Volunteers need to be better integrated into national planning for civil emergencies across Wales. A new framework outlines what is needed.
Volunteers are a vital resource when it comes to responding to local or national crises. Often the first on the scene, they can provide immediate help and support until emergency services arrive.
Livia began volunteering with British Red Cross at a mass vaccination centre during the COVID-19 pandemic. She writes:
‘I’ve always been fascinated by the medical environment and I wanted to be of help. I got involved at Venue Cymru, welcoming people and assisting the queue, handing out masks and checking people’s eligibility.
One time a young woman came who was shaking, terrified of injections. I stayed with her and was able to speed up her journey through the queue. I couldn’t go in with her when it was her turn for the injection, but she waved at me as she left – she was OK.
I later got a newsletter from British Red Cross, inviting people to consider becoming an Emergency Response Volunteer. This new role involves being on call at agreed times and ready to provide practical and psycho social support to people after an incident.
Being a volunteer is a big responsibility. We can drive the Red Cross vehicle equipped with batteries, lights, blankets, clothing, water and a water boiler – and a box of forms to complete. We volunteer in pairs.
The fire brigade, or other emergency services are usually the first to arrive on the scene. We may be called to provide emotional and logistic support. I was surprised at just how much we are entrusted to do, when its necessary.
As volunteers we are well prepared, however and there is staff support available 24/7. There is a lot of training, including role play of emergency situations. Some of it is mandatory and some optional. I do feel well-prepared but there’s an element of apprehension for my first call out, hoping that I do everything right.’
A NEW FRAMEWORK
British Red Cross recently lead on a project to develop a framework to improve the coordination and enable the skills of volunteers to be fully utilised in responding to civil emergencies. The initiative was supported by the Wales Community Resilience Group, (a forum including third sector partners, Welsh Government and the four Local Resilience Forums (LRF) in Wales), funded by a Welsh Government Volunteering Wales Strategic Grant and undertaken by Richard Newton Consulting.
The resulting framework aims to ensure direct representation of the voluntary sector on key planning fora and within incident specific recovery teams. It recommends relying on existing rather than new structures, including increased deployment of emergency focussed volunteers from national and local voluntary organisations.
‘Volunteers have been at the frontline in responses to flooding, COVID-19, Ukraine, Afghanistan and recently, the death of HM Queen Elizabeth II’. said Kate Griffiths, Director for Wales, British Red Cross Cymru.
‘The voluntary sector is recognised as a vital part of emergency response but it needs to be more effectively integrated into our emergency planning structures’
‘There is a golden opportunity for change’ said Henry Barnes, Emergency Response Operations Manager – Wales ‘because a national review of resilience structures in Wales is being undertaken by Welsh Government, in conjunction with emergency planning colleagues from Local Resilience Forums. This gives us the chance to feed recommendations of our report into the conversation’.
The project report highlights the need for mapping and documenting the capability and capacity of voluntary sector organisations to contribute to civil emergency response.
A new Volunteering Wales platform, to be launched in March 2023, will support this. Volunteers will be able to sign up to join a bank of ‘emergency volunteers’, documenting any relevant skills they may have. Similarly, organisations with emergency response volunteer capability will be encouraged to register their details on the platform. In this way it will become a vital resource to support those who lead on emergency response, enabling targeted and coordinated local voluntary action.
The report, Framework for Co-ordination of volunteers in emergency response situations (Wales) July 2022 can be downloaded here.
More information about volunteering with British Red Cross can be found here
National and local resilience forums work together to strengthen preparedness, build collective capability and enhance resilience, in line with the requirements set out in the Civil Contingencies Act 2004, Read more here
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