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Explaining the Disaster Service Worker Program: Leveraging California Public Employees

The Disaster Service Worker program (DSW) is pivotal to California's emergency response framework – encompassing a diverse range of public employees who can be mobilized during crises. This program mandates that public city employees may be reassigned from regular duties to assist in emergencies such as fires, floods, earthquakes, or public health crises. This flexibility ensures that human resources can be swiftly redirected where they are most needed, leveraging the skills and training of these workers to support vital response efforts.

This blog will shed some more light on the Disaster Service Worker program, elaborating on the California public employees that can be utilized in DSW programs, what situations might call for mobilization and the responsibilities a disaster worker might have to take on. We’re also going to take a look at the tools, technologies, and techniques that bolster up the DSW program to be as effective as possible. 

When will the Disaster Service Worker Program be Utilized?

There are a range of situations that will call for an emergency operation from the DSW program. The program can be activated for: 

  • Major fires
  • Floods
  • Earthquakes
  • Tsunamis
  • Large-scale power shutoff events
  • Pandemics 
  • Other public health emergencies

In any of these events, public employees can be called upon by their city’s Emergency Operations Center to leave their daily jobs to provide aid. 

Comprehensive List of Public Employees (by Sector)

It’s important to know which public employees will be leveraged into disaster relief worker roles. The support teams span a range of government levels and public corporations, allowing for mass mobilization if need be. 

Central Government Employees

  • Executive Branch: Employees of federal departments and agencies, such as the Department of Defense, Department of Education, and Social Security Administration can be leveraged in crises.
  • Legislative Branch: Staff working for Congress or the Senate, such as civil servants can be utilized, although no elected officials themselves will be sent to the streets.
  • Judicial Branch: Administrative staff employees of federal courts will be used in crises, but judges will not be called upon. 

Local Government

  • State Government: All employees working for state agencies, departments, and boards are eligible, including teachers, state troopers, and social workers. 
  • County Government: Employees working for county departments such as public librarians, sanitation workers, and emergency medical technicians can all be used to offer disaster relief through the program.
  • Municipal Government (City/Town): Employees working for city departments e.g., firefighters, police officers, park rangers, and sanitation workers are all eligible.
  • Special Districts: Employees of independent government entities with specific purposes, such as the employees of public transportation authorities, water districts, and school districts can all be utilized.

Public Corporations and Authorities

  • Government-Owned Businesses: Employees of businesses operating with a government mandate and majority government ownership like the US Postal Service and public utility companies might be needed in emergencies.
  • Public Authorities and Non-Profit Agencies: Employees of government-created organizations providing public services like public housing authorities, airport workers, and museum staff are all viable participants.

All of these workers, along with other public-funded staff members have a responsibility to act in the face of crises under the legislation of the Disaster Service Worker program. 

Not Considered Public Employees

It’s also worth remembering that some citizens paid by the public aren’t beholden to the DSW program. 

  • Contractors: People who work for private companies contracted by the government for specific services aren’t considered public employees.
  • Elected Officials: Mayors, city council members, and members of Congress will offer disaster relief by setting policy but not by physically carrying it out.
  • Political Appointees: People appointed to high-level government positions by elected officials are not considered disaster workers in crises.

It’s also vital to remember that DSW mobilization doesn’t make these public employees into disaster volunteers, with every staff member being paid at their usual rate for offering crisis support. 

Essential Skills and Training for Disaster Service Workers

DSWs perform critical duties during emergencies, ranging from administrative to more skilled tasks. 

Tasks DSWs are called to take on include: 

  • Registering people at mass shelters and clinics
  • Translation services for non-English speaking citizens
  • Acting as messengers or couriers in impacted areas
  • Preparing and serving food to emergency staff or at-risk communities
  • Answering emergency phone calls
  • Managing volunteers
  • Preparing & fortifying barricades 

Employees will be assigned roles when disasters strike, however, some will be instructed to operate under the DSW to offer general support.

These workers aren’t expected to take on tasks they’re not capable of. Their ability to adapt and respond effectively is bolstered by ongoing training, with Department Operations Centers (DOCs) such as the City of Los Angeles Emergency Operations Center (EOC) offering organizational support and training. This training should equip every worker with the necessary skills to fulfill specific disaster response roles, with no one expected to take on tasks they haven’t been sufficiently prepared for. 

The Importance of Preparation

Along with training, the DSW also requires workers to be sufficiently prepared in the case of an emergency. A principle of the program is to make sure that your personal life is kept in order, allowing for absolute focus should service work be required. 

Steps in personal preparedness include: 

  • Discuss emergency preparedness with your family, ensuring they’re safe, prepared to operate without you, and understand the situation before you’re called into action. 
  • Learn about and prepare for any potential hazards in your home area and workplace to prevent injuries prior to service. 
  • Sign up for emergency alerts from the city and county where you live, signing up your family and loved ones as well. 
  • Putting together an emergency supply kit and evacuation plan for your home, work, and vehicle, ensuring mobility from anywhere in your life – do this for your family as well. 

These preparedness steps are not guidelines – they’re requirements for California public employees to minimize delay and distraction when disasters strike.

Innovative Tools and Technologies Empowering Disaster Service Workers

There are a range of tools and technologies that can be used to empower DSW employees to provide the best relief services possible. Incorporating these systems can be essential for efficiency and efficacy in the face of crises. 

Drone Reconnaissance & Delivery

Drones are being increasingly utilized in disaster response, with some being used to survey and collect images of effective areas and others applied to deliver supplies. UAVs support DSWs by offering real-time comprehensive views of crisis zones, along with nimbly providing crucial supplies in hard-to-navigate areas.

Communications Technology

Multiple channels of communication must be open in disasters. Traditional tools like radio devices and more modern cloud-based systems are vital equal measure, allowing DSWs to communicate and coordinate efforts, even in areas with power outages. Clear communication is vital for operational efficiency in crises. 

Shelter and Emergency Housing Solutions

Many disasters cause serious displacement, during which DSWs will need to process citizens in their hundreds. For proper processing, displaced people first need suitable shelters to stay in while the hazards are handled. Whether these take the form of smaller tents or something closer to trailers, DSWs cannot account for the population without somewhere for them to stay. 

Data Management Tools

Along with digital communication tools, DSWs need access to sufficient data management systems, ensuring that they can properly the people they’ve helped, pull off effective head counts, and account for service provision. Managing volunteers, keeping track of resources, and assisting in missing person searches is all powered by effective data management. 

Health and Safety Services & Tools

Extreme weather events, seismic activity, and pandemics all call for comprehensive health and safety services and tools. With this in mind, standards, checks, and balances have to be held to the highest levels of scrutiny, ensuring that everything is done safely and hygienically with no exceptions. Using high-quality tools and services allows DSWs to operate as effectively and safely as possible. 

Disaster Management in California and Beyond

The Disaster Service Worker Program exemplifies California's proactive approach to emergency preparedness and response – an entirely necessary approach when you consider just how prone the area is to wildfires, storms, and earthquakes. By keeping public employees trained and prepared on standby, the California government ensures that there are plenty of capable hands on deck in the event of disasters. 

If you’re eager to engage meaningfully with the disaster management sector, Disasters Expo USA is coming to California this year! This event will bring together thousands of emergency response professionals from across the state and beyond, featuring an impressive lineup of guest seminars, hundreds of business showcases, and a dedicated Tech on Fire Trail focused on wildfire management. Whether you’re a California native or an international professional, it’s sure to be the year’s most engaging and insightful event for disaster management professionals. 

Register today and check out our blog bank for more insightful pieces about disaster management.