SPRINGFIELD – Gov. Rod R. Blagojevich today praised the more than 300 Illinois volunteers who left their homes to help victims in Florida devastated by two major hurricanes within the past month. Representing the third largest state contingent, so far, 166 Illinois volunteers under the Citizen Corps program are assisting in hurricane clean up, and a request for additional Citizen Corps volunteers was received by the state on Tuesday.
“I’ve always been proud of how Illinoisans reach out to others in times of crisis, and this just shows the lengths Illinoisans will go to help their fellow Americans,” Gov. Blagojevich said. “The residents of Florida have suffered immensely from these recent hurricanes, and it appears Florida and other Gulf Coast states may feel the brunt of Hurricane Ivan in the next day or two. I’m so proud of the many men and women from Illinois who are leaving their families, homes and jobs to help those in need.”
The Illinois Emergency Management Agency (IEMA) is in daily contact with emergency management officials in the Gulf Coast region through the Emergency Management Assistance Compact (EMAC). The compact includes 48 states, two territories and the District of Columbia in a mutual aid agreement and partnership that facilitates states assisting other states during emergencies. IEMA officials are attempting to determine what, if any, personnel and resources can be sent to assist with the aftermath of recent hurricanes. Hurricane Ivan’s impending strike is being watched closely to determine its impact on response and recovery needs.
Illinois’s Citizens Corps volunteers were called into action by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). Altogether, more than 2,100 volunteers from Citizen Corps programs across the nation have been deployed for about two weeks to assist hurricane victims. Citizen Corps is a national program to empower individuals through education, training and volunteer service to make communities safer, stronger and better prepared to respond to all types of disasters. Many of the Illinois volunteers are assisting hurricane victims in Florida, while others are stationed in Chicago to assist with disaster administration. Some of the first volunteers deployed are beginning to return to the state after their two week assignment.
Illinois’ 55 Citizen Corps are administered by IEMA in partnership with the Illinois Terrorism Task Force (ITTF). Most of the Citizen Corps volunteers are part of the Citizen Corps’ Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) program, a Citizen Corps program that trains people in basic disaster response skills, such as fire suppression, light urban search and rescue and medical operations, and helps them take a more active role in emergency response. IEMA provides train-the-trainer CERT training to local communities that wish to participate.
On Tuesday, FEMA sent a request for 400 additional Citizen Corps volunteers to state coordinators around the country. The federal disaster agency is seeking volunteers to help in Disaster Recovery Centers for four to six weeks. IEMA’s Citizen Corps coordinator is contacting the state’s volunteers to determine their availability.
More than 160 American Red Cross trained volunteers and staff from throughout Illinois are also providing assistance to hurricane victims. Four state employees are part of the American Red Cross contingent, an action made easier after Gov. Blagojevich signed House Bill 4005 last month. The new law, which was sponsored by Rep. Raymond Poe (R-Springfield) and Sen. Emil Jones (D-Chicago), amended the state Disaster Service Volunteer Leave Act, allowing state and local government employees who are certified disaster volunteers for the American Red Cross to take leave for up to 20 days to assist with response to major disasters in other states. According to the American Red Cross, two of the employees are from the Department of Corrections, one employee from the Department of Veterans Affairs and one from the University of Illinois-Urbana/Champaign.
“There are thousands of people in Florida in desperate situations, and the emergency services of that state are taxed beyond their limits,” said Gov. Blagojevich. “I’m proud that our state employees are able to offer their assistance, and in return they’ll come back with invaluable hands-on disaster experience that some day may be a tremendous asset during a disaster in Illinois.”
Gov. Blagojevich also noted that all Illinoisans can play an important role in disaster assistance by donating money to the American Red Cross Disaster Relief Fund, which will assist victims of the hurricanes and other disasters that occur across the nation each year. The Disaster Relief Fund allows the Red Cross to provide food, shelter, counseling and other assistance to disaster victims.
“The American Red Cross is a strong partner with the state during disaster response,” Gov. Blagojevich said. “All of their services are provided at no cost to victims through the Disaster Relief Fund, which after these devastating hurricanes is in need of additional donations.”
To help hurricane victims through the Disaster Relief Fund, call 1-800-HELP-NOW or 1-800-257-7575 (Spanish). Contributions to the Disaster Relief Fund may be sent to your local American Red Cross chapter. Internet users can make a secure online contribution by visiting www.redcross.org.