An agreement will allow Onslow County emergency responders to focus on their job while an area nonprofit organizes volunteers to help those affected.
The Onslow County Board of Commissioners unanimously approved a memorandum of understanding earlier this year between the county and United Way Onslow County to get assistance and help with volunteer coordination and donation management.
Norman Bryson, director of Onslow County Emergency Services, said that after the April 16, 2011, tornado more than 8,000 people went to the site as spontaneous volunteers to help clean up and restore the area. As a result, county staff had to track the volunteers, where they were going and get resources allocated to those who needed help. Bryson said that during the response to the tornado, emergency officials had to get people in to help while providing security to the area, ensure volunteers were in contact with property owners and transport citizens to work sites and feeding stations.
“There’s a lot of accountability that goes into that,” Bryson said.
Now the United Way will help.
Craig Wagner, president of United Way Onslow County, said that the organization will have a seat in the Emergency Operation Center for volunteer management during a natural disaster and then, once the event has passed, they will establish a volunteer reception center where volunteers would register, identify skill sets and log in and out.
“When a disaster hits, the first thing they do is think, ‘How can I help?’ … Often times it becomes more of a hindrance than a help because there’s no system of coordinating them. Even with the tornadoes, 8,000 people, that is a lot. … So this aims to kind of alleviate that problem,” Wagner said.
To have a ready base of volunteers, those interested in helping in the wake of a natural disaster can pre-register at volunteeronslow.org and indicate what skills and experience they have. Folks can also pre-register for debris removal and minor home repairs.
Bryson said that county staff and the United Way have been working on the agreement for two years after seeing how they tracked and worked with citizens and those donating services and goods during the April 2011 tornado. The new addition to emergency response plans is now being included in emergency officials’ annual natural disaster preparation exercise in order to be prepared for the next natural disaster, he said.
“It puts us in a situation where we can look more at disaster response,” he said.