CERT for everyone!

•June 29, 2009 • Leave a Comment

My colleague Emma is a CERT trainer. (That’s Community Emergency Response Team, or Training, dependingo n who you ask — click here for more info.) She had to go to a multi-day training up in the snowy mountains of northern Arizona and stay in a crummy hotel to get the privilege.

But now it’s paying off — she is teaching a CERT class (which is really CERT plus — all day long for a whole week, with lots of bonus demonstrations and such) to a bunch of teenagers as part of the Volunteer Center‘s Summer Block for the Youth Volunteer Corps.

I wish more schools and programs would offer this training to teenagers. It’s good for so many reasons: it inspires a sense of responsibility, it’s exciting to them (disasters? whoa!), it taps into a HUGE pool of available volunteers, it’s useful for situations in which there are lots of kids but not too many adults (e.g. schools, summer camps), it gets people trained who are often in peak physical condition, it teaches very important safety skills, and it gives kids more confidence and security.

There are high schools that offer this kind of training — but not nearly enough. Colleges could and should do it too.  C’mon, TUSD. Get on board!



•June 24, 2009 • Leave a Comment

In this case, it was largely Twitter’s newness that made it effective — the government didn’t see it as a threat when they first restricted older (okay, relativelyspeaking) technologies like text-messaging and youTube.

The State department has even stepped in — according to Reuters, they asked Twitter to delay a planned upgrade/outage so that Iranians could keep tweeting. To me this is significant because the government is acknowledging the huge power of twitter and other tools in a way they haven’t done before. And I am grateful for any tool that reduces the oppression people around the world are facing.

I wonder if this kind of recognition represents an opening: that governments (more local governments, I’m thinking) might really use social networking tools more effectively surrounding disaster situations. I know, for instance, that the Pima County Health Department has a Twitter feed that they’ve only recently started updating. I don’t know who’s writing them, but they seem to be missing the point in posting once every couple of days, with a link to a news article that anyone who’s really interested would almost certainly have found somewhere else. Twitter is by nature frequent, short, and casual. It’s interactive. You build relationships with your followers, rather than simply broadcasting. Organizations who use it well and/or have large numbers of followers understand this.

I see a role for Twitter in disaster — but not as a source of official information as much as one more channel through which info can spread. And spread quickly, at that. In its early days, people learned of an earthquake occuring in California from Twitter before it hit any news outlets. Was that useful? Arguably not. But what it it was a fire? Or an approaching storm or flash flood?

I’d be curious to know if anybody else has ideas for how Twitter might work for us.

Metro Crash and Response

•June 23, 2009 • Leave a Comment

I’m sure most of you heard about the Metro crash in Washington, DC yesterday. I used to live in DC, though I didn’t ride the Metro much, and I can really picture this scene vividly.

First and foremost, I want to express sympathy for the families of those who were killed and to the survivors and their families. This was a terrible accident.

Officials are now beginning the long process of figuring out what happened.  They are reporting a few things: that one of the trains was made up with very old cars that should’ve been updated or replaced, and that this was known before the crash occured; the trains may or may not have been operating in automatic mode, which is meant to be a safety feature; there is the possibility of operator error as a factor.  My hope, there, is that they create a really thorough report and list of recommendations, and that they follow them. This is the sort of thing we attempt to do with exercises, to avoid the loss of life, but when we do have a tragedy, the aftermath is incredibly important.

It doesn’t look as though volunteers were involved in the resonse at all. And of course, they couldn’t be the ones cutting the train cars apart and pulling people out. But if you were trapped in a train car, wouldn’t you rather be with someone who was CERT-trained, who knew first aid and how to get very heavy objects moved?

I also read somewhere that the police had a problem controlling the crowds of onlookers. That could’ve been a great job for a ready-to-go CERT team in their neon vests so the police could’ve focused on things that only police can do.  (Other organized volunteers could do the same thing — Sheriff’s volunteers, VIPs, etc.) But it takes a strong working relationship before the emergency.

I will continue to follow this story as it unfolds. My thoughts are with everyone affected.

State budget and the Fox 11 Fire

•June 22, 2009 • Leave a Comment

Two tidbits for you this morning:

First, unless you live under a rock, you’ve probably realized that the Arizona budget is in dire straits, and nobody can agree on how to fix it. And while emergency services generally don’t get cut as drastically as, say, education, that doesn’t mean we won’t be needing you. Because I could see mitigation getting a lot less attention when we’re attempting to choose between cutting education and cutting welfare.

Also stay tuned as to the need for volunteer help in all kinds of state agencies whose budgets have already been slashed and are now facing further cuts. The United We Serve campaign  couldn’t have come at a better time.

Second, if you’re in Tucson and you read the paper online, you might’ve heard that the Fox11 building was damaged by a fire this morning.

The employee who discovered the fire did exactly the right thing: get out of the building immediately, and call 911. Is that would you would’ve done?

The word is that the fire was caused by an appliance left on. (The appliance has not been identified, but toasters and coffee pots are frequent culprits in home fires — is your unplugged?)

This isn’t the kind of disaster that requires a huge response, but it just as easily could’ve been — if this was a fire in an apartment building instead, we could be looking at a hundred people in need of shelter and donations of new things to replace important posessions destroyed by fire.

Be careful, folks! Don’t start fires!

We’re back!

•June 17, 2009 • Leave a Comment

After an almost three week hiatus for my aforementioned wedding, I’m back at the Volunteer Center. Regular posts will now resume as I finish up my term and introduce you to the new team members who will be taking over.

In the mean time, fire season is in full swing, and meteorologists have been tracking the coming monsoon.

Stay alert, sign up for alerts to be sent to you via phone or email when there is an emergency in your area. Make sure your trainings and memberships in response organizations are up to date (check out the Volunteer Center’s new home page if you need help!) Follow these monsoon safety tips.  And stay tuned for more discussions about disasters, preparedness, and volunteering!

National Hurricane Preparedness Week

•May 28, 2009 • 1 Comment

Well folks, we’re in the middle of (okay, near the end of) National Hurricane Preparedness Week. You can read President Obama’s declaration here.

Now, I know what you’re thinking. We don’t have hurricanes in Arizona. You’re right. If we get some rain showers, we’re feeling whatever hurricane hit the gulf. But the message in the proclomation applies to all areas, prone to all sorts of disasters: pay attention to the conditions in your area. Local governments should work hard to keep their citizens involved.

So here’s the question: do proclomations like this mean anything? Does anybody who doesn’t work in emergency preparedness even know that it happened? Is this just empty talk? What would be better? (Money, obviously.) The federal government spends a lot of money on disaster-related training, etc. So do state governments. Is this money well-spent?

Share your thoughts!

Fire contained.

•May 21, 2009 • Leave a Comment

Real quick: the fire is contained. But all signs point to this being a bad fire season, so stay alert! Many of the fires we’ve seen have been human-caused. So take Smokey the Bear’s advice, y’all.