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Vancouver prepares volunteer army for disasters

Editor:李莎宁 实习生 赵晓书
Updated:2012/8/2 15:39:20

VANCOUVER, Aug. 1 (Xinhua) -- Vancouver announced Wednesday the launching of its Volunteers Corps program to involve citizens in assisting in public events, but more importantly as trained emergency response in a possible earthquake.

With the Canadian city located on an earthquake belt stretching from Alaska to Mexico, Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson said it was vital to have a dedicated group of volunteers trained to deal with possible natural disasters.

"We are a city that needs to be ready for an earthquake at any time that could be major and as we've seen in other cities, it can be a huge test of a city's resilience and it can have massive impact how quickly citizens respond, how quickly we can get our infrastructure back up to full strength," he said.

After sending a team to Christchurch to study the aftermath of major earthquakes that hit the New Zealand city in September 2010 and February 2011, respectively, in addition to looking at other disasters in Japan and Chile, the new Vancouver program is looking to recruit up to 1,500 volunteers over the next three to four years.

The program, to be jointly managed by the city's fire and rescue service and Office of Emergency Management, also includes the creation of the Vancouver Emergency Response Team (VERT). This elite group of about 100 volunteers to be in place by late 2013 will receive advanced assessment training and report what they see to emergency services.

"It is going to be a selected group of individuals that step up to the plate that are part of this volunteer group that want to learn a little bit more," said deputy fire chief Mark Engler.

"(They will be) those advanced eyes and ears out there for us that will be able to do those quick assessments in their own community, will be able to help the people in their own community, and communicate back to us," Engler said.

With the program largely building on the success of Vancouver's hosting of the 2010 Winter Olympic Games when thousands of volunteers clad in blue jackets welcomed and assisted visitors to the city, Lawrie Portigal, president of Volunteer British Columbia, points out the number of people in the Canadian province willing to give of their time is drastically down from two years ago.

He added volunteers in the 30 to 45 age group were virtually invisible, while most are young people and those over 60.

"We know that volunteers are going to be coming and going so we run a 'Steady Basis' training program and gradually try to build up a base. Then if an event comes along we have a base to build on, because that's the key to volunteering that you have a core of people who can become managers of volunteers when there's a requirement for a large number of people."

Portigal said trying to keep a core group of 200-300 people is extremely difficult and ideally there should be a paid person for every 10 volunteers.

For young people looking to get experience, volunteering provides the opportunities in a variety of fields that could possibly lead to paid employment.

"We have opportunities in the volunteer sector where they can gradually learn how to fit into organizations, (learn) how organizations work, how jobs work. Learn how to do things and that will lead to more possibilities of employment."

Robertson, a distant relative of Anti-Japan War hero Doctor Norman Bethune, told Xinhua that volunteering had played a big part in his life. As a young person he had volunteered at a hospital and for environmental initiatives; as a business person he contributed his company's time and resources to community efforts.

"Doctor Bethune was definitely a big inspiration for me and my family and the whole ethic of selflessness is very, very important. And for a community we need people to be able to give their time and serve the city, and serve the community in different ways," he said.

"For me as mayor, my goal is to create the possibility and the opportunity for people to serve to volunteer their times and their energy and their expertise."

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