Washington (CNN)-- The federal government, hoping to harness the power of young volunteers, is creating a new unit within AmeriCorps to help FEMA prepare for and respond to hurricanes, tornadoes, earthquakes and other disasters.
The new unit, to be called FEMA Corps, ultimately will consist of 1,600 volunteers who can be deployed in a crisis to assist FEMA personnel and others, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said Tuesday in announcing the initiative.
While existing FEMA staff will continue to do the heavy lifting -- deploying search and rescue teams, setting up shelters and assisting local governments -- the young volunteers will help at disaster recovery centers and assist in logistics and community outreach.
AmeriCorps officials said their volunteers long have helped at disaster scenes. Currently, volunteers are at tornado sites in Kentucky and southern Missouri, and are preparing to deploy to southern Illinois.
And last year, AmeriCorps volunteers helped in the aftermath of the Joplin, Missouri, tornado, helping search and rescue teams, setting up a missing person hotline, gutting homes and serving meals.
But the new program will formalize a relationship between AmeriCorps and FEMA, and will bolster the ranks of volunteers available to FEMA.
The program could have the added benefit of interesting young people in careers in disaster preparedness and emergency management, said FEMA Administrator Craig Fugate and Deputy Administrator Rich Serino.
"We have an opportunity now to take this to the next level -- to have dedicated staff who will be trained specifically in emergency management, who will be working side-by-side with our professional reservists," Serino said.
FEMA Corps volunteers will serve under the AmeriCorps NCCC (National Civilian Community Corps), one of the three main programs that makes up AmeriCorps. The program is open to men and women ages 18 to 24.
The volunteers are assigned to one of five campuses: Denver, Colorado; Sacramento, California; Perry Point, Maryland; Vicksburg, Mississippi; and Vinton, Iowa.
NCCC members receive a living allowance of approximately $4,000 for the 10 months of service, housing, meals, limited medical benefits, up to $400 a month for child care, if necessary, and member uniforms. They are eligible for education benefits upon completion of the program.
When the program is fully implemented in 18 months, it is expected to save the federal government $60 million a year, officials said.
FEMA will be using disaster relief fund money to train and deploy the AmeriCorps members.
"The funding for FEMA Corps members will be significantly less than the funding we would have if we brought in additional reservists," Serino said.