In Olathe, FEMA chief announces grants to train volunteers in disaster relief
By MIKE SHERRY
The Kansas City Star
Michael Brown, emergency preparedness undersecretary for Homeland Security, scanned tornado destruction Thursday in Wyandotte County. He announced federal spending for emergency responder teams later in Olathe. Photo by NORMAN NG, The Star
The nation's top emergency management official announced Thursday the availability of $19 million in federal grants to train volunteers to assist in the aftermath of disasters.
Missouri and Kansas are in line to receive more than $600,000 combined through the 2003 funding announced in Olathe by Michael D. Brown, director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
Brown announced the funding after touring tornado-ravaged parts of Wyandotte County, which was among the areas hit by the May 4 tornadoes.
The federal funds train volunteers to work on Community Emergency Response
Teams, such as ones in several Johnson County communities that sent roughly 60 people into Kansas City, Kan., after the May 4 tornadoes.
Volunteers typically receive 20 hours of training in areas such as light search-and-rescue operations, emergency medical care, and the psychology of disaster victims. In disasters, they help first responders by providing basic assistance to residents.
The teams, Brown said, "are really an incredible tool for first responders to use to take some of the pressure off of them."
FEMA started national training for the teams in 1993, and now counts teams in more than 340 communities in all 50 states and five territories. In addition to the Johnson County volunteers, Blue Springs, Grain Valley, Lake Tapawingo and other surrounding communities have formed a team in Jackson County.
The emergency management agency has a goal of doubling the number of volunteers it has nationwide during the next two years, up to a total of 400,000.
Several Olathe volunteers were on hand for Brown's announcement outside the city's fire administration building. Among them was Brad Jackson, one of the volunteers who assisted in Wyandotte County after the tornadoes. The volunteers cleared debris and helped with other tasks.
Jackson said it was a "great feeling" to help residents, especially one man who threw his arms around Jackson and started crying. "He was very appreciative all day long."
In Wyandotte County, Brown spent about an hour touring some of the areas that were hardest hit by the tornadoes, including neighborhoods around Leavenworth and Cernech roads. It was his second visit to Wyandotte County since the May 4 twisters, which killed one person and caused thousands of dollars in property damage.
The FEMA director said the cleanup was going well and that the area was in better shape than it was on his previous visit, two days after the storm.
"Not that this is good," Brown said, as he looked out the window of his van at demolished houses and debris, "but it just looks so much better than it did."
Meanwhile, he expressed sympathy for victims who were still waiting to hear from FEMA about assistance. The agency is advising patience for residents who have applied for aid but have been notified that they were not eligible. Residents may ultimately qualify, but they must wait until they get final settlements from their insurance companies, officials said.
Brown knows that can be maddening.
"There is nothing more frustrating," he said, "than for us to come out and talk about everything we can provide, how we can help them, and then have them get stuck in that queue, and (the aid) doesn't come out the other end for a while."
I wish the funding allowed for the option of a first responders or EMT-B class and a NASAR SAR course. Instead of the 20 hour program they have.