LAhore - Volunteers have been provided a platform to work with a government organisation through the Punjab Emergency Service Rescue 1122 for effective disaster preparedness, response and prevention. This forum also helps volunteers to bridge the gap between community and government organisations. The Community Safety Programme by the Rescue Service was launched to set up Community Emergency Response Teams (CERTs) under the provision of the Punjab Emergency Service Act, 2006, in order to assist the Service in safety promotion and management of emergencies. Under the programme, volunteers have been registered, trained to set up CERTs in all union councils in Punjab and then engage them with Rescue Service to train community members to have a first aider at every home.

The Rescue Service has set up over 5,000 CERTs in all union councils in Punjab and raised awareness among one million first aiders. The CERTs consisting of 12-member rescue scout teams in every union council have been trained on internationally certified course Community Action for Disaster Response (CADRE) by Rescue trainers. After that, these volunteers worked for their areas/UCs under the umbrella of the Rescue Service and then participated in Inter Union Council Competition. The best CERTs at the district level were selected from Inter Union Council Competition to participate in the National CERTs/Volunteers Challenge 2019. The National Challenge is actually Community Action for Disaster Response (CADRE) skill competition for volunteers and it is a unique activity, which was introduced in 2017. The commencement of Volunteers Challenge at the National Centre of Excellence, Emergency Services Academy boosts the morale of participating teams as this academy is the place where professional rescuers got training, served the humanity and got the UN Classification in the field of Search and Rescue.

The idea behind establishment of CERTs was to raise sustainable, healthy, safe and resilient communities and contribute to Sustainable Development Goals through volunteer participation in the field of green plantation drive, emergency preparedness and response and prevention of emergencies. Promoting healthy and safe living, fire and building safety, prevention of road accidents, clean water and sanitation salutations and cleaning and recycling campaigns was the other objective of creation of CERTs. The Safety Wing, Managers Training Centre at ESA, Community Safety Wing, all district emergency officers (DEOs) and rescue safety officers must be praised for their role in materialising this concept. This collective effort led the teams of volunteers to the National Challenge.

The 3rd National Challenge for Volunteers from 2nd to 4th December 2019 is being organised at the Emergency Services Academy (ESA) to assess, analyze, rate and encourage the best CERTs & Rescue Scout/Volunteers based on emergency response skills at the district level. In total, 39 volunteer teams consisting of 8-10 members each from all over Pakistan are participating in the three-day challenge. Senior officers of the Rescue Headquarters and Emergency Services Academy will evaluate Community Action for Disaster Response (CADRE) skills of all participating teams under supervision of Exercise Controller Muhammad Ahsan. The participating teams of districts will be given different scenarios, which include Management of Mass Causality Incident (MCI), Light Search and Rescue, Basic Life Support and First Aid, Response to Fire and Water Emergencies, etc.

Since the inception of the Emergency Service in 2004, the Emergency Services Academy has trained 18,000 rescuers across Pakistan. As a result, Rescue 1122 rescued over 7.6 million people in emergencies. Furthermore, the Pakistan Rescue Team (PRT) of the Emergency Services Academy of Rescue 1122 is the first UN INSARAG classified team in South Asia. The highest level recognition was received after several years of hard work and dedication. Likewise, volunteers from across Pakistan were invited to the academy to exhibit their disaster response skills. It is a matter of great honour that the Rescue Service has raised awareness among one million volunteers about saving lives and promoting safety and also established Community Emergency Response Teams (CERTs) in all union councils of Punjab. The collective efforts of the academy and field offices of Rescue 1122 gave them a real recognition and place to work for betterment of communities.

The three-day challenge is planned for motivation of volunteers and acknowledgement of volunteer work. All organisations, including VSO Pakistan, Pakistan Red Crescent, Girl Guides, Boy Scouts and Alkhidmat Foundation, are doing a great job but there is a need to establish a volunteers service federation like the Beijing Volunteer Service Federation (BVF) to link up volunteers belonging to different organisations and provide an umbrella of government organisation to all volunteers so that power of humanity could be utilised in letter and spirit for establishment of s safer Pakistan.

The writer is head of Community Safety and Information at Rescue Punjab and can be reached at safepakmission@gmail.com.