DIXON – That tornado that leveled the town of Washington could just as easily have hit Amboy. Or Dixon. Or Franklin Grove.
What if those had been your friends and neighbors who lost everything? Who would help them dig out, find shelter, provide comfort?
Remember the 2009 swine flu outbreak? What if the virus comes back, turns deadly? Who would help get hundreds, or even thousands, of people vaccinated in a short time?
How do you organize hundreds of people needed to fill sandbags when a 500-year flood hits? Who makes sure you even have enough sandbags?
Trained volunteers, that’s who. And that’s where you come in.
The newly formed Lee County Volunteer Corps is looking for recruits.
It will have its first meeting April 24 in the Dixon Public Safety Building. (As added incentive, dinner from a local Italian restaurant will be provided.)
Mike Therriault, 63, of Amboy, plans to become a volunteer corps member for a variety of reasons (none of them the free food).
One, he’s the former head of Amboy’s Emergency Services and Disaster Agency. He’s had all kinds of useful training, from the Illinois Emergency Management Agency and Homeland Security, among other agencies, and he doesn’t want to waste it.
Two, “I figure it’s a good way, as senior citizen, to keep my mind active,” Therriault said.
But most important, he said, is that being a volunteer is a good way for people “to give back to their community when their community really, really needs it.”
It’s great to have people show up to help when a disaster occurs, but it’s imperative to have people trained ahead of time, so you know who has what skills and where they can best be used, Therriault said.
Tim Trader is the Lee County Health Department’s environmental health director; Kevin Lalley is the county’s emergency management director.
Both men are responsible for various aspects of emergency preparedness, and both departments use volunteers to get the jobs done, and have for years.
What’s new now is that the two have joined forces, creating the volunteer corps to streamline training and recruitment.
Volunteers are needed in five categories: weather spotting, medical distribution, damage assessment, sand bagging, and administrative assistance.
At the April 24 informational meeting, Lalley and Trader will provide a 15-minute overview of the new program, then spend 5 to 10 minutes on each category.
Those attending who haven’t already filled out an application will do so during dinner. Anyone 18 and older is welcome to attend.
They’ve set aside 2 hours for the session, but Trader said he didn’t think it would take that long.
Actual training will take place later. They’ll take those five categories and split them into two groups; a volunteer can choose one group or the other.
It’s not a huge commitment. Volunteers will meet a couple of times a year, to touch base and for more informational or training opportunities. They also will be utilized during the occasional disaster training drill.
Weather spotters will be trained by certified weather spotters. They’ll learn, for example, about different cloud formations and what they mean. They report the information they gather to the National Weather Service, Lalley said.
Damage assessment volunteers will learn how to calculate damages, for example, in the wake of weather events, such as severe storms, floods or tornadoes. Sand baggers will, well, bag and stack sandbags. (“There is a technique to it,” Lalley said. Hint: You don’t fill them up all the way.)
Medical distribution often involves helping out at special clinics. Remember the 2009 H1N1 vaccination clinics the county held? Volunteers were used to distribute and help fill out forms, to keep lines moving in the right direction, and to help the elderly get back and forth from their cars, among other things, Trader said.
Administrative volunteers help with all kinds of things, such as ordering supplies, making phone calls, sending materials where they need to be, and so on.
About 60 folks from all walks of life already do a lot of this volunteer work regularly, and they soon will get a special invitation to attend the meeting, Trader said.
But new blood also is needed.
If a town gets hit with a major disaster, “they’re going to need a lot of help,” Therriault said. Take advantage of this free training, “and then you have something truly to offer.”
To lend a hand
The first meeting of the Lee County Volunteers Corps will be held from 6 to 8 p.m. April 24 in the Dixon Public Safety Building, 220 S. Hennepin Ave.
To RSVP (which is required), for an application or for more information, contact Tim Trader, Lee County Health Department's environmental health director, at firstname.lastname@example.org or 815-284-3371.