By David M. Rivera
Since late August, the southern US and the Caribbean islands have been pummeled by one massive hurricane after another—first Harvey, then Irma, and finally Maria. Following each of these natural disasters, the US has responded by sending thousands of federal employees and volunteers to help in the recovery efforts, and the Washington State Department of Ecology (Ecology) is following suit. Ecology will be sending 60 individuals from the Washington Conservation Corps (WCC) to assist AmeriCorps Disaster Response Team, already on site with more than 2,000 members.
The Washington Conservation Corps is a sub-agency of Ecology, and employs young men and women from ages 18-25 in an outreach program dedicated to the protection and enhancement of the state’s natural resources. They are the boots on the ground, so to speak. WCC is also part of the federal AmeriCorps program. While the WCC usually limits its work to the state, it does participate in recovery efforts out of state in extreme cases, such as Hurricane Katrina.
The WCC not only provides the workforce to help with recovery, but the mission of these individuals is to take leadership roles that allow for faster and more efficient recovery operations. Twenty-four of these young leaders will head to the Caribbean to help manage efforts by directing volunteers, coordinating donations, assessing damage, removing debris, and delivering essential goods among a multitude of other duties from hurricane Maria. Twelve of these members will head to Puerto Rico and another dozen to the U.S. Virgin Islands.
In Texas, the WCC will be sending a second group of 24 members to assist with efforts from Hurricane Harvey damage. The first team arrived shortly after Harvey hit land and worked alongside the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). The first team was so helpful that an additional team was asked to be sent out. This time they will be removing debris from homes and streets.
“Since the beginning of October, WCC teams have finished 326 damage assessments, mucked and gutted 84 homes, and are supporting seven Volunteer Reception Centers in Texas,” according to anEcology newsletter. The last 12 members from the WCC will be heading to Florida to lead roof tarping building projects, remove debris, and help set up operating bases for their incoming AmeriCorps partners.
The WCC is considered quite small with only about 350 members currently serving, so the deployment of three teams to three different locations is a big deal to the state. According to Ecology communications manager, Curt Hart, “WCC has never responded simultaneously to three different hurricanes in three different areas at the same time.”
Thanks to individuals like these, not only are Washington state citizens able to enjoy well-managed natural resources, but are also able to contribute to the rebuilding of our country time and time again in the face of extreme environmental catastrophes.