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Huron County seeks disaster volunteers

Annie Zelm • Mar 14, 2011 at 4:31 PM

When a tornado slammed into David Kane's home on Bogart Road in 1992, no one came in the days afterward to help him clean up or ask what he needed.

The winds ripped through windows and French doors, leaving Kane and his daughter huddled on the floor amid broken glass.

Now the 61-year-old helps others pick up the pieces after disaster strikes.

As a member of the Erie County Citizen Emergency Response Team, he mobilized about 1,300 volunteers to provide support for Ottawa County residents devastated by a tornado last spring.

"It's been my nature if someone's in need, I go out and help," said Kane, an administrator for Calvary Temple Church in Sandusky. "I figured I might as well learn the right way to do it."

Erie County's team was lauded by other rescue operations for its response in Ottawa County, which doesn't have a team of its own but has applied for a grant to start one.

Huron County emergency officials also hope to replicate the success of Erie County's team as it recruits volunteers for its own.

The Huron County Emergency Management Agency will stretch about $6,000 of funding from the federal Citizen Corps Council this year to cover the costs of training and supplies for the 30 or so volunteers.

At least 10 have answered the call to help so far, said Sandy Waggoner, who coordinates the response teams in both Erie and Huron counties through RS Associates, a company that contracts with the EMA offices.

Anyone 17 or older can join the team as long as they have a good legal record and are physically able to do the jobs for which they volunteer.

Those jobs could include everything from manning the phones at an office to providing food and water to first responders and meeting with homeowners.

"It's using a combination of common sense and compassion for people that have been in a disaster," Waggoner said. "Every time we respond, you're probably going to do something a little bit different."

The team assists other agencies but doesn't duplicate their work, she said.

In the days after the tornado in Ottawa County, the volunteers managed unsolicited donations and stopped by each of the 50 or so damaged homes twice a day to find out what the residents needed most.

"I was very impressed with them," Allen Clay Joint Fire District Chief Bruce Moritz said, adding that the Erie County CERT made sure all of the volunteers who spontaneously showed up were registered and tasked with specific duties. "They filled a void -- with what they did, I was able to pull my people back and keep them available for emergency runs."

Just last week, Erie County's team helped assess 60 houses damaged in the Franklin Flats area.

It allowed EMA director Bill Walker to quickly send information to the state and federal governments and find out if those residents qualified for assistance.

Team members can choose whether they have the time or ability to respond to a particular situation each time they're called.

Huron County EMA director Jason Roblin said the team will be funded by grants for at least the next two years, but the county will have to find another way to support it if the grant stream runs dry.

Still, it provides a lot of help at a minimal expense.

"A few years ago, I had a smaller picture of what (the team) might be able to do -- it was more neighbor helping neighbor," Roblin said. "But after the team deployed to Ottawa County, I had a greater sense of what they could do. In larger events, the current force isn't big enough.

"You need to keep track of every volunteer out there," Roblin said. "There's just so many little things to make sure everyone is safe and goes home."

Want to volunteer:

• E-mail Sandy Waggoner of the Huron County Citizen Emergency Response Team at sandy@rsassociatesllc.com, or call her at 419-602-0758.

• Or contact Jason Roblin at 419-663-5772, or email him at Director@huroncountyema.com.

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