California launches disaster corps, first in the US

On Friday, California announced the formation of the state’s Disaster Corps – marking the first such Corps in the US. The Disaster Corps is designed to professionalize, standardize and coordinate all statewide disaster volunteers. Volunteers will now be registered by their local government organization and be required to meet training, certification and security guidelines.

The creation of the Corps comes out of the Cosco Busan Oil Spill and Wildfire response efforts which created a large often disparate crowd of volunteers. In order to streamline the process, the Corps will guide volunteers through a series of guidelines that are designed to find strengths and keep volunteer efforts more organized. In February 2008, Governor Schwarzenegger appointed Karen Baker to serve as the state’s and also the nation’s first secretary of Service and Volunteering and charged her office with the development of the Disaster Corps.

The Disaster Corps were created through a collaboration between subject matter experts, public-private partnerships and government representatives. Their first major effort will be coordinated through CaliforniaVolunteers. CaliforniaVolunteers has awarded the counties of Los Angeles, Riverside, San Bernardino, San Diego and San Francisco $1.15 million in federal homeland security funding to provide background checks as well as First Aid training for the first 1,000 volunteers. Each county will also get an official volunteer coordinator.

As an additional part of the coordination effort, CaliforniaVolunteers launched the Disaster Volunteer Resource Inventory, an online tool that will coordinate and support volunteer programs statewide. Official Disaster Corps programs and NGOs will be granted free access to the tool. The Inventory will also house individual volunteer’s full case history including contact information, training received, availability and past projects as well as any special skill information.

So far the project has received services and funding from private sector contributors such as Deloitte LLP which provided $750,000 in pro-bono consulting and The Home Depot Foundation which has committed $60,000 for disaster related supplies.

“California is always leading the way and now we are the first state in the nation to integrate volunteers into our state emergency plan,” said Governor Schwarzenegger. “Volunteers are an incredible resource, and no state has more giving, more passionate or more dedicated volunteers than California. Together, we will take volunteerism to a whole new level and make California better prepared and better equipped than ever before, for any emergency.”

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