Our PathFinderEX Community Spotlight Series highlights responder organizations and agencies who share PathFinder’s commitment to build and empower communities toward capable self-sustainability and proactive action during, and following, a disaster.
In our second installment of our Community Spotlight Series, we sat down with Ben Bower, Executive Director for Central Aid Agency, and learned of their recent contributions to preparedness and response in their community.
Central Aid Agency's Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) program is a federally recognized program, and is sponsored by its parent organization, the Central Aid Agency. The CERT personnel in Central Aid Agency serve as auxiliaries to our Emergency Response and Rapid Response Team units, and all units deploy together to disasters and emergencies.
Ben Bower: The goal of our CERT program is to help train members of the community to be able to deploy in times of disaster, and to help with community preparedness and outreach. Central Aid Agency's Emergency Response and CERT units were put on standby for potential COVID-19 response, but to date have not been needed in our area. Prior to that, our last major deployment was the February 2019 snow storm where we deployed to provide special vehicle services to get critical hospital workers to and from work.
We also conducted welfare checks of people in rural areas, and even carried out a search and rescue operation. I have attached some photos of our CERTs and Rapid Response Team members participating in an earthquake response drill at Lane Community College with LCC Campus CERT, with whom we have an operating agreement.
"Our people really know their stuff and are often regarded as experts and leaders among some of the other local programs."
--Ben Bower, Executive Director for Central Aid Agency
PFX: What are your top three personal observations about the enthusiasm and knowledge your Central Aid Agency volunteers bring to any response?
Ben Bower: My three observations about what our personnel bring to a response would have to first be overall retention of training. Our people really know their stuff and are often regarded as experts and leaders among some of the other local programs. We have very high standard in the Central Aid Agency, which has equated to a high level of professionalism. Secondly, our personnel are always willing to help out and go the extra mile during response efforts. For the 2019 Snow Storm response, we had several personnel voluntarily pulling very long days with little sleep in between shifts because we had to keep a rigid schedule for transporting hospital workers around the clock. But our people still maintained a positive and professional demeanor the entire time. Thirdly, our personnel are known for being flexible and their willingness to work with other agencies. During the 2017 Eclipse we responded to a mutual aid request from another county and all our personnel worked seamlessly within the framework of the other county's operational structure, with no issues at all.
PFX: What have you personally gained in terms of experience and training through being a part of your organization? How has this been a "value added" component in your everyday life/professional development or personal preparedness? Ben Bower: Well I was one of the original founders of the Central Aid Agency, so I have learned a lot in my 12+ years of doing this. Because of the relationship our organization has with our governmental emergency management partners, we have had opportunities to attend a lot of formal training on topics like the Incident Command System, and participate in functional drills and exercises. All of this experience first led me to become a better responder and leader, then led me to become an instructor as well. It has also definitely fostered a culture of preparedness within my own life and family. The culmination of these efforts came in 2015 when the Central Aid Agency spun off it's training unit as a separate affiliate company called Training Solutions International, allowing us to employ C.A.A. personnel as instructors while also creating a revenue source for our organization. While the development of TSI is still an ongoing process, the experience I gained from the Central Aid Agency directly translated into building a training company with an emphasis on quality.
"The longer duration an event is, the harder it is to maintain operational capability."
--Ben Bower, Executive Director for Central Aid Agency
PFX: What is your biggest "lessons learned" for you as a result of the response efforts your agency has been involved in?
Ben Bower: The biggest lesson learned would have to be something I think all non-profits struggle with: volunteers and finances. Volunteers are an excellent resource, but it's sometimes hard to guarantee capability when you are relying entirely on personnel who do other things for a living. One thing we've found to be especially true with volunteer response, is that the longer duration an event is, the harder it is to maintain operational capability. Early on in an emergency pretty much everyone is available, but as the event goes on and life starts to return to normal, people have to go back to their jobs. Since by that point they've usually already missed a bunch of time at work, there isn't much flexibility there and your capability as an organization goes down. Secondly, unless you are a well-known organization, budget is always an issue. You don't get many donations when you aren't well known. So we have instead come to rely heavily on fundraisers, which works pretty good normally. Except when you have a situation like COVID come along and cancel all your fundraisers. Emergency response efforts cost money, sometimes a lot of money, so trying to budget money for a response is always challenging when sometimes it's hard enough just to make ends meet. Thankfully we always seem to have just enough to get by.
PathFinderEX wants to hear about the amazing contributions your group has made both in your sector and in your community! Be it heroic efforts related to the COVID-19 pandemic response or every-day emergency response and preparedness training, we want to feature your story on our website and in our social media feed.
Send us a photo or video of your team at work in the lab, out in your community, behind a computer screen or war-gaming around a table. Then briefly describe your agency’s goals, your team and their most recent efforts. Our hope is to draw more attention to your organization's cause and its accomplishments.
If you would like to be featured in our Community Spotlight, please contact Nick Choy, Director of Communications, at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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This post was published to the PathFinderEX website on July 13, 2020.