CRESST volunteers focus on the first 72 hours in an emergency.

Campbell River emergency services wants to build volunteer ranks

Group is holding an open house for community on Oct. 11

It might be a flood or a wildfire affecting a community, like Zeballos last summer, or it might be on a smaller scale, like a house fire.

Disaster can strike quickly though, forcing people to scramble for the basic necessities.

In response, the Campbell River Emergency Social Services Team (CRESST) has volunteers to help when people are in need.

“We’re the emergency support services for people who are displaced in an emergency,” says Kathryn Alexander, CRESST executive director. “We’re like the first responders for the evacuees.”

To be able to help though, they need more people. On Thursday, Oct. 11, CRESST is holding an open house from 7 to 8 p.m. at Strathcona Gardens in the Dogwood Room. The aim is to inform people about what the organization does and how residents can better prepare themselves, as well as attract some more volunteers.

Volunteer Campbell River also plays a key role. The group works with 96 agencies through the community and it has set up an agreement with CRESST to help provide a source for volunteer help, doing police checks, volunteer training and volunteer management.

“They really support us,” says Alexander. “They can refer volunteers to us…We don’t get all our volunteers through Campbell River Volunteer, but we get quite a few.”

Volunteer Campbell River includes people that regularly help particular organizations, along with people that offer to help on a more occasional basis and even volunteers who show up to help during a crisis.

“People will show up in an emergency,” says Mary Catherine Williams, Volunteer Campbell River executive director. “We call them ‘walk-in volunteers’…so they’ll show up saying, ‘I want to help.’”

CRESST volunteers cover different levels of responses depending on the extent of an emergency: Level one events involve fewer than 10 people and take place on the scene; level two are slightly larger and might need volunteers to set up a small reception area; and level three is for larger responses, which require a bigger reception centre and referrals for group lodging.

“That’s where we would use our whole team,” Alexander says.

Typically, as first responders they cover up to the first 72 hours, with the Red Cross taking over after that for recovery work.

CRESST has a pool of about 60 volunteers on its roster, with a core group of about 20. While CRESST is based in Campbell River, it also supports smaller communities throughout the regional district. Typically, if there is a callout for an event like an exercise, CRESST can expect a response from about a quarter of the group.

“We really need to build that group up,” she says, adding they hope to get the roster up to about 200 people.

In particular, they are looking for people to help with resource acquisition by increasing the number of suppliers for goods and accommodations or even to help with pets.

CRESST, Volunteer Campbell River and the Strathcona Regional District also signed a memorandum of understanding in 2017 to increase the number of volunteers available for emergency responses.

“We now ask everyone that fills in a form in our agency can check a box saying, ‘Yes, I’m interested,” says Williams. “We have a database now of people…. We have this group of people we know have some interest.”

The plan now is to set out how to engage them further with CRESST.

“We have a list of things that people can volunteer for,” says Alexander.

CRESST asks for people to commit to at least six activities a year, which could include attending meetings, receiving training or participating in presentations. The group also needs some people to take on greater responsibilities, especially people with time available during the day, which can be the best time to track down resources. For more information on the CRESST open house, email or call 250-203-1972.

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