California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger just announced that the state is creating the “first-in-the-nation Disaster Corps to professionalize, standardize and coordinate highly trained disaster volunteers statewide.”
Schwarzenegger colorfully tweeted out the news on Friday: “Check out our Disaster Corps…Because we believe in the 7 P’s. Proper prior planning prevents piss poor performance.”
Gov. Schwarznegger’s tweet announcement (photo credit: David Konig)
Amanda Ripley, who covered the creation of the CaliforniaVolunteers cabinet position, has a nice writeup, “The Navy Seals Of Disaster Volunteers,” on the Disaster Corps announcement in her Unthinkable blog:
Secretary Karen Baker, the woman who got that job on Gov. Schwarzeneggerâ€™s cabinet, is introducing the nationâ€™s first Disaster Corps–a squad of 1,000 elite, well-trained volunteers who can can be deployed to disaster sites as soon as they are needed (without waiting for the soul-killing bureaucratic sign-offs that so often delay volunteer efforts after big calamities.)
â€œWe needed to develop the Navy Seals of volunteers,â€ Baker says. OK, first of all, it takes some chutzpah to put the words â€œNavy Sealâ€ and â€œvolunteerâ€ in the same sentence. Baker can pull it off only because she has actual power–the kind almost none of her peers across the country can claim. When I greeted her as â€œSecretary Bakerâ€ on the phone the other day, she laughed and said, â€œCall me Karen, or Iâ€™ll kill you.â€ But she (and by association all volunteers in the state) have experienced a surge in credibility since she got the cabinet post. â€œAll of a sudden all phone calls are returned,â€ she says. â€œInstantly.â€ (Seven months after Schwarzenegger created the cabinet post, Gov. David Paterson did the same thing in New York.)
For two years, Baker has worked on creating the Disaster Corps. â€œWe needed to up the game,â€ she says. Why? Because California is crowded with volunteers (one quarter of the population volunteers in some way.) But too few of them have the training, the experience, or, crucially, the trust of the authorities. â€œEveryone will say, â€˜Yeah, we love volunteers.â€™ But the truth is, they donâ€™t often use them because they donâ€™t know what theyâ€™re getting.â€
The new Disaster Corps will be made up of citizens who have received Department of Justice/FBI background checks and First Aid/CPR training, at a minimum. Many will have special skills (like language fluency or law enforcement experience) that make them particularly valuable for certain kinds of crises. They will be drawn from existing volunteer outfits like Citizen Corps, which means they will have workerâ€™s compensation coverage already–an important pre-requisite for higher-risk disaster sites. The Corps will be supported by five local coordinators, full-time staffers in Los Angeles, Riverside, San Bernardino, San Diego, and San Francisco counties.
The idea is to make it easier for the people in charge to find, trust and deploy volunteer assets when they need them. As part of the project, Bakerâ€™s office is also creating a large new database that everyone can access with critical information about which volunteers (from all organizations across the state, not just Disaster Corps) are available to do what. â€œOften in government, they know what the problems are but not what resources are available to them privately.â€ And Baker has set up mutual aid agreements so that volunteers can work across different counties. Not very sexy, but very important. All of this has been done with private and federal dollars, which is a good thing given that Bakerâ€™s state has no dollars.
Thanks to Jimmy Jazz for giving me the heads up on Amanda’s post.