Volunteering – finding the right agency/organization for you


Objective:  You either have a skill-set or interest in volunteering, for the public good – what do you do?

CitizenCorps: I’ll find the link for this, but the basic idea going back to the early 2000’s, was that you could signup to volunteer within the structure and training of professional first-responder agencies. The structure was:

  • CERT (Community Emergency Response Team)
    • Fire Department
  • Medical Reserve Corp
    • Public Health
  • FireCorps
    • Forestry Service
  • VIPS (Volunteer in Policing Service)
    • Police Department

Personal Identification:  If someone was personally identified with law and order, then there was something within VIPS. If someone had been in healthcare (nurse, doctor, EMS) then there was something within Medical Reserve Corp.  If someone just wanted to practice disaster preparedness, and cared for their neighbors, then there was something within CERT.

Additional volunteering opportunities that are good liaisons with the above:

  • Amateur Radio (ARES) – Amateur Radio Emergency Services
    • FCC Licensed Amateur Radio Operators coming together for public safety communications
  • Amateur Radio (ACS) – Auxiliary Communication Service
    • Typically requires a county-issued DSW (Disaster Service Worker Card)
    • Ties Amateur Radio closer to government, and requires “activation”
    • DSW cards would allow operators to enter government buildings (Police, EOC, etc)
  • DART (Disaster Action Response Team)
    • CERT with additional training and better equipment
    • DSW cards
    • Depending on county, these could be activated within Sheriff Department
    • Because CERT historically was tied to Fire Department, now DART is tied to Sheriff Department, and therefore a slightly different charter
  • Red Cross
    • This is a very well-developed organization with a ton of training opportunities.  In a local community, their primary focus is on responding to people after house-fires, to offer assistance (emotional support, shelter, clothes, money, etc).  This group also prepares for opening up large shelters.  They are activated in larger events by FEMA, I believe.
    • In a smaller community, this is a good organization to be involved with and create a blend across multiple groups – Ham Radio, CERT, VIPS.
    • Additional information from Tony Sapien, LCSW, LCAS
      • Lookup your local ARC chapter or Red Cross Volunteer Connection website
      • For Disaster Mental Health (DMH) you would just need to take a few online or in-person courses, pass a background check, etc. The work itself (pre-COVID) takes place in evacuation shelters, with deployments of up to 14 days.
      • At present (as of 20200826), a lot of work is taking place remotely due to COVID-19 as they want-as much as possible-having minimum staff-and evacuees-in a congregate setting (outside of sheltering and feeding staff managing evacuation.
      • The Red Cross is running a number of disaster recovery operations in Northern California, the Midwest, and the Gulf Coast at present.
      • In general, there is always a need for volunteers as the coming months are usually the most active in terms of natural disasters (hurricanes, flooding, fires).

Suggestions for how to blend organizations together:

Because each of these organizations attract people with a different personal identification, there are some opportunities to cross-pollinate.  For example, you could justify that everyone needs CERT – just for being a good neighbor.  Therefore, you could have someone who is primarily VIPS also take the CERT Training.  Ideally that person is also a Ham Radio Operator.  If you dream up a community volunteer project, then:

  • Ham Radio Operator, who is primarily VIPS, would shadow the Chief of Police
  • Ham Radio Operator, who is primarily CERT, would shadow the Fire Chief
  • Ham Radio Operator, who is primarily Medical Reserve Corps, would shadow head of EMS
  • Ham Radio Operator, who is primarily ACS, would be net control within the EOC
  • Ham Radio Operators, who are primarily ARES, would be distributed at various locations
  • VIPS could be used for traffic control
  • CERT could be used for roaming, lost children, and physical things like parking lot management
  • Medical reserve corps for First Aid Stations

The key takeaway is to allow personal identification to take preference, and do as much cross-training as possible.  Communication is an easy one to justify that everyone does – Ham Radio Technician license and a basic handheld radio.

California Volunteers

Because CitizenCorps is a nationwide organization, it was agreed to separate the focus by state.  In California, the state volunteer entity (for CitizenCorps) is California Volunteers. This is a link to the group, with a focus on COVID-19 – www.californiavolunteers.ca.gov/get-involved/covid-19

There are opportunities to represent your community for leadership of CitizenCorps (California Volunteers).  When I applied for this, I needed the signature of my local County Board of Supervisors District Supervisor.

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