August 2010  


Harris County Citizen Corps Builds Community Preparedness

After the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, and the massive devastation caused by hurricanes Ike, Rita and Katrina, citizens across the country have asked how they can help in the event of a disaster. Thousands of Harris County residents have answered that question through their service in the Harris County Citizen Corps.
Since its inception in August 2002, the Citizen Corps has been coordinating the training and education of thousands of volunteers in an effort to build a strong partnership between residents, local leaders and emergency responders. Its primary mission is to make Harris County and surrounding communities safer, stronger and better prepared through service and volunteerism focused on emergency preparedness and public safety. The Citizen Corps asks participants to give two years of their lives, the equivalent of 4,000 volunteer hours, to serving their community. Since it was formed, more than 90,000 county residents have taken that challenge.
The Harris County Citizen Corps Council coordinates with volunteer groups such as the Red Cross, the Salvation Army, the United Way and Citizen Corps programs to identify volunteer opportunities. Citizen Corps programs include the Community Emergency Response Team (CERT), the Neighborhood Watch Program, Volunteers in Police Service (VIPS), Fire Corps and the Medical Reserve Corps. Citizen Corps volunteers are trained to help themselves and their neighbors, allowing emergency personnel to focus on those in critical need when disaster strikes.
CERT training is an eight-week, 24-hour course designed to train people in neighborhoods, schools and the workplace in such basic disaster response skills as fire suppression, urban search and rescue, and medical operations. Skills learned through CERT training give volunteers the tools to take an active role in preparing their community to handle a disaster, as well as assisting others following an event, when professional responders are not immediately available.
Given that the victim or a bystander provides the first immediate response in 95% of all emergencies, the value of the CERT program becomes instantly clear. More than 9,000 county residents have received CERT training.
Volunteers in Police Service (VIPS) provides support for police departments by tapping civilian volunteers to supplement their communities’ law enforcement professionals. Volunteers are not intended to replace law enforcement personnel. By taking over clerical and administrative duties, assisting with search and rescue activities or simply serving as an extra set of eyes and ears, VIPS partners free up sworn officers for frontline duty. This enhances the effectiveness of law enforcement agencies and, ultimately, leads to safer communities.
Similarly, Fire Corps enhances the ability of fire departments to use citizen advocates and provides individuals with opportunities to support their local fire departments by using their own talents and expertise. This includes fundraising, public relations, life safety education, bookkeeping and much more. The advocates help relieve the burden of these tasks from the front line providers allowing them to concentrate more on life-safety duties.
The Medical Reserve Corps (MRC) program coordinates the skills of practicing and retired physicians, nurses, other health care professionals and residents interested in health issues who are eager to address their area’s public health needs and assist during large scale emergencies. Major emergencies can overwhelm the capabilities of first responders, especially in the first 12-72 hours after an incident. MRC volunteers can provide a critical surge in trained personnel during this period as well as alleviate staff shortages at local medical facilities.
Neighborhood Watch is known primarily for its campaign to help prevent crime. For nearly 40 years, this program represented a vital partnership between law enforcement and local neighborhoods. Following 9/11, the need for securing communities took on a greater urgency. As a result, its original mission has been expanded to focus on preparing for natural disasters and preventing terrorism as well as reducing crime.
Harris County Citizen Corps’ value was proven during Hurricane Ike in September 2008. A powerful Category 2 hurricane with sustained winds of 110 miles per hour, its storm surge flooded 2,500 homes. Another 1,200 homes were flooded due to the heavy rainfall, and almost 98% of area residents were left without power. The community’s response was a testament to the extraordinary results that are achieved when residents adopt a culture of preparedness.
Volunteers from Harris County Medical Reserve Corps delivered over 81,000 meals to homebound individuals immediately after Ike struck our community. Efforts led by Harris County Citizen Corps, its partners and volunteers helped distribute more than 1.1 million gallons of water, 10.5 million pounds of ice and 2.8 million ready-to-eat meals to devastated residents. Volunteers made the difference in ensuring that the natural disaster did not become a massive public health disaster as well.
Harris County Citizen Corps has been recognized as a National Best Practice and received the 2003 Best Practices for Innovation Award from the Texas Association of Counties and the 2006 Governors Volunteer Award for Community Capacity Builder. In 2007, HCCC was awarded “The President’s Call to Service Award,” recognizing its coordination of the volunteer response to the Hurricane Katrina relief effort. Further, in 2008 the organization was honored by President Bush at the White House, received the National Citizen’s Corps Council Achievement Award for Volunteer Integration in 2009 and was recently chosen as a finalist for the 2010 National Citizen Corps Achievement Awards-Celebrating Resilient Communities (award winners will be announced in September).
Having built strong partnerships with the 53 fire departments, 34 incorporated cities and over 100 law enforcement entities in Harris County, Citizen Corps will continue to build upon the foundation put in place over the past eight years. Its focus on developing and supporting volunteer opportunities for residents will only sharpen as new challenges become apparent and new volunteers come forward.
For more information on Harris County Citizen Corps visit or call 281-564-6669.
Back-to-School Traffic Safety
With area schools and universities scheduled to begin fall classes in just a few weeks, drivers will once again be sharing the roadways with students – of all ages – returning to classes. Now is the time to review safety tips for those getting to school by bicycle, on foot, using the school bus, or the family car or carpool, as well as for drivers who need to be aware of the increased traffic.
Bus Safety
For 23 million students nationwide, the school day begins and ends with a trip on a school bus. Texas has more than 9,000 schools and more than a million children and teens who depend on buses to get them safely to and from school. The greatest risk is not riding the bus, but approaching or leaving the bus.
Here’s the law:
Stop for flashing red lights on a school bus, regardless of which direction you’re headed. Continue your trip once the bus has moved, the flashing lights stop flashing, or the bus driver signals it’s okay to pass. Even then, be alert for children who might step into traffic. Violations can lead to a $1,000 fine.
Tips for Motorists:
When backing out of a driveway or leaving a garage, watch out for children walking or bicycling to school. Obey the posted speed limit. Watch for children walking in the street, especially if there are no sidewalks in the neighborhood. Slow down where children are gathering near bus stops and watch for children who may be arriving late for the bus and dart into the street without looking for traffic. When entering a school zone, put the cell phone down – no texting or calling. Slow down!
Tips for Students:
Get to the bus stop before the bus is scheduled to arrive and line up away from the street, at least six feet from the curb or roadway. Wait until the bus stops, the door opens, and the driver says it’s okay to board before stepping onto the bus. When leaving the bus, make sure jacket drawstrings and other loose objects are secure so they do not get caught on the handrail or the door. If you drop something near the bus, tell the bus driver before you attempt to pick it up so he will know where you are. Remember that the bus driver may not be able to see you if you pass within 10 feet in front of the bus or behind it. Cross the street well ahead of the bus and only after catching the eye of the bus driver, or cross at the crosswalk.
Bike Safety
Remember that bicyclists are “drivers” and share the road with motorists. They are expected to obey all traffic laws including stopping at red lights and stop signs, following lane markers, traveling near the curb with traffic, and installing a front white light and rear red reflector for riding at night. They are to use correct hand signals for turning and stopping.
Tips for Bicyclists:
Wear a properly fitted helmet to reduce the chances of head injury and death. Always check brakes and tires before riding. Make it easier for drivers to see you by wearing light colors or reflective clothing. Make sure your shoelaces are tied and that clothing will not catch in the bike chain. If this is the first year you’re riding to school, plan your route with your parents, taking note of the stop signs and lights, speed bumps and other possible obstacles.
Tips for Motorists:
Be on the lookout for cyclists, especially at intersections and in between parked cars. If you’re passing a bicyclist, move to another lane if possible and allow plenty of room. Watch for riders who may need to maneuver around potholes and debris.

Pedestrian Safety

Children who will be walking to or from school should be reminded of safe habits, know and practice the route they will be using, walk in a group if possible, and know not to talk to strangers.
Here’s the Law:
Pedestrians are to yield to vehicles on the roadway if they are crossing at any other place than the marked crosswalk. Stay on sidewalks and the right-hand side of crosswalks. Drivers must yield right of way to pedestrians who are in crosswalks. If the road has no sidewalk, walk on the left side of the road, facing traffic.
Tips for Pedestrians:
Always cross at intersections. Look left, then right, then left again before proceeding. Be sure to look for traffic when stepping into the street from behind parked cars. Make eye contact with drivers in the roadway before you cross the street.
Tips and information taken from the Texas Department of Transportation website at
School Calendar for 2010-2011
Keep track of school holidays, educator/staff workdays and beginning-of- and end-of-school dates for all 26 school districts within Harris County. Harris County Department of Education features its comprehensive calendar for 2010-2011 on its web site at Call HCDE Communications and Public Information for additional information at 713-696-0751 or e-mail
Click here to view calendar