Citizens learn steps when volunteering for diasters

Published 7:24 pm Friday, July 9, 2010

Sometimes the best way to insure that disaster victims make itthrough a disaster mentally is to insure that those who are thereto help are educated in what they will be going through.

The Mississippi Department of Health Office of EmergencyPlanning and Response put on a training for members of VIPR -Volunteers in Preparedness Registry – at the State Room Thursday todo that very thing.

“This class is important for the community because disasters arelocal, and we want the citizens of Mississippi to prepare beforedisasters happen,” said MDH State Volunteer Coordinator LavetaThomas. “That’s what being a VIPR volunteer is all about.”

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The class briefed volunteers who would potentially be on sceneto help responders deal with people who are affected by disastersof all kinds, whether it is something like a house fire orsomething on a much larger scale, like a hurricane.

Class instructor Scott Sumrall gave volunteers a lot to thinkabout in the day-long class, including how disaster can effectresponders as well as victims.

“During the heroic phase of a disaster response, everyone is inresponse mode, even the victims,” he said. “This is a positivething that comes from a disaster, but it can turn into a negativeif you don’t manage it well.”

He also pointed out that there are long-term effects of dealingwith a disaster, and a very common one is to become overly involvedin jobs and work.

“You see that in responders as well as victims. Work takes yourmind off it,” he said.

Thomas agreed that the welfare of the volunteers and respondersis just as important as the disaster survivors.

“We want citizens to prepare and protect themselves and theirfamilies during disasters,” she said.

And Sumrall also instructed the class that they can expectworking in the field during a disaster to color the way they lookat things from that point on, almost as much as it does thedisaster victims.

“When you’ve lost a family member, your priorities change,” hesaid. “Prepare for your world view to change.”

He also told the group how to gather needed facts from disastervictims without being intrusive.

“You need to gather some sort of information to be able to help,but avoid those really detailed personal questions,” he said. “Ifthey want to give you details, they’ll take you down thatroad.”

And VIPR volunteers are always welcome, Thomas said.

“We want to know that we have people who are trained becausethere are not enough health department employees to go aroundsometimes during a large-scale disaster,” she said. “There areabout 3 million people in Mississippi and about 2,400 of us.”

That’s where helpers from the civilian population fit in, shesaid.

“Obviously volunteers are our lifeblood, and our most valuableresources by far,” she said. “If we can train and prepare them, wecan be assured that Mississippi is protected.”

Thomas said anyone interested in the program can access thewebsite at, or call 1-866-HLTHY4U(1-866-458-4948).