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Perhaps no one knows better than a water restoration and disaster recovery specialist the unique emotional and psychological challenges that threaten us during all stages of an approaching hurricane, from the pre-evacuation process  to the aftermath that follows each new storm. Sometimes the anxiety of impending doom, the questions of what to take and what to leave behind, the agonizingly long checklists, the frantic supply runs and the overwhelming feeling of chaos in the streets make it difficult to care or even think about anyone other than ourselves and our loved ones, and in their time of greatest need, we often overlook the strangers in the store or on the highway who are suffering through the same emotional stresses and fears that we are. The storm itself becomes a metaphor for the maelstrom it creates within our own minds, and we end up jostling in line in the streets and in the supermarkets, crowded and packed together, yet all facing our own individual crises alone. Call it necessity, call it the survival instinct or protecting your own, but we know better than most that the storms of our past have brought out both the best and the worst in people, and all too often we miss the opportunity to reach out and help someone other than ourselves and to take advantage of the concept of safety in numbers. Then again, many of us often feel as we watch the latest disaster coverage from our safely removed hotel rooms that we could have done more to help out before we left town. Perhaps the best solution is to take steps towards helping each other before a hurricane is ever announced, when we still have complete control of our time, our resources and our best intentions.   

 Believe it or not, the volunteer network is a crucial component of our disaster response effectiveness in south Louisiana and in the Gulf Coast as a whole. The need for reliable and compassionate volunteers can include doctors, nurses, teachers, counselors, or even just genuinely courageous and selfless homemade heroes. A healthy network of volunteer professionals is desperately needed in any disaster to fill the gaps in manpower and local navigational knowledge that so often create slowdowns and obstacles in a widespread recovery effort, much like the kind we are likely to face in the wake of a hurricane. LAVA (Louisiana Volunteers in Action) is a volunteer management program run by the Department of Health that recruits both medical and non-medical volunteers for disaster relief efforts. Basically anyone whose particular expertise could be useful in managing or executing relief efforts is urged to participate. During a hurricane, medical volunteers would be assigned to administer direct patient care while non-medical volunteers can assist in feeding patients, performing priority clerical tasks, or assisting in triage transport operations. Dedicated social workers who know the real importance of their work are also a highly valuable resource during disaster relief efforts. 

Free training is even offered by LAVA in the form of online courses that you can take at your own pace, so you’ll be prepared and know what’s expected of you before the storm hits. There are currently over 5,700 volunteers enrolled in the system who may be called upon to assist in the event of a crisis. They have already helped us through many hurricanes in the past, even through the H1N1 flu season and big events such as Mardi Gras and the Super Bowl. The volunteer network of Louisiana is one department that is always looking for more good people with skills and a willingness to serve others in a time when they need it the most, and there can never be enough members until we all decide to become volunteers in some way, no matter how small, for the betterment of ourselves, our families, and most importantly, our communities. This can be done by simply doing your best to take care of yourself and your family, doing everything you can to prevent the need for emergency volunteer work at your own home. Simple things like ensuring that you or your family members’ medical equipment can still be used if the power goes out, or making sure to stay hydrated and healthy and keeping your prescriptions filled before they’re unavailable can go a long way in helping other volunteers to better manage the demands that a crisis will have on the network. Here’s hoping we can all do a little bit more for the strangers we meet at the store this hurricane season. Even if we never introduce ourselves, we’re all in this together! Anyone interested in volunteering for the next big hurricane, whether you’re a doctor or a paramedic, a social worker, guidance counselor, a teacher or just a really good driver, can register at www.lava.dhh.louisiana.gov. Thank you in advance!  

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