the opening ceremony, was made up of first responders from the Oro Valley Police Department, Golder Ranch Fire District and Mountain Vista Fire District.
Coordination and communication among federal, state and local authorities, and the volunteer organizations assisting them, maximizes finite resources available during times of infinite need. Individuals can reduce the demand on an already overburdened response system by learning to be prepared, stocking a few essentials, and being knowledgeable enough to know whether it would be better move out or shelter in place.
The type of response is dictated by the nature of the emergency. A gas leak or a nuclear attack could require evacuating an entire city, but a weather-related disaster like an earthquake or a flu pandemic and all manner of other emergencies require different responses.
If the power is out, communications are down, the freeways are jammed and there is no immediate safety threat, the wisest choice could be to stay put. Knowledge and training, combined with some basic preparedness, prevents fear and panic from developing into chaos when an emergency strikes.
Stephen Schuldenfrei, chairman of the Pima County Citizen Corps Council, said the 114 volunteers from the metro Tucson area and neighboring counties who registered to attend are “motivated and outspoken in a positive way, sharing ideas and making a difference. Our hope is to expand over the next year as we work on some of the great ideas suggested today.”
Volunteers participated in workshops focusing on community education, school preparedness, Community Emergency Response Teams, and Medical Response Corps. Topics discussed, from complex multi-agency coordination in the event of a major earthquake or community evacuation to individual training to respond properly to smaller, but no less traumatic medical and weather emergencies.
“We are trying to get the word out,” said Caren Prather, the volunteer coordinator for Pima County Emergency Management and Homeland Security, while conducting the community education workshop. She said Southern Arizona lags behind the national average of four out of 10 people who say they have taken some steps toward emergency preparedness.
Prather knows hundreds of sources of emergency preparedness information available to volunteers, professionals, organizations and individuals, but complacency coupled with the lack of funding and outlets to distribute information to the public limits community outreach.
“Saying ‘I am prepared’ does not constitute being prepared,” said keynote speaker Les Caid, a retired fire chief who operates a nationally recognized emergency response training business. “The collaborative methods discussed today will prepare the way for the direction we need to go,” Caid said. “We can and should prepare, and that’s what the Citizens Corp is all about.”
The workshops concentrated on short and long term planning, recruiting and retention of volunteers, activities to encourage preparedness, developing resources and prioritizing what can and should be done first. Organizers and volunteers expect to hold annual PCCC meetings and workshops to improve and refine official and volunteer capabilities for disaster response.
Cheryl Williams, the CERT workshop facilitator, laid out goals for the year that include metro-wide sharing of information, regular county-wide and regional meetings, expanding recruiting and training and seeking additional sources of funding.
The school preparedness group focused on reaching out to younger volunteers through Critical Incident Stress Management and CERT teams in area schools working with student councils and school counselors.
The MRC workshop, led by facilitator Stephan Zlotnick, echoed the need for recruiting more trained professional medical personnel, funding resources and coordination among the various organizations.
“Having well-trained citizen volunteers helps our community. The spirit of volunteerism is very important and brings personal rewards,” said Oro Valley Vice Mayor Mary Snider. “We’re all going to be better off.”
For additional information about the PCCCC and volunteer programs and links to resources, visit the PCCCC website at www.pimahealth.org/cc/pcc.asp.