A VOLUNTEER taskforce is being built to respond to disasters in Hampshire such as flooding which has blighted the county.

The British Red Cross is looking for 250 people willing to help people in crisis in their community.

They are being invited to sign up as Emergency Reserve Volunteers, providing a willing workforce to do practical tasks such as filling sand-bags, cleaning up after a flood or packing food parcels for evacuees during a flood or other large incident.

The concept will be tested during a full-scale exercise later this year.

Modelled on similar initiatives run by the Dutch and Austrian Red Cross, it is anticipated each Emergency Reserve Volunteer might only be called upon once or twice a year and there would be no expectation of an ongoing commitment when the emergency was over.

Training is quick and provided online and no specialist skills are needed – just an enthusiasm for helping people in need.

If the pilot is succesful, it’s hoped the taskforce could provide the Red Cross with extra people-power if emergencies like the flooding in the Test Valley in February 2014, or heavy snowfall in the county in January 2010, were to be repeated.

Red Cross project coordinator for Hampshire Louise Garrard said: “During big emergencies such as major flooding, the Red Cross supports local councils, the emergency services and works with other voluntary organisations to help people affected.

“During these times we often receive lots of offers of help from members of the public but taking advantage of that goodwill while an emergency is actually unfolding can be a challenge.

“Signing people up as Emergency Reserve Volunteers in advance gives us an extra resource to support our existing teams of emergency response volunteers, and enables us to be more proactive and manage our response more effectively.”

Signing up and completing the training can be done online and volunteers would then be alerted by text message when they were needed.

Further training and support would be given at the scene and volunteers would perform specific practical tasks under the guidance and supervision of existing Red Cross emergency response volunteers.

The Hampshire element of the project is part of a one-year pilot funded by electricity network operator Scottish and Southern Energy Power Distribution (SSE), looking at how to harness the goodwill of occasional volunteers and people who offer their support spontaneously, during an emergency.

It’s hoped successful elements of the pilot could then be rolled out nationally.

In The Netherlands, where the Dutch Red Cross ran a national campaign and recruited 38,000 ‘Ready2Helpers’, they have been deployed over 300 times in the last two years.

Mark Shiner, Station Manager for Hampshire Fire & Rescue Service (HFRS), which the Red Cross regularly works in partnership with, added: “Community resilience plays an integral part in our plans for resolving major emergencies. It is most advantageous if volunteers could receive training and guidance in supporting our communities which would ensure that our resources are deployed in the most effective way. HFRS fully support this British Red Cross campaign to recruit volunteers that could help out in a crisis.”

To sign up as an Emergency Reserve Volunteer visit: redcross.org.uk/reserves.

Volunteers must be over 18, have a mobile phone and be prepared to carry out practical tasks during an emergency.