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'Count Me In' seeks help for emergencies

WORTHINGTON -- It's been nearly two months since Nobles-Rock Public Health Services carried out a preparedness drill on a make-believe flu pandemic in both Worthington and Luverne.

The event attracted dozens of volunteers to help operate fictitious mass-dispensing clinics -- volunteers who had been enlisted by the NRPHS in recent months.

Now, a statewide campaign has begun to create a database of volunteers willing to help their fellow man in the event of an emergency or disaster situation. It's called "Count Me In," and the state is looking for people with a wide array of skills willing to step up to the plate if and when they're needed.

"As a local agency, we had ... generated a lot of volunteers," said Jason Kloss, NRPHS sanitarian. "Through the Minnesota Department of Health preparedness funding, they wanted to hire a company to advertise and promote the idea of volunteering to help out during an emergency situation."

The Count Me In campaign is seeking volunteers trained in technology, transportation, physical labor, social services, health, construction, administration, production, food handling, coordination, computer skills, public relations, education, accounting, water/sanitation, assembly line, maintenance/repair, phone skills, mathematicians, mental health professionals and others. Those with bilingual skills are also needed as volunteers.

"As we found out when we practiced our mass dispensing drill, the more diverse volunteers you have, the more opportunity you have for success in your response," said Kloss. "People who feel they are not skilled enough to volunteer should think again. We are looking for people willing to help -- willing to sacrifice. What it amounts to is putting others above themselves.

"Individuals who volunteer aren't going to sign their life away," he added. People will only be asked to carry out tasks they feel comfortable doing.

As the list of volunteers is developed, Kloss said their agency will continue to offer training exercises in which volunteers can experience what they would need to do in the event of an actual emergency.

Emergency and Public Health agencies across the country have been taking similar steps to be prepared -- a campaign that grew out of the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on the United States.

"We realize that we can only be lucky for so long," said Kloss. "Getting people to volunteer is going to be an important response to any natural or man-made disaster."

While the Count Me In campaign is just kicking off, Kloss said there is no timeline on when people can sign up to be a volunteer. Those interested in taking part as a volunteer may sign up through the NRPHS by calling 372-8256, or visiting the state Count Me In Web site at

In addition to encouraging people to volunteer in their communities, the Count Me In program and NRPHS are encouraging people to develop their own home emergency plan and be prepared in the event of an emergency situation.

Julie Buntjer

Julie Buntjer joined the Globe newsroom in December 2003, after working more than nine years for weekly newspapers. A native of Worthington, she has a bachelor's degree in agriculture journalism. Find more of her stories of farm life, family and various other tidbits at

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