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Citizen Corps Councils

Organizing a Citizen Corps Council

Communities all across America already embrace the principles of Citizen Corps. There are many elected officials, business leaders, and involved citizens already doing their part to make their community a great place to live. Many communities also already have an organization that promotes public safety, disaster preparedness, and crime prevention in the community. No doubt, there is a strong base already involved in this effort in your own community. These activities are at the heart of Citizen Corps.

The Citizen Corps Councils will bring together leaders from the relevant sectors of your community to coordinate the Citizen Corps effort. The purpose of the council is to have all decision makers at the table to manage existing volunteer resources, to leverage mutually supportive endeavors among the represented groups, and to direct the overall local plans to implement Citizen Corps in the community. Each community should have only one group that is implementing the Citizen Corps.

Each community and region will have to determine its geographic boundaries and its own membership. Suggested membership of the Citizen Corps Council, or similar entity, includes the following:

The primary qualification to participating on the council is making a commitment to educate the public on safety, to help citizens take an active role in protecting themselves from harm, to teach citizens what to do in the event of a crisis, and to expand volunteer opportunities that will make the community safer.

You do not need to create a new organization to start Citizen Corps. Leveraging existing resources is strongly encouraged. If your community already has a strong team that brings together all sectors of your community, including first responders and volunteer groups, you may want to ask this group to take on the responsibility of promoting Citizen Corps and to acknowledge this group as affiliated with the Citizen Corps.

There may be an existing group in your community that includes many of the appropriate participants, such as local emergency planning committees, that could take the lead on joining with additional relevant parties to implement Citizen Corps.

There are a number of national organizations, such as the American Red Cross and the Salvation Army, that could be key participants in your local management structure. If your community does not have local representation of these groups, you may want to contact the national organization to see how you can start a local affiliate.

However you choose to establish the local management structure, this group should be charged with managing all aspects of Citizen Corps at the local level and with bringing Citizen Corps programs and principles to residents of the community. And there should be only one group officially assigned this responsibility.

The purpose of the Citizen Corps Council, or similar coordinating group, is to develop a systematic, efficient, and effective method for providing public education, stimulating wide-spread participation, and organizing volunteer programs to increase the safety of your community. Having duplicative efforts or competing entities is not productive.

Depending on the size of your community, you may need to have a steering committee within the Citizen Corps Council and subcommittees to focus on particular efforts. Subcommittees could be assigned a particular function, such as marketing and communications, or a particular focus, such as K-12 education on emergency preparedness.

The Importance of Leadership

Leadership within the council is critical for success. This leader could be an elected community official, an executive with one of your community’s major employers, the head of your community’s economic development group, or a leader from the volunteer community. Because of the first responder’s role in the event of an emergency, it is suggested that first responder representatives not take the lead role for the council.

The most important qualifications for the leader of the council are the ability to motivate team members to reach your collective goal of making your community a safer place to live, work, and play and of providing opportunities for all citizens to participate; and a commitment to broad community representation. If the local elected official is not the operational leader of the council, it will be critical that he or she provide clear and public support to the council through public endorsements and be kept informed of council activities.

Responsibilities of the Citizen Corps Council

While this initiative provides tremendous flexibility for you to implement Citizen Corps in a way that best suits your community, some general responsibilities of the local organizing group include:

Liability Issues

Councils should consult with a local attorney regarding any risks or liabilities that might arise from its activities. Most local bar associations encourage members to provide pro bono (free of charge) services to worthwhile causes. A council’s potential exposure to liability for acts or omissions of its staff or volunteers will vary from state to state.

Individuals who participate in council activities should be advised of their potential risks of liability under state law as well. Some volunteer activities may be covered by so-called Good Samaritan laws in the various states, these laws protect volunteers who render assistance in limited circumstances. Councils may consider obtaining release from liability and similar instruments if the local counsel deems it necessary.

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