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AKUT provides fast response in 'Slow City' of Seferihisar

SEFERİHİSAR – Hürriyet Daily News | 4/4/2011 12:00:00 AM | CHARLOTTE OSKAY

The nonprofit organization, Search and Rescue Association, better know as AKUT, has celebrated its first year in the environmentally conscious town of Seferihisar.

The humanitarian nonprofit organization, Search and Rescue Association, better know as AKUT, has celebrated its first year in the environmentally conscious, "Slow City" of Seferihisar.

AKUT is a nationwide nongovernmental organization which runs entirely on volunteer participation, providing assistance in times of natural disasters. The organization received official status and opened its first center in 1996, but the name AKUT was used for the first time during a search and rescue campaign in 1995 at Keşiştepe, Uludağ, near the Marmara city of Bursa. During their first year, AKUT operated as a simple volunteer rescue team, but in 1997, AKUT members began specialist earthquake and flood response training, after which AKUT capabilities were extended to help official institutions during natural disasters. 

AKUT currently operates 26 centers across Turkey and has a volunteer membership of approximately 1,200 people. AKUT often coordinates with the Red Crescent – the international humanitarian organization that has approximately 97 million volunteers and staff worldwide.

The organization aims to respond to areas hit by natural disasters within the first few critical hours and assists by organizing their volunteers into search and rescue teams. The district of Seferihisar near İzmir is located close to several active minor fault zones and in 2003 and 2007, earthquakes measuring 5.8 to 6.2 hit the area, damaging many buildings and killing one person.

Vahdi Sarıkaya, a resident of Seferihisar made the decision to open the volunteer center and on the March 24, 2010, AKUT Seferihisar began operating.

Hasan Tufan, a scuba diving instructor and local resident of Sığacık, was one of the first volunteers to join AKUT.

He explained the function of the new branch: “The Seferihisar branch of AKUT currently has 70 members, 40 of which are active volunteers. Our main responsibility is to respond to the needs of the local community in the event of a natural disaster; the priority being search and rescue. We receive training from the central branch of AKUT in Istanbul; specialists are sent to the AKUT centers throughout Turkey in order to teach us new techniques for search and rescue operations.”

As a humanitarian-driven organization, AKUT members also invest their time in the local community.

“During our free time, our team members organize presentations which we hold in local municipal centers or at schools,” Tufan said. “The purpose of the presentations is to offer advice about how to prepare for an earthquake or other natural disaster like preparing an emergency kit at home, as well as the best ways to be protected from injury during the actual event.” 

After a natural disaster strikes, experts agree that the first 72 hours are critical.

“The government often needs this time to prepare their services and plan a method of response, but AKUT is an immediate first response team, capable of being at the scene of the disaster within hours,” he said. “AKUT volunteers have committed themselves to this scenario and have received specialist training to deal with such events.” 

The organization obviously requires fit and healthy team members, but application for membership isn’t just for the physically strong, Tufan said. 

“Our mission is to create and maintain ethical values, these being one, voluntary effort, two, honesty, three, reliability, four, helpfulness and respect for human life, five. As members we live by a certain code of conduct, but there’s no age requirement for membership – even teenagers can assist in times of crisis [with the right training and direction]. The organization can benefit society in more ways than one,” he said.

Tufan also shared his first experience as part of a Seferihisar AKUT search and rescue team.

“AKUT Seferihisar received a call to respond to the coastguard based at Mordoğan, a fishing port located along the Çeşme peninsula. A small sandal [small fishing boat] with four local fishermen aboard had overturned off the coast of Mordoğan in bad weather; the coastguards were unable to locate one of the men. Three of the fishermen survived but the forth couldn’t swim so after a three-day search the coastguard contacted AKUT. The Seferihisar branch sent a team of four volunteers initially, myself included, and begun a coastal search with the aim of finding a body. The coastguard remained in control of the operation and although they required my skills as a rescue diver, I wasn’t allowed to dive during the first day due to poor weather conditions. However, during the second day the weather improved and I and another member of our AKUT team were allocated an underwater spot to search. Our underwater search lasted 55 minutes at a depth of 40 meters, but unfortunately we were unable to find the missing fisherman. The second day we welcomed a further 11 AKUT volunteers from the İzmir branch. The search continued for another day but we were unable to locate the fisherman,” he said.

Tufan said their services were an invaluable source of help for local communities. When asked whether AKUT would take a local foreign volunteer who spoke adequate Turkish, Tufan replied, “why not?”

For further information, please visit http://www.akut.org.tr/eng/historical.asp

[HH] Survives with donations and contributions

Citizens applying to join AKUT must undergo a criminal background check and agree to a basic ethical code of conduct based on five principles. They should also commit to responding in case of emergency and in other search and rescue scenarios wherever possible.

The process of joining AKUT is simple: Prospective members are required to fill in a form and provide two photographs. AKUT members attend a briefing every week or every two weeks, and also attend training at their local center. Training programs include specialist instruction on how to use AKUT search and rescue equipment.

AKUT is a non-profit organization funded partially by state grants but ultimately by financial donations and contributions of specialist equipment.

[HH] Young AKUT volunteers

The Young AKUT Volunteer project intends to teach the values defined as the “AKUT Spirit” to children attending primary school education, between 9 and 12 years of age. The aim is to develop the cognitive, perception and psychomotor behavior of these children through the course program, which is prepared by experts in the field. The young people attending this project are expected to be ethical individuals, understanding the concepts of the principles of volunteering.

The young people attending the project are also expected to be cultured individuals with an inclination toward being volunteers and have self-confidence, the capability to take initiative, problem-solving ability, determination, courage and environmental consciousness. Children participating in this study are entitled to a certificate of participation. The project operates during the weekend, with the cooperation and assistance of adult AKUT volunteers and Young Volunteer program trainers.

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