Help on way for civilian rescue teams

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China's Ministry of Emergency Management has vowed to take more measures to promote the development of civilian rescue teams to strengthen the country's emergency response system.

Insiders have welcomed the initiative, saying that laws, regulations and capacity building assistance are needed to support it and achieve orderly participation.

On a field research tour to Zhejiang province in August, Huang Ming, the ministry's Party secretary, reiterated the importance of civilian rescue teams and vowed to provide assistance in their development.

Civilians are an indispensable part of the country's emergency response system, he said, citing several of their advantages, including "flexible organization" and "high enthusiasm".

He said the ministry will build a more complete system of law and regulation, organize competitions and assessments, and offer training for volunteers.

Huang made the comments against a backdrop of robust development of civilian rescue teams. According to the ministry, the number of volunteer earthquake rescue teams alone had risen to about 11,000 as of March, comprising 694,000 people, almost triple the number involved in State-backed rescue teams.

While these people contribute a great deal to disaster relief, some of them can be more of a hindrance than a help because of disorganized participation, insiders said.

After the magnitude-6.5 earthquake in Ludian, Yunnan province, in 2014, for example, volunteer rescuers outnumbered victims as they packed a square of Ludian county, unsure of the role they were expected to play.

Zhang Yong, head of Blue Sky Rescue Team, the country's first registered nonprofit volunteer rescue group, said volunteers are a necessary part of the national emergency response system, but the current threshold for registration is low and training standards are lacking.

"The value of a rescue team lies in its professional rescue skills. There is no exception for official or civilian teams. Standards need to be high and the requirements need to be stringent for lifesaving teams," said Zhang.

He said there should be a group of verified volunteer rescue teams that can directly communicate with and accept tasks from official emergency response headquarters.

Xu Lijun, head of the Rescue Team of Ram Union in Zhejiang province, said there is still a long way to go to include civilian rescue forces in the national emergency response system, as civilians lag behind in their communication skills, coordination and code of conduct.

"Civilian teams need to organize training sessions under a national standard. They also need to set up efficient communication systems even at times when they are not carrying out tasks," he said.

It's good to see that the ministry plans to promote the development and capacity of civilian teams, which will boost the teams' enthusiasm for contributing, he added.

Liu Xingye, secretary-general of the China Association for Disaster Prevention, said representatives of civilian rescue teams agreed to a convention for regulating their organizations during a summit the association organized in 2016.

The convention includes clauses requiring that volunteer teams work under the command system already in place in disaster-stricken areas and that volunteer rescuers should have the necessary skills for rescue work. They should also engage in continuous study and training to enhance their capabilities, it said.

The association dispatched people to Sichuan province to help the local government coordinate civilian rescue teams after a magnitude-7 earthquake jolted Jiuzhaigou last year. That trial yielded good results, he said.

He said civilian rescue teams should be mobilized according to the severity of a disaster. In situations with little damage, volunteers should come from nearby areas.

It would be a waste of money for rescuers to travel hundreds of kilometers to help, he said.

The Ministry of Emergency Management, which began functioning in April, was set up to improve efficiency by integrating emergency response duties that had been scattered across 13 governmental bodies.

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