The fire destroyed the house. Firemen appeared on the scene and put out the flames, yet the house and its contents were destroyed. Having barely escaped the flames, a family huddles by the curb in their pajamas, wondering what to do next--no clothes, no car keys, no wallet--all of their resources are out of reach. How will they call their friends or relatives? Where will they sleep? Emergency responders generally remain as long as the emergency lasts, but after they've gone a vulnerable and distressed victim remains behind.
Most communities also have a number of people who would like to help, people who would like to have a positive impact on their community, but neither know what to do nor have much time to do it.
In 1984, the California Department of Mental Health brought victims and volunteers together in an innovative program called the Trauma Intervention Program (TIP), which trains volunteers to assist the victims of traumatic events. The TIP volunteer's purpose is to provide "immediate emotional and practical victim support" to trauma victims.
The TIP program, available twenty-four hours a day--every day, requires three eight-hour shifts (per month) from each volunteer, during which an emergency responder may call them to support a victim in their community. In preparation, the volunteer has undergone a sixty-hour training period in which he or she has learned to offer several kinds of support: providing food, shelter, clothing or transportation; acting as a liaison with emergency personnel; and providing information for ongoing assistance.
The training period is followed by an apprenticeship during which the new TIP volunteer accompanies an experienced volunteer to sites. After the apprenticeship is completed, the guidance continues with monthly sessions that alert volunteers to changes in services and providing them with resource materials.
The impact of the program is difficult to measure quantitatively--the volunteers deal with people on an individual basis providing the support that each requires. Perhaps it is better measured through the view of the skeptic. From its inception, the program faced opposition from emergency personnel who feared calling a TIP volunteer would both distract them from their priority of "securing the scene" and present them with new areas of liability.
By clearly defining the volunteer's role and earning the respect of emergency personnel through continuing positive interaction, the program has won over its skeptics. The Carlsbad Police Department, for instance, provides office space, furniture, dispatch support, and funds for the program. The Police also get more than their feet wet supporting the program in the DUNK-A-COP for TIP events at public fairs.
TIP has experienced significant growth, with 140 calls in 1985 increasing to over 2,000 in 1990. The agencies that rely on TIP have also increased, incorporating police stations, firehouses, hospitals, and even an army base: Camp Pendleton. Yet the program is efficient with minimal paid staff (three) and an annual cost of only $83,000.
By 1991, similar programs have been adopted in: Austin, Texas; Tucson, Arizona; Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; and Los Angeles, California; clearly TIP shows great potential for replication. No matter the growth, the program remains an effective measure for bringing a community together and providing the human support to people in times of their greatest need. Ultimately the TIP program lends a positive image to government services and an improved sense of security for the citizenship, just in case something happens.