The Value of Engaging Volunteers in Preparedness Partnerships

Linda Haynie

Linda was recognized as a White House Champion of Change in Community Resilience and Preparedness. 

September 11, 2001 had a profound effect on our country, and the events of that day were shocking and horrific.  Four years later, we had another shock as a nation – the devastation and impact of Hurricane Katrina.  While time heals many wounds, the impacts on our lives of events like these can be both diverse and unanticipated.  They can also result in important, positive changes to our nation, our cities and towns, and to us, and developing effective partnerships is a key building block to realizing necessary changes. 

After seeing these events unfold, I decided that it was important for me to help make our community better prepared for disasters and emergencies.  In 2007, I decided to follow my heart and leave a 25-year career in public sector environmental policy and planning to begin working in community preparedness, first as a public health preparedness planner and finally as Community Preparedness Program Manager/CERT Program Manager at the City of Austin’s Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Management.

I became a part of the community that works hard to provide critical information to help citizens prepare for and take steps to protect themselves from the impacts of pandemics, tornados, floods, and other disasters.  Despite these efforts, however, the level of public awareness and preparedness for these threats is often very low, especially in communities that have not been impacted by a major emergency or disaster.  Citizens who believe “it won’t happen to me, it won’t happen here, and it won’t happen today” present one of the biggest challenges to preparedness efforts everywhere.

Local Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) programs are important catalysts for this challenge.  Trained members not only learn how to help out their neighbors and their community in emergencies, they also share what they learn with their friends, families, and neighbors.  This simple step helps shift the balance toward improved community preparedness. 

We are proud that Austin’s CERT volunteers worked in evacuee shelters during Hurricane Ike, helped staff the City’s Emergency Operations Center during a significant ice storm, helped provide firefighter rehab during major wildfires, and were involved in other critical response activities.   But what about the in between times when no emergencies or disasters are happening?  We focused on forging new partnerships so our CERT members had more meaningful opportunities to better support our community during times of no disasters.

The result: our CERT program now includes a team of members trained by the City’s Water Utility to conduct informal site inspections for safety concerns and suspicious activities at pump stations and reservoirs.  Another team has accompanied city Fire Department personnel on smoke alarm canvassing events conducted in neighborhoods where a fire death has occurred.  They help install free smoke alarms and/or batteries to assure those neighborhoods are better prepared for fire threats.  Some CERT members have been trained to conduct one-hour personal preparedness modules upon request by neighborhood groups, businesses and others across the community.  Another team has been trained to help staff the State Operations Center when major disasters occur outside of the Austin area.  These partnerships have provided valuable opportunities for our CERT members to get advanced training, to support other important preparedness and response activities, and to stay engaged.

Linda Haynie recently retired from the City of Austin, where she worked as Community Preparedness Program Manager and CERT Program Manager for the City’s Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Management.

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