After Hurricane Andrew devastated South Florida in August 1992, truckloads of donated relief supplies flooded into the area from across the United States. The volume of donations was too much for government officials and volunteer organizations to properly manage. A week after the disaster, trucks were dumping donated food, clothing and other supplies into a giant pile in the middle of Florida City.
A similar incident occurred on a much smaller scale following the November 2013 fire in Marlinton. Relief supplies from across the region arrived in abundance at the Family Resource Center (FRN) in Marlinton. Monetary donations also flooded in. Persons displaced by the fire praised the FRN for its efforts following the fire. But FRN Director Laura Young said better organization is needed during emergencies to coordinate volunteer efforts and manage relief supplies.
In February, Young requested $10,000 from the Pocahontas County Commission to fund a Volunteer In Service To America (VISTA) position for emergency planning, and the Commission unanimously granted the request. The FRN hired VISTA Sterling “Buster” Wiggins to work on a plan to help coordinate volunteer activities during an emergency. Wiggins is now in the process of contacting local groups and individuals to develop a plan.
“I’m working with Pocahontas County 911 and the Office of Homeland Security and many other volunteer organizations to kind of create a plan to prepare us in the event of a crisis in the future,” said Wiggins. “The reason that disaster preparation is so important for maintaining our homes and preserving our lives and property and valuables, is so that when a disaster strikes, it’s easier for our citizens to bounce back.”
The plan is to develop a network of volunteers, who can be alerted in the event of an emergency.
“Our goal is to develop a communications network with existing volunteers and volunteer organizations, so that we can better mobilize in a future crisis,” he said.
The Local Emergency Planning Committee (LEPC) has a plan in place to coordinate the activities of firefighters, first responders and emergency organizations. The FRN plan is focused on coordinating volunteer efforts and will supplement the LEPC plan.
“Currently, I’m working with 911, trying to determine how many of our county residents are interested in forming a community emergency response team, or CERT,” said Wiggins. “Initially, CERT programs were developed to assist communities in taking care of themselves in the aftermath of major disasters, when first responders are overwhelmed, or are unable to respond due to communication or transportation difficulties. As the CERT concept has taken hold across the country, however, CERTs have become more than originally envisioned. CERTs have proven to be an active and vital part of their communities’ readiness and response capabilities.”
Training is available for CERT teams – if a sufficient number of volunteers are found to create a team.
“If we can get enough people involved, the Office of Homeland Security will actually create a training program, that will create teams and train citizens on how to be able to respond in their area and for what their needs are,” said Wiggins. “At Pocahontas Memorial, we’re setting up public CPR/AED certification classes, depending on how many people we can get involved.”
State funding is available for CERT training and operations.
“Right now, we’re trying to assess the public’s interest and how involved they want to be,” said Wiggins. “There’s opportunities for assisted financing for CERTs, but you have to have a demand for it. Unless we have a large enough response, there’s really no reason for us to move forward. We know that there’s a need, we’re trying to find out how many people are willing to get involved before we put money into it.”
Volunteers are needed in Pocahontas County to perform a variety of functions, including: call center representatives, cooks, donation pick-up and organizing, transportation, laundry services for emergency personnel, cleaning, debris hauling and shelter management and security. In the event of an emergency, the FRN also seeks donations of food, water and gasoline.
No special skills are necessary to become a CERT volunteer. Anyone interested in serving on a CERT team and helping out during a crisis should call the Family Resource Network at 304-799-6847 or contact Wiggins directly at 304-449-4262.
Wiggins said volunteers help themselves when they help others.
“When you spend time serving other people and helping other people, preserving their life, you find that they turn around and provide that same kind of effort to you,” he said. “When we get involved together, it’s like they say – safety in numbers. We’re stronger as a whole than we are by ourselves.”