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Maine VolunteerFare

September is Emergency Preparedness Month

Published September 9, 2008

Emergency Prepardness Events:

Sept 13 -14, The Bangor Daily News will present its third annual "Maine Prepares" newspaper supplement. Learn how to prepare for and assist in disaster recovery.

Sept 22, 1 - 5 PM & September 23, 8-5 PM.MEMA's Open House. Come and learn about preparedness, MEMA programs, and get a tour of the Emergency Operations and Media Center. Call Rayna Leibowitz, at 207-624-4400 for more information.

Sept 24, 1-6 PM. Bangor Hydro-Electric Winter Expo. Get prepared for winter safety and discover products and programs to help you be more energy efficient.

Go Bags for Seniors

By Joel Biron-AmeriCorps Vista, Seniors Plus.

We often hear in the news about natural disasters like hurricanes, earthquakes, and floods, but they are easy to dismiss as far away. We never expect them to happen to us. My challenge this past year has been to educate seniors about the realities of a disaster. Maine may never experience a major earthquake, but the state is vulnerable to other disasters such as the recent flooding in Aroostook County, last year's Patriot's Day storm, and the Ice Storm of 1998. These past events remind us that nowhere is disaster-proof.

As part of the SeniorsPlus Project Arc program I traveled to five Maine towns to talk to seniors about disaster preparedness and hand out Go Bags. A Go Bag is a place to store all the essentials you would need if you had to evacuate your home. We were able to give these bags away as a result of a Department of Homeland Security grant. The Go Bags I gave out already had some supplies: a flashlight, some toiletries, a first aid kit, and a whistle. I encouraged the seniors to add their own supplies such as non-perishable food and necessary medications.

The essence of the project was to encourage seniors to take a personal stake in their safety. I tried to make them aware of what questions they should be asking within their community to be better prepared. Where is my local shelter? Will it be able to provide for my specific medical needs? What would happen to my pet in a disaster? Hopefully, by engaging seniors in this process they will take a more active role so that future disasters will be dealt with safely.

Spontaneous Volunteers - How Can They Help?

By Harold Shaw - Emergency Response Coordinator, MCCS

What is a spontaneous volunteer? Spontaneous volunteers are also known as: unaffiliated volunteers or convergent volunteers - all three terms are used interchangeably. They could be a relative, a friend, a neighbor, someone from another town, state or even another country. Spontaneous volunteers are usually people like you and me with the best of intentions, who have decided that they want to help others who have been affected by a disaster. You might ask how is someone who is volunteering, only wanting to help those in need, a burden to the emergency response system?.

Many times these unaffiliated volunteers arrive during the response effort and do not have the necessary skills to be an asset to Emergency Responders. The stereotypical spontaneous volunteer arrives unprepared for what is happening: they don’t have any food, a place to stay, disaster/emergency skills, organizational affiliation and think they will be taken care of at the disaster scene.

The reality is that emergency management personnel, residents, and local officials, are attempting to stabilize the situation. In this circumstance spontaneous volunteers become a burden to the emergency response efforts of a disaster and can put themselves in dangerous situations.

Imagine “unaffiliated” volunteers descending upon an area reeling from a disaster requiring emergency response personnel and local officials to care for even more people who were not initially affected by the disaster. How are these volunteers going to impact or interfere with the emergency response effort that is already going on? It can be an extremely frustrating or even a dangerous situation for emergency responders, residents and the spontaneous volunteers.

The best advice is to wait until the emergency situation has been stabilized, local officials know more about what kind of assistance they need, and it is safe for volunteers. Let them focus on what needs to be done immediately without the distraction of untrained or unaffiliated volunteers showing to help.

Even better -- prepare to help out in advance, contact local disaster agencies i.e. the American Red Cross, United Way, County Emergency Management personnel, and CERT teams to name just a few. Another option is to go to VolunteerMaine.org and sign-up to volunteer to help out in Emergency situations and get the training ahead of time.

Don’t become part of the problem or a number, but do volunteer to become part of the solution.