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How to Better Mobilize Citizen Volunteers for Disasters

David Callahan

The blizzard that pounded the Northeast on Friday was no Hurricane Sandy, but it has left thousands of people without power throughout the region. For some households, losing power may be no big deal. But if you're old or disabled, this can be a dangerous situation.

The problem is that it's hard in most communities to know which residents may badly need help. After Sandy, hastily organized volunteers knocked on doors in buildings in Rockaway and other places to identify the old and frail.

It's also hard, if you want to volunteer to help others in a disaster, to know where to go or what to do. In badly hit Hoboken, large numbers of volunteers were needed to help evacuate people from flooded parts of time. The city recruited these helpers, in part, by Twitter and posters around town.

With major storms likely to increase, it's time to get more serious about better disaster planning. One obvious idea is to step up efforts to organize citizens to prepare for emergencies by joining volunteer corps that stand at the ready.