02 May, 2009

The Warden System

When we first moved down here to Belize, we had never heard of the "Warden System", and frankly, it never crossed our minds as something we might need.

In the two years since, we've come to rely on Loreta and the Warden System. The system, and, in particular, our resident district Warden, Loreta Randall, has been very good at relaying all manner of important information to us - the US citizens living and visiting in the area.

Here's some information from the official US State Department manual for Wardens (you knew there had to be one), which I found online, on the duties and responsibilities of a Warden.
"The term “warden” is derived from the World War II “air raid warden
who alerted the public to danger. A warden system provides a reliable
way for you to reach U.S. citizens/non-citizen nationals in the event of an
emergency, disaster or threat and to distribute other information of
interest to the private U.S. community (changes in section work hours
and procedures, voting information, physicians list, etc.).

Wardens are usually, but not always U.S. citizens/noncitizen nationals
resident in the host country who volunteer their assistance to the U.S.
citizen community."
Whoever the Warden is, they are responsible to appoint at least one Alternate Warden who also lives in their zone (BTW, warden positions are all unpaid, volunteer positions. They get, what we used to call, when I was in college, all the "psychic income" they can handle).

The Warden and alternate(s) determine among themselves how they will operate the notification system withing their zone. They notify each other if one or the other will be absent or out of the country. If both will be away at the same time, they must designate a second alternate and immediately notify the folks in the Embassy’s Consular Section. All wardens and alternates must sign a Memorandum or Agreement with the U.S. embassy/consulate, which stipulates responsibilities for safeguarding personal information of citizens.

Wardens must regularly update the list of names, street addresses, phone/fax numbers, and email addresses of U.S. citizens in their zone. They are supposed to report all changes to the Embassy.

Wardens distribute messages for U.S. citizens relayed from the embassy to those living in their zone. Messages may be relayed via email, fax or phone. The wardens then disseminate the information as fast as possible throughout their zone (this might include group email lists, cascade telephone notification lists, faxing, or even a “buddy” system, depending on the distribution of citizens within their zone). Messages can also be non-emergency in nature, such as information on absentee voting or income tax issues.

In the event of an emergency, Wardens are expected to stay at home or at their place of work, if they have one, in order to receive messages and to promptly redistribute them to citizens in their zone.

Emergency messages from the Embassy may contain information regarding the status of the emergency and suggested actions to be taken. Messages must be transmitted verbatim without interpreting or expanding the message.

Wardens are also expected to coordinate with embassy/consulate personnel in choosing assembly areas and movement routes, should it be necessary to move people to a central location to facilitate communication, documentation, and/or evacuation.

And finally, Wardens report back to the embassy the results of their efforts to contact citizens within their zone.

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