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Activity Reports

Safety measures for volunteers (Part 2)

September 30, 2011

This is part 2 of a report about safety measures for volunteers (See also Part 1).

Sakisaka Hideaki is in charge of information and orientation sessions for disaster volunteers in Tokyo. As he recalled the very first information session of 300 people he commented,

“Men and women, young and old, who wanted to do anything they could to help came to this information session. But we had only just started setting up operations on-site and the relief activities had commenced in cold weather with aftershocks everyday, and we had no way to provide volunteers with water or food. So it was a requirement for volunteers to arrange their own equipment, food and water by 2 days after the information session and we started off by choosing the strongest, both mentally and physically, applicants who were in their twenties and thirties.”

At the time, information was changing every few hours and neither the Ishinomaki Council of Social Welfare nor the Ishinomaki Disaster Volunteer Center had commenced accepting individual volunteers from outside prefectures. Movements of volunteers were also greatly fluctuating at this stage. Moreover, there was a strong possibility that volunteers would come across emotionally distressing situations. The living conditions were harsh enough as they were with volunteers living in tents outside in the cold and trying to get some rest after physical exertion.

Peace Boat was aware that given that it had decided to dispatch volunteers from the general public as soon as possible, any injuries or illnesses suffered by Peace Boat volunteers would have a negative effect on the entire volunteer operation in the disaster-affected areas.

This is why rules such as the following were established with regards to dispatching volunteers:

  • People who want to volunteer must attend an information session and be aware of the on-site conditions;
  • Volunteers can work for a period of one week. If anyone wants to volunteer for longer than this then they need to return home once, rest and apply again to be a volunteer. Alternatively they can seek advice from on-site staff about staying and volunteering for a longer period;
  • Teams of 5-6 people are to be established during the information session and team members should cooperate together to get ready for departure;
  • Each team should designate a team leader who is responsible for distributing information to other team members and maintaining contact with Peace Boat;
  • All volunteers must enroll in volunteer insurance.

Even for people who are both physically and emotionally strong, working in a disaster-affected area for more than one week at a time can cause anxiety to become chronic. Working in such a state can cause anyone to lack in concentration and objectivity which can result in an increased tendency to suffer from injuries.

Insurance is essential to deal with any possible accidents but it is also important to get to know one’s team members prior to departure so that each team member can keep an eye on other team members while working and prevent against fatigue or other concerns.

Volunteers who wish to stay and work longer than one week first have to undergo an overall evaluation including physical stamina by the on-site Volunteer Coordinator or Assistant Director.

Since the disaster occurred there have been aftershocks on the coast of Miyagi Prefecture and tsunami warnings have been issued numerous times. When this happens, the on-site Volunteer Coordinator and Assistant Director give temporary evacuation instructions. It is important to have a concrete contact and confirmation system in place, otherwise it takes extra time to confirm numbers of people let alone communicate information about evacuation centers or evacuations routes.

The reason for placing the responsibility of maintaining contact with Peace Boat with each team leader is to improve efficiency and also to act as a mechanism to check that each member of each team is safe whilst working and while they are staying in the disaster-affected area.

In addition to this, the Safety Lecture portion of volunteer information sessions has been given greater emphasis since April.

Thanks to the help of medical professionals with emergency care experience, each volunteer team has been equipped with an emergency first aid kit. For the past several months all volunteers have been receiving emergency first aid training and lectures focusing on securing safety whilst working and living in the disaster-affected areas.

This is a photo used during one of the safety lectures.
What should you notice in this picture?

The answer is: the location of the fire extinguisher.
Fire extinguishers should be kept in a place that is easily located and accessible in the event of a fire.

Here is another example. What is dangerous in this picture?

It might be difficult to see but the front wall of the building behind the person sitting down has cracked as a result of the earthquake. The building structure is weak and so if there is an aftershock there is a chance that the sign may fall off the building. It is important for volunteers to be aware of things like this even when they are choosing where to take a rest.

Each type of volunteer work has different dangers that volunteers need to be aware of. This booklet is a safety manual that contains details of such dangers, and procedures to follow in the event of sustaining an injury including first aid instructions. (This is provided in English for those volunteers who do not read Japanese).

People who want to become volunteers undergo a 3.5 hour information session including a safety lecture. After this they make the final decision about whether or not they want to participate in volunteer activities. There have already been over 50 information sessions like this held in 6 regions around Japan.

The basic principle is that volunteers are responsible for being self-sufficient but in order for this to be possible it is necessary for volunteers to be provided a certain amount of information and knowledge. Such training before departure is especially important in the case of large scale volunteer operations so that each volunteer has the ability to protect themselves and be aware of the safety of other team members that they are working with.


Photos by: Ueno Yoshinori, Nakamura Mitsutoshi, Jon Mitchell