Who comes when you call 911, part II

14 December 2006

I read in the Hawai`i Tribune-Herald today that one of the new County Councillors is calling for greater citizen involvement in disaster response through volunteer time and preparedness training. It is a funny coincidence, then, that there are already about 300 citizens of Hawai`i County who have put in a considerable number of volunteer hours in training for incident management and response for hazardous materials, emergency medical, wildland fires, search and rescue, and other such specialized skills. These citizens are volunteer firefighters in the twenty-odd volunteer companies of the Hawai`i Fire Department.

In a country where 80% of all firefighters are volunteers and the average value of one hour of volunteer time is about $18, and a county where growth is patently overwhelming almost all aspects of the budget and infrastructure, it would seem in everyone’s best interests to cultivate the established organizations and people who are poised to respond to emergency incidents and disasters of all sorts. Nationally, the class of rubber-meets-the-road first responders are overlooked in funding, training, and planning, yet they are frequently the ones who bear the brunt of responding to incidents. As Doug Carlson has repeatedly stated over at his blog about disaster response in Hawai`i, greater accountability is needed. That can begin by streamlining the mishmash of State Civil Defense, Federal Emergency Management Agency, County Civil Defense, Hawai`i Fire Department, Hawai`i Community College, and the plethora of other local, state and federal agencies responsible for employing and training first responders here on the island.

For an island which is expected to be able to survive unaided for one to two weeks after a major incident, we don’t seem to be able to talk to each other very well.

And don’t look to Big Brother for guidance. The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists’ just reprinted the Federation of American Scientists’ analysis of the information available from FEMA at Ready.gov, and it isn’t good. Emergency response begins locally, and if you are concerned about it, drop by your local fire station and offer to volunteer. There’s sure to be something you can do.


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