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The vital role of disaster response and volunteers

The vital role of disaster response and volunteers

  • Updated

You’ve seen it in the news: ‘Severe weather destroys a town; cleanup will take weeks’ or ‘Child missing in lake area’. When such events occur, Emergency Management arrives on scene, determines a course of action, and calls upon the appropriate support agencies to help. Highly trained and well equipped medical, law enforcement, utility, search, and other qualified response crews arrive as needed.

Another group which usually arrives at a disaster scene is called spontaneous volunteers. They sincerely want to pitch in to clear debris, or help find the missing child. Depending on how many show up, it will require one or more of the trained professional responders to be transferred from active use to work with them. Most spontaneous volunteers arriving on the scene do not have the professional training and equipment to be safe, so keeping these volunteers safe becomes a responsibility of the professional responders. This also creates a shortage of trained personnel on the professional teams, which affects their safety too.

If you’re one of those who would like to help but are not a trained professional emergency responder, there are organizations you can volunteer with to participate. Within those organizations you will get training and can become affiliated with those professional response agencies.

One such group operating in Lancaster and nearby counties is the Southeast Nebraska Medical Reserve Corps (MRC), coordinated through Lancaster County Emergency Management. MRC members complete training in FEMA’s Incident Command System to understand the chain of command in an event. They are also trained in the many aspects of becoming an emergency first responder. The MRC also works many community events as first aid providers. Many of the MRC members are also ham radio licensees, which helps them communicate at these events to maintain an emergency response communications network.

Ham radio volunteers

Ham radio enthusiasts play a big role in Lancaster County, both during emergencies and by providing communication for area events. Almost all Lincoln Amateur Radio Club members are storm spotters. They spread out around the county when the storm spotter network is activated by Lancaster County Emergency Management during severe weather outbreaks. They watch for funnel clouds, wind, hail and report flooding, washed-out roads or bridges, and other dangerous conditions across the county.

Some of the events both groups participate in are the Lincoln Marathon and the Cornhusker State Games. Both organizations consist of trained, experienced volunteers who won’t show up at a disaster scene uninvited, but play valuable roles during a disaster. Want to help? Visit the MRC’s website at or the Lincoln Amateur Radio Club website at You are welcome to attend these organizations’ monthly meetings at any time without joining if you’d just like to get a feel for who they are or what they do.

Spontaneous volunteers create a drain on professional resources at a disaster scene. Become a part of a group of well-trained volunteers and play a valuable role in your community’s safety when disaster strikes.

Beth Sorensen is a Disaster First-aid, Communicator, Canoeing Instructor, and Wilderness Specialist with the Southeast Nebraska Medical Reserve Corps, which provides trained volunteers to support the community’s daily public health needs and responses to local emergencies in times of crisis.


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