Volunteer Mobilization Center Orientation on Disasters, a Success in Whatcom County

by Mary Van Verst, Serve Washington

The Volunteer Center of Whatcom County has laid plans for a Volunteer Mobilization Center (VMC), which can be set up to manage volunteers in case of a disaster; this is similar to the system designed by the United Way of Snohomish County several years ago with Volunteer Generation Fund funding, which was put to use after the mudslide in Oso. The VMC volunteer committee held a two hour session in January in what one could expect if “The Big One” (Cascadia Subduction Zone earthquake) were to happen in Whatcom County.  Response was so strong it was moved from the original venue, which could hold only 200, to Whatcom Middle School. All 600+ who responded will be added to the outreach program to continue the VMC plans.
VMC_EntireCrowdDr. Rebekah Paci-Green, Director of the Resilience Institute at Western Washington University, was the keynote speaker, and spoke about the types of damages residents could expect and the policy, mitigation, and preparedness actions the community can take to reduce damages and protect vulnerable members. After the keynote, a Town Hall panel discussion was held with panelists John Gargett, Deputy Director, Whatcom County Sheriff’s Office Division of Emergency Management; Chalice Dew-Johnson, Whatcom County Sheriff’s Office Division of Emergency Management; Paul Gazdik, Director, City of Bellingham Emergency Management; Greg Hope, Program Manager, Whatcom County CERT Program; Prentiss Andrews, AmeriCorps Disaster Preparedness Coordinator, American Red Cross, Northwest Washington Chapter; and Mike Gantenbein from Map My Neighborhood. The audience had so many questions that the panel could not get to the twenty plus questions that had been submitted ahead of time via the website. The unanswered questions were shared with the panel members and their replies posted on the website and emailed directly to the 600 plus that had registered for the Town Hall.
VMC_EventShotGayle Shipley, retired Director of Environmental Health and Safety at Western Washington University, shared that never in her twenty years had the Directors of emergency services for Whatcom County and City of Bellingham been gathered together for a community discussion on disaster preparedness and response. One participant commented, “(There was) information presented that I wasn’t aware of, information that I hadn’t had before, and inspiring opportunities to volunteer.”  Another said, “(It was) eye opening, informative and opened up possibilities for networking and involvement.”
More events like this are planned by the outstanding volunteers of the Volunteer Mobilization Center (VMC).  In addition, the volunteer center is using VGF funds to train Western Washington University students to staff a VMC.
Visit the website to view the YouTube video of the two hour presentation: www.WhatcomVolunteer.org/Disaster.
The Volunteer Generation Fund (VGF) is a program of the Corporation for National and Community Service. Seventeen state service com#missions administer VGF grants to expand volunteer infrastructure by supporting volunteer management practices that increase volunteer recruitment and retention. Learn more at www.statecommissions.org

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