Monday, February 13, 2012

To check or not to check

So the question is should you do a background check on your volunteers? 
 What if they are Spontaneous Volunteers?  What if the internet is down?  What if…? There are many decision points to use in the decision making process.
First, what are they going to be doing on the disaster scene:
  • Sandbagging?
  • Working unloading trucks?
  • Doing door to door rescue? 
  • Working in a shelter? 
  • Or a medical setting? 
  • Or having access to survivors or victims personal information? 
I think the first two can probably get by without a serious background check, but the last four definitely call out for a serious background check. The closer your volunteers are to the survivors or sensitive information the more likely it is they need a check.

Second, what if I can't get the checks done (No electricity, connectivity, etc)?
Well the first answer is; this is a question you should explore with your risk managers and lawyers BEFORE the earth moves.
Of course one of the answers is do the paperwork (they don't have to know you can't run it; it may give the bad folks second thoughts about trying to sneak into your organization) before you put them in the field if it’s a catastrophic situation. 
Then keep them under supervision; maybe partnering them with volunteers you have checked.

  Third, what agency should you use?
Unfortunately, in many areas of the country (mine) there is no consensus about what type of background check to use.  And that's too bad, because it means there are volunteer groups that can't work in other volunteer groups areas. Check with your state/county emergency manager for guidance on whom to use.
As a point (not my recommendation or endorsement), The American Red Cross nationwide utilizes  This gives their agency the peace of mind to know that no matter where their volunteers deploy from, they all meet the same requirements. You may use the sheriff department or state highway patrol, a national agency or a private contractor.

Fourth how often should you renew the check? 
 Honestly this one will probably end up being about money.  While it is important to know that your volunteers haven't done anything bad, your lawyers/risk managers can answer this. However, it is an important question to ask/discuss.

Not the end of the conversation
 This is a hard subject and while some heated conversations can happen over this subject, I think we all agree that we want our volunteers to be the best.
I encourage you to have the conversation with your agency and with agencies; you collaborate with in training and disaster.

disaster dave

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