Hundreds of highly trained volunteers spring into action every time disaster strikes in Fairfax County, supporting professional firefighters, police and rescue squads who are working in affected communities.
It is rewarding work but it can also be physically demanding and grueling and requires weeks of intensive training to prepare for. It is not for everyone.
Beyond the front line though lies the Volunteer Emergency Team (VET), a group of dedicated citizens charged with assisting with the mobilization and disbursement of “spontaneous” volunteers, a sometimes untrained but equally critical group of citizens who will always step forward in urgent times of need.
The VET operates temporary volunteer reception centers, a triage of sorts, where team members make sure that all on-the-spot disaster volunteers are placed in situations where they will do the most good and stay safe.
RSVP Northern Virginia, a program of Volunteer Fairfax, is seeking volunteers to join the VET.
“Being part of the VET is an opportunity to play a critical role during an emergency without undergoing extensive training or enduring the physical effort required for other volunteers who work closer to an impact zone,” says, Paul Anderson, VET program manager. The VET is a program of Volunteer Fairfax.
“It is a way to help out in a storm without getting your feet wet,” says Anderson.
Fortunately, disasters are rare in Fairfax, but when they do occur, like when a flash flood inundated homes and roads in the Huntington Area of Fairfax County six years ago this September, a properly staffed VET team is vital, according to Anderson.
The VET sprang into action in Huntington setting up a volunteer reception center outside the impacted flood zone.
The VET center helped process more than 100 volunteers who contributed more than 400 hours of service, according to Emily Swenson, chief operating officer of Volunteer Fairfax. “While it’s hard to put a value on the support of neighbors we can say the over 400 hours donated would be valued at over $8,000,” Swenson says. “The VET was critical in ensuring that all our volunteers were fully utilized and placed in a safe location,” Swenson says. “In times of crisis, the community truly depends on the VET.”
When setting up a physical reception center is not possible, Volunteer Fairfax creates a virtual volunteer processing center to accomplish the same goals, as it has various times during winter storms, Swenson says.
All VET members are required to attend an initial orientation before taking part in 15 hours of free classroom instruction. VET volunteers must be available during community emergencies, ideally for six-hour shifts on the days following a disaster. “VET members are encouraged but not required to stay involved year-round so they have a better feel for their community when an emergency arises,” Swenson says.
The VET is holding an orientation Wednesday, Sept. 20, at 6 p.m., at the Volunteer Fairfax Headquarters, 10530 Page Avenue in the City of Fairfax.
To sign up for the orientation and find more information, visit www.eventbrite.com/e/volunteer-emergency-team-vet-orientation-tickets-37098747352?aff=es2
For more information on VET, contact Paul Anderson at 703-246-3533 or email Anderson at firstname.lastname@example.org.