Government Technology

Program Employs Neighbors as First Responders to Assist Vulnerable Populations in Disasters

safely out

August 30, 2007 By

The elderly, those with handicaps and other vulnerabilities are most at risk during a natural or man-made disaster. During such an event, first responders must often comb neighborhoods house-by-house to look for those in need or in trouble.

A program called Safely Out, celebrating its first anniversary today, has a way for friends and neighbors to help. Citizen Voice, a 501c(3) nonprofit organization, has piloted Safely Out by distributing thousands of kits which contain, among other things, a door tag. On one side, it says "Need Help" and on the other "Safely Out." The tags contain information which responders can use to help reunite survivors and their families.

In its first year, Citizen Voice has secured over a third of a million dollars in funding for the national pilot project to distribute kits to the vulnerable in the greater Sacramento region. It is believed to be the first strategic approach in the U.S. targeting the most vulnerable during disasters that involves the entire community in the evacuation effort.

Sacramento County has said it will support Citizen Voice's Safely Out Project with $250,000. Such a sizable financial partnership will secure 25,000 kits for residents of Sacramento County who are most at risk in a disaster. Sacramento, with its extensive system of river levees, is at risk of flooding. Recently, the organization distributed 1,200 kits to homeowners in the path of the Angora Fires in South Lake Tahoe.

Gary Dietrich, a Sacramento broadcast political analyst and president of Citizen Voice, developed the idea for Safely Out after broadcasting from and volunteering during the Hurricane Katrina recovery effort and the Hurricane Rita evacuation effort in 2005. "I saw how desperate people were and the danger facing the vulnerable who couldn't get themselves out of harm's way," explained Dietrich. More recently he felt the appreciation of those in Tahoe who received a kit during the Angora Fire. "We reached out to families who lived along the fire zone. Some were so moved by our efforts that they joined in and helped distribute kits to their neighbors' homes to help protect them as well."

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