How to Become an Atlanta-Area Disaster Response Volunteer

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The Atlanta chapter of FEMA's Community Emergency Response Team program offers opportunities for area residents to get training and even volunteer as auxiliary emergency responders. Photo By: Joe Loong via Flickr, CC BY-SA 2.0
The Atlanta chapter of FEMA's Community Emergency Response Team program offers opportunities for area residents to get training and even volunteer as auxiliary emergency responders. Photo By: Joe Loong via Flickr, CC BY-SA 2.0

One of the best ways to recover from an emergency is to take emergency preparation and response classes that teach you what to do. The Federal Emergency Management Agency’s (FEMA) Community Emergency Response Team program and local chapters of the American Red Cross both host classes on evenings and weekends throughout Georgia, offering many opportunities for you to get training and even volunteer as an auxiliary emergency responder.

CERT Program

Volunteers with ACERT—the Atlanta Citizens Emergency Response Team—typically support fire crews and other emergency responders with first aid, medical triage, crowd control, traffic control and light search and rescue.

Volunteers don’t need to know much about these topics when they join; they will receive all the training they need from experienced emergency responders over the course of four extensive courses. Afterward, volunteers that want to put their training to work in the community then offer to be “on call” to respond to calls from their local emergency response agencies or volunteer managers during times that the volunteer has committed to being available.

Gary Gross, an Atlanta-based software salesman, has served with ACERT during his off-hours for the past three years—including this past summer when violent storms hit Atlanta, downing trees and trapping people in their homes.

Gross says he became involved with the program after reading an article about being personally prepared for an emergency. “I was intrigued so I contacted my local Fire Rescue Department,” he says. “I went through training and started helping where I could. Pretty soon, I was hooked.”

“There is nothing cooler than sitting in the back of the fire engine with the lights flashing and the sirens blaring and watching all the cars part like Moses spreading the Red Sea! …Of course, we never want anything serious occurring on those runs. False alarms all day long would be great.”

Red Cross Disaster Volunteer Program

Photo By: Greater Carolinas Red Cross via Flickr, CC BY 2.0

Red Cross Disaster Volunteers respond to a house fire call to provide assistance to fire fighters and first responders. Photo By: Greater Carolinas Red Cross via Flickr, CC BY 2.0

The American Red Cross addresses broader needs around a disaster by educating communities on preparedness before disaster strikes; setting up and managing emergency shelters during disasters; and helping people who have suffered a loss from a disaster to connect with supplies like food, clothing and counseling.

The Metro Atlanta Chapter offers regular training for volunteers who want to help respond to disasters. Red Cross volunteers generally serve locally after completing several days’ worth of training over evenings and weekend classes, and then they can also apply to participate in responses to national or international events. As with CERT, Red Cross volunteers can choose when they are on-call to respond to emergencies.

Recent Atlanta transplant Karl Palsgaard’s first deployment with the Red Cross was with a New York-based team that distributed food by truck throughout New Orleans after 2005′s Hurricane Katrina; afterward he served for years in Houston during his off-hours on a team that followed up with people who suffered from fire losses and needed basic supplies, shelter and emotional comfort in order to begin to recover.

Palsgaard says he’s grateful to have been able to help provide comfort to people through a hot meal and a kind word after devastating disasters. “People go through shocks, they lose loved-ones and things and homes, and they need a neighbor to remind them that they are not alone and that there are ways forward,” he says.

Palsgaard says his work with the Red Cross has reinforced the basics of emergency preparedness, such as keeping a first aid kit and water in his home and car, and having conversations with loved ones about how to respond if something happened.

“I’m not a prepper, and I’m not worried about Georgia becoming like the TV show ‘The Walking Dead,’ but after seeing how hard it was for people to recover after fires and hurricanes, I’m now very aware that a few simple things—like first aid kits, family plans and inventories of my possessions—can really help make recovery after a disaster easier.”

For more information on how to support CERT or the American Red Cross, contact your local chapter.

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Nicole Markle

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