Volunteer rescue teams are an important part of the national emergency response system and the government is working to set up a better platform to manage their rapid development, officials said.
“Grassroots emergency response teams have many advantages, such as flexibility and close connection with the public,” Chen Sheng, a senior official of the Ministry of Emergency Management, said at a news conference at the first national competition for volunteer rescue teams in Chongqing on May 9.
“They play an increasingly larger role in rescue and public education. They are an indispensable part of the country’s emergency management,” Chen said.
To promote the development of the civilian emergency response force, the ministry launched the first national competition, which attracted 333 teams and over 3,000 participants from 31 provinces, municipalities and regions. After a series of written tests and activities, only 27 made it to the three-day final competition in Chongqing from May 7 to 9.
The 27 teams competed in forcible entries, roping skills and water rescue skills.
He Ning, a senior commander from the ministry’s Fire and Rescue Bureau, explained that the three skills categories are often used during major disasters, such as earthquakes, landslides, floods, mountain rescues and vehicular accidents.
“Many Chinese civilian rescue teams have professional training in these fields and some boast very advanced gear and highly skilled staff,” said He.
The winning teams will get the opportunity to participate in rescue missions of the ministry and work with professional teams.
Jiang Tiansheng, from a rescue team in Zhejiang province, used to be a professional swimmer in China.
“My team and I did quite well in this event, and we hope we can make more contributions to the country’s emergency response,” Jiang said.
China’s volunteer rescue force has been developing very rapidly in recent years, especially after the devastating magnitude 8 earthquake in Wenchuan, Sichuan province in 2008. According to the Ministry of Civil Affairs, there are over 1,200 civilian rescue teams in the country.
But news about rescue volunteers hampering emergency efforts due to lack of skills or coordination raised widespread concerns over how to regulate the civilian force.
To address such concerns, Chen said the ministry is working to strengthen management of civilian teams and provide laws, regulations and capacity-building assistance to achieve orderly participation.
“We are developing an online civil emergency response service system to gather general information of all the rescue teams and volunteers,” he said.
On March 27, the ministry launched an online disaster relief application for civilian rescue teams to regulate its participation in rescue work.
“The teams should first apply for rescue tasks online and get approval before taking part,” Chen said. The government will select teams with needed professional skills to travel to disaster sites, he added.