Following the aftermath of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, the Fort Bend County Office of Emergency Management recognized the need for more support personnel in the Emergency Operations Centers. An increase in trained personnel would increase the ability to effectively manage response and recovery efforts to scale events. A review of several “after action reviews” by Department staff identified gaps in the existing staffing and skill levels and it was determined that most gaps could be filled with trained volunteers. Because the existing pool of volunteers were heavily involved in local response support or otherwise assigned during events, the Office developed a new volunteer program; the Citizens Support Team (CST).
Citizens Support Team volunteers are used to support the duties and responsibilities assigned to operational, logistical and planning staff working in the Emergency Operations Center. These individuals are trained in ICS applications and begin to learn skills for operating the EOC radio, communications and software applications. A 24 hour curriculum was developed by our Deputy Emergency Management Coordinator, Planning Coordinator and other first response professionals. This program was presented by Danny Jan, Deputy Emergency Management Coordinator, at the Homeland Security Conference in San Antonio.
CST volunteers are recruited from existing volunteer programs such as CERT (Community Emergency Response Teams) and EMROG (Emergency Management Radio Operators Group), as well as through other local programs such as Neighborhood Watch, Citizens Police Academies and through local advertising and promotion. Volunteers are required to complete 24 hours of training, to include: Fort Bend County Geography 101, Emergency Management 101, Emergency Operations Plan 101, EOC Operations 101 and 201, and WebEOC 101. Additionally, volunteers are required to complete FEMA’s IS 100 (Introduction to ICS) and 700 (NIMS: An Introduction) online and attend a SkyWarn class within one year of course completion. Forty-one members from two graduating classes have completed all requirements.
The purpose and mission of the Citizens Support Team is to aid and support the Office of Emergency Management and the Emergency Operations Center in the mission of preparing for, responding to, recovering from, or mitigating the effects of natural and technological disasters. The Fort Bend County Office of Emergency Management Citizens Support Team has demonstrated a remarkable capacity to further enhance EOC capabilities in an inexpensive fashion by providing assistance to the preparedness, mitigation, response, and recovery process. More specifically, volunteers were critical in our response and recover efforts to Hurricane Ike and worked in tandem with County personnel assigned to the EOC. Some provided support services to division chiefs, while many worked in our phone bank answering calls or monitoring radio traffic. Still others worked in technical positions, assisting with WebEOC or assisting the PIO with media requests. As we continue to grow our response and recovery capabilities, our need for highly trained volunteers increases. We continue to recruit and train volunteers into our Citizen Support Team and consider them as essential asset to the effective operation of our EOC.
If you are interested in becoming a CST volunteer, please contact the Fort Bend County Office of Emergency Management at 281-342-6185. In fact, a new class should be starting in October 2009.