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Emergency Communications

·         Who will be volunteering?-

Whether you’re an individual volunteer, a part of the field leadership team or one of the EmComm organizations, being prepared for a disaster, or any event, is vitally important. What does a volunteer do to protect his or her family before leaving to help? How does an EC put a team of volunteers together? What training skills will an organization provide for its volunteers? These are all issues that need to be discussed before the first communications are conducted. Below are just some ideas to get you started thinking about how to work with these groups. This list will grow and change as new methods and ideas become available.

·         If you’re an individual Emergency Communication volunteer…-

• You need to be trained. In order to provide support in the event of an emergency—or even in a non-emergency situation—you need to have the proper training and licensing.

• You need to be equipped with sustaining skills. What if when you get to a location, there is no food and the sleeping conditions are undesirable? Before you leave on your assignment, you need to make sure you have coping skills that enable you to be able to do your job operating under the conditions you are assigned to—from hardship conditions to making sure you’re able to work the equipment.

• You need to prepare your family for your absence. When you leave home and head for a disaster area, your family has to be both physically and mentally able to cope. Your family has to learn how to handle their, though temporary, new situation—such as what to do when a child gets sick, to what to do when the dishwasher breaks down—if they don’t know these skills already. These issues can be compounded when your family is directly affected by the disaster. After a disaster, when a volunteer comes home, he or she can be confronted by some mental health issues, for which there are several resources. Many volunteers experience everything from fatigue or exhaustion to depression.

• You need to find ways to volunteer. Once you’re prepared to go out there and give your time and expertise to an event or disaster, you need to find where you can do that. You would first want to become a member of your local N.E.W.Comm Net, ARES, CERT, RACES or local emergency management organization. Then try the American Red Cross or Web sites like Ready.gov.

·         Next, you’ll probably ask yourself, “What should I bring with me?”

The short answer is: It depends!

• At the very least, you’ll be asked to just show up. Or, the situation may call for you to bring your hand-held and some batteries as part of your Go Kit. In a disaster situation, where you may be asked to be at a shelter for several days, you might need to bring any and all equipment necessary to put together a base station. There might also be a time when you’re called into the field where you need to help establish communication and there’s no infrastructure—you’d need to have all of the appropriate equipment. What equipment you need to bring to a specific event could come from a variety of sources, from your field leader to the served organization’s team or a government official.

• There may be times when, in addition to your own personal Go Kit, you may need a longer-term Deployment Kit, and/or a mobile response unit. The mobile response units can be anything from a trailer or van to a fully-functioning mobile headquarters—complete with all the technical equipment you might need, including televisions, radios, towers and antennas.

·         If you’re a member of the field leadership, specifically N.E.W.Comm Net…

• You must go through all of the training that your volunteers will take, with the addition of specialized training—volunteer management, recruitment and planning. This specialized training helps set you apart from the volunteers and helps you better lead your team.

• You must talk with other field leadership. Getting best practices from other leaders can be very helpful to you. Whether it’s advice about how to encourage teamwork among your volunteers or it’s learning how to best delegate tasks, other field leaders can be one of your best resources.

• You must be responsible for all equipment and all of your personnel. As the field leader, you are in charge of making sure there are enough supplies to meet the known and expected needs. You’re also responsible for making sure the appropriate equipment makes it to the event. It would be up to you and the mission you have to decide if you need a mobile response unit for your event.

·         If you represent an organization….

• The umbrella over both volunteers and field leadership is the organization. This group acts as the facilitator for the preparation for the event.

• The organization helps provide the training and the skills necessary for both the volunteers and the leaders. As an organization—of which both the volunteers and leadership are a part—there is training to help everyone know how to respond in a situation as a group.

• The organization comes with a plan that assigns responsibilities and lays out the logistics of the day or days of the event. The plans, responsibilities and equipment vary in each event, depending on the severity.

• The leadership of other organizations that utilize volunteers can follow these guidelines as necessary.

·         Expectations

Expectations It is important for both the volunteer and the agencies they serve to know before an emergency what their expectations are before and after an emergency.

• EmComm volunteers need to know what is expected of them while they are working for and with an organization during an emergency. The volunteers need to know exactly what level of preparation they’ll need, the amount of time they’re expected to serve and what their individual role within their own organization. Keeping all of that in mind, the volunteer should also come with a spirit of flexibility, knowing that in a true emergency situation anything can happen. The job they arrive for may not be the one they end up doing, but it will definitely help the overall effort. Volunteers learn about these expectations in several ways—through their training, through the exercises and drills that come with the training, through talking to other volunteers and through talking to local management.

• Organizations need to go over exactly what the served agency wants and needs from your group. Additionally, the organization had expectations laid out for each ham volunteer member. Though typically spelled out in the MOU, these expectations can change at a moment’s notices and all members of the organization need to be flexible.

Volunteers Wanted!

  • Where will volunteers be needed?

    As an emergency communications volunteer, you may be called on to offer your skills and talents in a variety of situations. How will you prepare for public service events? What will you need to know before you volunteer for a localized disaster? Will you have all your equipment when you’re sent to a major disaster area? What other additional equipment will you need to bring when you are deployed?

  • Public Service Events

    • Examples include: walk-a-thons, bike-a-thons, parades, festivals and community events. • Time commitment is typically defined in advance. • Equipment is minimal as well, often you will only be asked to bring a hand-held radio. • Responsibilities may include supporting the communications needs of the community agency in such issues as crowd control efforts, first aid stations, parking, etc.

  • Localized Disaster

    Panel Text• Examples include: flooding, tornados, or any substantial weather event, where it might not disrupt major areas of communications, but there is still a need for communications to be set up; also, it may include search and rescue and traffic needs during the local disaster. • Time commitment is less than a major disaster, where you might spend several days in an area. • Typically the volunteer would be part of an organization. The organization would have a pre-planned list of expectations and roles.

  • Major Disaster

    • Examples include: wide-spread weather events, such as hurricane, tornados, snow storms, earthquakes. • This is a longer time commitment. Typically when volunteers are deployed to major disaster areas, they are sent for longer periods of time, several weeks to a few months. In this instance, volunteers need to prepare their families for their absences. • When a volunteer is called to a major disaster area, he or she will likely need to bring everything you need with you. From radio equipment to basic necessities, nothing will be able to be provided to you. In addition to having their own personal Go Kits with them, volunteers may also need to bring their long-term Deployment Kits with them.