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After a tornado hits or an earthquake rattles a community, emergency relief organizations are quick to respond. Recovery efforts, however, can take much longer, and that's where volunteers come into play.
To prepare better for those times, officials are organizing a group called Whitfield Community Volunteers Active in Disaster. The group will hold its first meeting today.
"Across the state we have some of these groups already established," said Claude Craig, director of the Whitfield County Emergency Management Agency. "A recovery group that will be there long after initial responders are gone."
Craig said even though Whitfield County escaped the devastation of the April storms, the area remains at risk.
"But we are very vulnerable. We did have a 2.7-magnitude earthquake in November. It didn't result in any damage, but should that have been a magnitude of a different story, we would have a group to help out," he said.
Area counties including Catoosa and Floyd already have volunteer groups to help in times of disaster.
In Floyd County, volunteers created Communities Organized to Assist in Disaster in 2005 after Hurricane Katrina, said David Campbell, president of the organization and senior pastor at Trinity United Methodist Church in Rome, Ga.
"The organization started in trying to organize work teams to help there [in Louisiana] and to help resettle people who left the Gulf," he said.
It later evolved into a disaster relief organization that keeps a database of churches and groups with specialized skills and coordinates volunteers, he said.
"We know what churches can do," Campbell said. "We know that First Baptist in Rome has custom-built a trailer with children's activities so they can show up and say 'we can watch your children,' or other places are good for shelters," he said.
Within hours after the tornadoes struck last year, Campbell said, the group had set up teams of people with chain saws to help clear trees and emergency shelters and distribution points for food.
Community-based organizations are an important part of the emergency management team, Federal Emergency Management Agency Regional Administrator Phil May said in an email.
"When we have the whole community engaged, we can be successful in meeting the needs of disaster survivors," he said.
The Whitfield County group will be volunteer-led. Today's meeting will focus on finding a chairman, vice chairman and committee members, Craig said.
"Everybody has a skill set, and that's what we are looking for," he said.
Contact staff writer Perla Trevizo at 423-757-6578 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter at twitter.com/Perla_Trevizo.