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*THIS IS A DRILL:* Oil Spill Strikes San Diego Coastline (sorta)

May 12, 2011

Volunteer San Diego participated in a drill simulating a massive oil spill off San Diego’s coastline. At 1/3 the size of last year’s Gulf of Mexico oil disaster, it would have destroyed marine ecosystems and permanently scarred our beaches. Fortunately, it was fake. The exercise was to coordinate the myriad agencies who would respond in an actual disaster.

Volunteer San Diego was a key player in this enormous exercise as the County’s lead agency for managing spontaneous volunteers–those individuals who step forward in a disaster to help but aren’t necessarily disaster-trained before the disaster. VSD’s role proved very valuable during the 2007 wildfires when the Office of Emergency Services asked VSD to help. And help we did, organizing and mobilizing “free agent” volunteers from across the county and even out-of-state.

While well-meaning, some volunteers can be a problem when they converge on the impacted area. By showing up on-scene, they can even with the best of intentions interfere with disaster response professionals. They can inadvertently endanger themselves or others, whether it’s by creating traffic jams on roadways needed for responders, or by placing themselves in harm’s way near large and moving machinery, chemicals, fast-moving fires, or rising waters. This is not to say that spontaneous volunteers can’t provide timely help as needed. That’s where VSD plays a new and growing role.

When called to duty, VSD’s Disaster Cadre–a trained and well-practiced team–responds with both its nonprofit and government partners which can include City, County, State and Federal officials. We can set up a designated volunteer center at a location determined to be both safe and accessible, or can set up phone and email banks as a virtual volunteer center. We can do some initial screening, organizing, and dispatching of volunteers as they are requested by the responding professionals. This works for both general volunteers and for those with specific skills needed by agencies.

Which is why we are honored to be there this week–shoulder-to-shoulder with the U.S. Coast Guard, California Department of Fish & Game, U.S. Navy, dozens of additional State and Federal agencies, and San Diego County’s Office of Emergency Services–just an amazing collection of top-tier first-responders–all for a disastrous oil spill that didn’t really happen.

– Casey DeLorme, VSD Board Member

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