Volunteer summit contributes to teamwork during a disaster

Volunteer summit contributes to teamwork during a disaster

Speakers and attendees of the 2015 Arizona Volunteer Organization Summit

PHOENIX -- Large smiles, open arms and laughs were prevalent at the beginning of the fourth annual Arizona Volunteer Organization Summit held in early May, as volunteers from more than 40 organizations around the state came together.


Every year, the Human Services branch of the Department of Emergency and Military Affairs  (DEMA) holds the summit in Phoenix.


Whitney Roberts, DEMA’s Volunteer Agency and Private Sector Liaison planned the summit. “We like to get all the different groups together once a year, not just those that are organizations with disaster assistance missions, but also ones that have resources and capabilities to assist,” she said. “We provide interesting and educational presentations and an opportunity for those in attendance to network, share best practices and lessons learned with each other. The value of them meeting face-to-face is helpful, so that when disaster strikes they already know each other and how each other can contribute.” 


Volunteers are integral to DEMA’s mission to provide emergency management capabilities to the citizens of Arizona and the nation.


The volunteers are available when DEMA calls for help during an emergency. “The needs of survivors can vary from sheltering to feeding to debris removal to case-management to mental health support and more,” Roberts said. “Some organizations can also help with donations and volunteer management. All disasters are different and may not always require the same groups, but they are ready when we do call.” 


The summit covered topics such as how disaster response has changed in the last decade, what Arizona can expect in its upcoming wildfire season, and a conversation with KTAR reporter Jim Cross about how the volunteers can help the media tell a story during the time of need. 


“We need you to help tell that story. Even if it’s not on air, it may go on our website,” Cross said. “There may be distrust with the media, but we want to get people’ stories out there. It generates interest and can bring donations. “


Robert Sanders is the Partners in Caring Director of Operations for Lutheran Social Services of the Southwest. Sanders’ group provides case management services for individuals affected by disaster. A case manager can help with immediate needs. They also help setup a long-term committee to make decisions about larger items that may be needed by an individual after a disaster. 


Sanders attended the summit for the first time to network with other volunteer groups and learn more about DEMA.


“Each of the presentations was informative. They provided a broad range of information,” he said. “Each organization in attendance brought a unique perspective to the summit. Organizers did an excellent job of bridging various groups together, including city, county, state, and national organizations.”


Mary Springer is the director of Navajo County’s Emergency Management. Springer says Navajo County depends on volunteers during an emergency. “Volunteer partners play an important role. They provide services and have a reach farther than the local resources,” she said. “I discovered that the Southern Baptists have equipment that can be loaned to us, as well as being able to provide services during an emergency.”


Penny Summers and her dog Lily are volunteers with HOPE Animal-Assisted Crisis Response, a group comprised of volunteers who provide comfort and encouragement through animal-assisted support to individuals affected by crisis and disaster. Their services are typically utilized in the recovery phase of an incident or disaster and work in conjunction with response or relief agencies.


“This was my first time and I didn't really know what to expect,” Summers said. “It was important to attend the summit to find out what goes on behind the doors, I sure learned a lot of what it takes for everyone to work and come together as a team. Cities, counties, police forces, fire, as well as volunteers. We all have important jobs and we can't do it alone.”


“I loved networking with the wonderful people and animals from HOPE,” Springer said, “Penny and Lily sat at our table, and I was truly amazed at how much training they and their partners go through to become part of the program.”


Cheryl Bowen Kennedy, the Assistant Director of Community Preparedness for the Arizona Department of Homeland Security, attended the summit as an “opportunity to interact with attendees, gain understanding of how they engage, and to build relationships.”


Bowen learned something new while listening to the speakers. “The Arizona Southern Baptist Disaster Relief raised my awareness and understanding of what resources they have and how we can best utilize them,” she said. “The American Red Cross reminded me of the importance of training and exercising.”


Roberts was happy with the outcome of the event. “The overall goal of the summit is awareness, communication and collaboration. We want our partners to be aware of what other organizations are out there and how they all can help - what are their capabilities and how can they all communicate,” she said.  “Each year I take away a great sense of preparedness. These groups, our partners, are ready; and that is great for Arizona because we know when an incident occurs we can call on them and the survivors can count on them.”