THW: Germany′s army of volunteers for disaster relief
From rebuilding bridges to fighting floods and searching for survivors to setting up COVID-19 test centers, THW volunteers have been at the forefront of rescue and relief operations for decades. Since 1953, THW is a federal agency with its own administration within the German Interior Ministry. Volunteer helpers are members of THW today - among them about 15,000 young people, who spend their free time preparing to help others in need. The organization has also been active in more than 130 disaster relief operations abroad. Its teams were seen in action after the 2004 Indian Ocean earthquake; in the wake of Hurricane Katrina in the United States in 2005; and following storms Lothar and Martin that hit France in 2000, which ended up becoming THW's largest foreign operation to date. During the ongoing flood rescue in Germany, some 2,100 THW volunteers from 165 chapters are engaged in disaster relief. That's just a 10th of the volunteers who took part in the agency's largest national operation so far, when 24,000 THW volunteers simultaneously fought flooding along the Elbe river in August 2002. As dramatic as THW's operations often are, becoming a member of the volunteer organization is less so.