WASILLA, Alaska (KTUU) - The Mat-Su Borough is looking to bolster the number of volunteers that can help answer phone calls and provide information to the public in the event of a widespread emergency.
Between earthquakes, flooding and wildfires, the borough has declared three federal disasters and seven state disasters since 2002. That includes the infamous Sockeye Fire of 2015. When disaster strikes, public officials and emergency responders can quickly become overwhelmed with phone calls. That’s where the borough’s emergency call center team comes into play.
“During that kind of emergency management you need a lot of other bodies to help be a buffer between the emergency managers and the public,” said borough spokesperson Patty Sullivan. “We need to get out information and keep people calm as best we can.”
In the event of an emergency, call center volunteers will help borough staff respond to calls on the non-emergency lines. They’ll also help disseminate information on things like road closures, evacuations, shelters and water shortages.
The borough’s public information officers on Wednesday held a training session for people interested in joining the team. A group of about 20 volunteers gathered at the Mat-Su public safety offices, where they were instructed on the borough’s emergency procedures and how to answer some common questions from the public.
“We’re letting them know where they fit in, what an EOC is like and how chaotic it can be as far as stress on residents,” Sullivan said.
One of the most common issues borough officials face during a disaster is directing the flow of donations from the public.
“That’s one of the surges of calls we get. People wanting to help and us needing to organize and figure out where to put them, often during a disaster,” Sullivan said. “People do want to help.”
Sullivan said the borough plans to recruit more volunteers and will likely hold additional training sessions in the near future.
“We’re just going to keep recruiting and training,” she said. “If we can recruit some people who are comfortable talking to people in distress and putting them at ease they can help us be much more organized.”