Volunteer group forming to offer disaster aid

Tuesday, January 11, 2005

Snowbound travelers on Interstate 55 near Portageville, Mo., found emergency shelter there thanks to a new disaster relief unit that is forming in Missouri.

The U.S. Disaster Relief Command is an military-structured organization that aids victims of natural or man-made disaster. Jacqueline Sproat of Portageville is organizing a battalion of the USDRC to train individuals who want to help in such a crisis. USDRC is headquartered in Gatlinburg, Tenn., and working to expand throughout the country. Sproat is commander of the brigade on the eastern side of Missouri; another officer from the Kansas City area has the western side.

Sproat said that the USDRC is similar to the Community Emergency Response Team in that its volunteers are trained to support the Red Cross, Federal Emergency Management Agency, fire departments, law enforcement agencies and rescue squads whenever a crisis strikes.

So when more than a foot of snow fell on Southeast Missouri the week before Christmas, the fledgling USDRC brigade knew what to do.

"If we did not have trained people through the USDRC and other agencies, the people would have been stranded without knowing where to go," Sproat said.

Sproat is a trained CERT volunteer and works with FEMA, and agrees that plenty of help is already available. She said that USDRC is ideal for smaller communities who don't qualify for a CERT team. USDRC can bring Red Cross training into the smaller areas to help them become prepared for a flood, tornado or other emergency situation.

"The Cadet Corps will help youth groups get into the spirit of volunteering," Sproat said. "It will teach them how important it is to be ready in case of an disaster and be willing to volunteer to help others."

Unpaid volunteers

The Cadet Corps is open to anyone ages 10 to 18. Adults are encouraged to volunteer, especially those who are retired from military, law enforcement, or government. The USDRC is a military structured group, but is not a militia. No one is paid, Sproat said. Volunteers wear uniforms and maintain their own general liability insurance coverage. Funding for the organization comes from volunteer dues, private donations, and corporate and foundation gifts. USDRC is a 501(c)3 organization under the Internal Revenue Service code. All funds are used for training and programs for the organization.

Sproat said for the present the new eastern Missouri brigade is being operated from her home in Portageville, but as more members sign on, the headquarters may be relocated. Three members have completed their training, Sproat said, and "many more applications have come in from the Southeast Missouri area."

Sproat is also working with a group of interested volunteers from O'Fallon, Mo., who want to form a brigade that would exist under the current battalion.

Anyone interested in becoming involved is encouraged to call Sproat at (573) 379-2170, or e-mail her at usdrc773@yahoo.com.

For more information about the USDRC, log onto its Web site at www.usdrc.us.

lredeffer@semissourian.com

335-6611, extension 160

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