How to volunteer before, during, and after a disaster

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Reporter - Briana Conner
Photographer - Barry Stevenson
Editor - Mike Spissinger

MCCRACKEN COUNTY, Ky. - Mother Nature can be unpredictable. Her fury can destroy property and lives in seconds, but it usually takes months, even years, to recover and rebuild. The work would be near impossible without emergency response agencies and the volunteers who give up their time to head out when a disaster rolls in.

Paul Carter is the Emergency Management Director in McCracken County, and his team is usually the first to respond after a disaster. "We couldn't function without our volunteers," he said. They're the ones that gear up for high angle rescues, swift water rescues, even ground searches. Carter said, "Some skill sets are more geared toward the young athletic type, but senior citizens even can be a great help to us."

Carter said there's a way for almost anyone to help out, as long as they go through training. "We can help them develop a skill," he said. The people he can't help are the ones who show up the day of the disaster on their own. Carter said, "When people freelance, we don't know what their skill sets are. We don't know what they bring to the table. We discourage that completely."

Long-term recovery volunteers with The United Methodist Committee on Relief usually come in after Carter's crews move out. Even after a disaster, Lay Resource Leader Susan Engle said freelancing is a problem. "It creates all kinds of issues for the people who are trying to make the people who have just been impacted lives better," said Engle. So, she requires all of her volunteers to register.

Some services don't require any formal training, like putting together care kits. Engle also needs people with skills, but said she can work with anyone who has the heart to serve. "You can tell us what do you want to do. We will build that into the database. When I need a cook and you're a cook and you can go, we're gonna hook you up," she said. It's a system that works best when there are volunteers to call on during and after a crisis.

Carter said he does run background checks on all volunteers, and anyone with a criminal background may not be eligible to help. The United Methodist Committee on Relief only requires background checks for their emergency response team volunteers.

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