Most often disasters affect communities well before professional responders are able to organize and arrive to the scene. This makes a compelling case for equiping average citizens in every community with basic first response skills. While relief workers mobilize to assist, residents with immediate access to those in need can be rendering life-saving relief. The more effective community first response teams tend to be linked to professional disaster management personnel and systems that offer a support structure and higher degree of care as capacities allow. With policies and procedures in place, community disaster response teams can lead a relief effort until a handover of responsibilities becomes possible. Once emergency responders arrive, community teams may also serve as surge support depending on the magnitude of the event and the degree to which communities have access to emergency support systems.
How do I prepare?
What do I need to know?
It is widely known that affected communities are the actual first responders in any disaster. While professional responders get organized to provide emergency support, affected families take action right away, with neighbors helping neighbors as the disaster unfolds and passes. With this in mind, the humanitarian community writ large is investing an higher proportion of funds toward building voluntary local response teams that can provide emergency relief in the immediate aftermath of a disaster and assist professional responders.
Local teams are well placed to be highly effective in that they are familiar with their neighborhoods, have immediate access to affected populations, and are trusted by those in need of help. These teams can therefore persuade people to take action, such as leaving their homes and belongings when a serious flood or storm is about to hit, or staying put at a shelter, or moving to high ground. Local response teams also know how to navigate the neighborhoods to safety by using pre-established evacuation routes. They may also know where children, the elderly and disabled live and therefore can prioritize targeting the most vulnerable people first.
Experience shows that the more effective community response teams are connected to professional support structures. As such, they can safely transition out of an emergency response when trained relief workers arrive, or remain as coordinated support to the relief operation as it gets organized. They may also be able to continue to contribute to the disaster should there be a need for their added capacity. Linking informal local teams with professional responders also ensures a degree of order during disasters that are inherently chaotic. This coordination also facilitates rapid, accurate and relevant information flow leading to collaboration that can be life saving.
There are a number of programs that are implemented globally that have merit, including the Red Cross and Red Crescent Community Action Team (CAT) training, also known as Community Disaster Response Team (CDRT) training. In Asia, the Office of US Foreign Disaster Assistance under the US Agency for International Development has supported the roll out of the Community Action in Disaster Response (CADRE) in 10 countries. All of these programs have been built on good practice, such as the US Federal Emergency Management Agency's Community Emergency Response Team training, and continue to evolve based on lessons learned. They have elements of an Incident Command System approach, which has been used for decades by emergency response professionals, starting with the US Forest Service.
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