In Case You Missed It: Volunteers Are a Vital Element In Flagler County’s Disaster Plan

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As part of an effort to make Flagler County a “Disaster Preparedness County,” officials with Flagler Volunteer Services and the Flagler County Emergency Operations Center have joined forces to present a series of monthly meetings for volunteers, and potential volunteers, dubbed the Flagler Disaster Coalition.

“We have a meeting every month for volunteers who are interested in volunteering in disasters and getting information,” said FVS volunteer coordinator Judy Mazella. “We had 21 volunteers putting together these bags on September 11 as part of the National Day of Service (and Remembrance). We were able to purchase everything through a disaster grant we received from Volunteer Florida.”

One hundred of the bags were given to Senior Services for Meals on Wheels to distribute to their clients. Another 60 were given to Veterans Services. Those not distributed during last Thursday’s meeting will go to Senior Services for the people who come to their meal sites.

The bags are filled with handy items such as a vital statistics packet, roll of paper towels, toilet paper, whistle, pen, poncho, flashlight, gloves, mask, small medical kit and more.

“It’s quite a few items, things they say you should really have in your disaster kit, but obviously it doesn’t have everything you need, such as water and food,” said volunteers services director Suzy Gamblain. “So don’t think this is going to keep you prepared; it’s going to start you on your preparedness. You should individualize it for your family”

Perhaps one of the most important items included is the Flagler County Disaster Preparedness Guide, a primer on disaster preparedness oriented specifically to Flagler County that includes checklists for before, during, and after a disaster, emergency numbers, and an evacuation zone map.

“We’re big fans of this guide,” said EOC emergency management planner Jennifer Stagg. “This one is hot off the press this summer so it is up-to-date. You can also you can go online to ready.gov and FEMA websites. FLGetaPlan.com is the state of Florida’s website for creating a disaster plan.”

The guide also is available at city and county municipal offices, libraries, Lowe’s, Home Depot, and the News-Tribune office at 4984 S. Palm Coast Parkway NW, Suite 5. It’s also online at: flagleremergency.com/dpg2012/index.html.

Another benefit of disaster volunteers to the community, in addition to the vital services they provide, is a matter of funding. Stagg noted that once a federal disaster is declared, the federal government will reimburse 75 percent of the costs and the state another 12.5 percent.

“That’s great but if you have millions of dollars you spend, that puts a smaller county like us deeply in the hole; we don’t even have that in our reserves,” Stagg said. “What we can do is show an in-kind match with our volunteer services for our percentage. FEMA assigns a rate for volunteer man-hours and equipment. That adds up quickly and would be a benefit to the community.”

There also are some benefits that come with volunteering.

“Unless you are able to know that your family and home are secure, safe and taken care of you aren’t going to be any use as a volunteer, and we wouldn’t want you to,” Stagg said. “We’re trying to enter into an agreement with a nearby church to shelter our disaster workers and volunteers and families. That way volunteers will have access to their families. We want you to know that your family is protected, your pets are protected and your home is protected.”

In addition to the next Flagler Disaster Coalition meeting on Oct.15, volunteer services also has free monthly IS 100 and IS 700 FEMA training for current and prospective disaster volunteers. They also participate in special online national exercises. On Saturday, volunteer services officials will host a three-hour online round-table discussion on how to handle wildfires.

For more information about these and other programs, call 386-297-2950.