At 5:41 P.M., Sunday, May 22, 2011 a powerful tornado ravaged parts of Joplin, killing 162 people and injuring another 154. One never knows when disaster will strike, so it is important for everyone to be prepared. First, we believe the safety of individuals and their families should always come first. A person should always ensure their own and their family’s safety. It is a good idea to plan ahead and have the capability to be self-sufficient for the first 24 hours after the disaster strikes. If you think you might be called away or needed in some volunteer capacity, then also include in your plan, a person that will care for your children and loved ones in your absence.
The health department’s job in emergencies is to ensure the safety of the community; this may include ensuring water and food safety, and dispensing certain medications or vaccines as appropriate. Further we support other agencies that may be processing wounded or need help in other ways. The job of public health is to establish as safe of an environment as possible, during a disaster for residents and volunteers and to continue to maintain safety when the crisis is over.
Things a volunteer might be asked to do; assist in childcare, assist in helping injured walking or fill out paperwork, make copies, direct traffic, plus more. A volunteer would need to abide by the department’s privacy policies and keep information related to individuals in strict confidence. A volunteer would not be asked to participate in search and rescue, as that is not the health department’s role in emergency events. Nor would a volunteer be asked to speak with news media or do anything that might put them at risk.
Contact your local health department if you are interested in becoming a volunteer. It is important for the health department to know in advance to a disaster what volunteer resources they may have available and it is also important that volunteers be placed in positions that best fit their abilities and interest as much as possible. Remember, you may be the one person who could make all the difference in a disaster situation.