Thursday, November 8, 2012

The Unknown Volunteer

Sandy has provided us many lessons, in many different areas of disaster response, most of the lessons are not new, just reinforcement of the ones we know and are working on.  Lets look at one I have written about before and will again.  

As our climate changes (and it is) we will have more disasters caused by weather, with that knowledge, more people should join professional volunteer organizations and get trained BEFORE something happens.

As this article points out many people were turned away! Volunteers Flock to Disaster Areas, Overwhelming City Relief Centers Those people think why, I drove all the way here to help.  And bless you for wanting to help.

Now look at it from our side:
  • We don't know who you are (background check, professional license) 
  • We don't know what you are trained for (didn't get trained before hand)
  • You don't know who we are
 We want to train you, and provide you and the people you are helping the best help we can.

"You can't afford the time to go to training before hand, because your too busy." But you aren't too busy to self deploy to a disaster zone? If you can't afford a weekend or two to train in advance, how committed are you really?  Now don't get me wrong, I think volunteers are wonderful and give greatly of their time and knowledge, but we need to get organized before.

Okay if that doesn't get your attention, think about this. In order to process & train volunteers during an event we have to take some of our most experienced volunteers off the line to do this.

Yes there are times and tasks that may not require huge sums of training, but help out all of the volunteer managers out there who are toiling nights and weekends to get volunteers signed up, checked and trained so we will be ready for the next Disaster.

Below is a place to start. Commit to being trained and ready before the next disaster strikes, and when will that be? We don't know that's why you need to do something Now!

PS: if you don't listen to me listen the President and Gov. Christie  //



Jim Garrow said...


You make an amazing point about potential volunteers seeking out training and accreditation before self-deploying (or not self-deploying at all!).

I wonder, though, where we as EMs stand in all of this. I think we've got a pretty good understanding that self-deployed volunteers ARE going to happen during our next disaster. In fact, I'd go so far as to say that the number of unaffiliated volunteers is rising with each disaster. Do we have a duty to see this trend and work to expect and take advantage of it?

Now, I have no idea what that'd look like, or even how feasible it is, but in public information, we've come to accept that social media, while making our jobs that much harder, is just a fact of life now, and we're working to incorporate it. Maybe volunteer coordinators can do the same.

Off of the top of my head, here are a couple ideas: Rather than turning volunteers away, develop pre-established relationships with groups likely to organize non-affiliated volunteers. Volunteer Tech Communities like CrisisCommons are doing some amazing work and are willing to take all comers. When you get unaffiliated volunteers, redirect them to groups such as these that are willing to accept their services (yes, even the Occupy folks are doing good in NYC). Another one that's just as tricky is to anticipate the flood of volunteers and develop an on-site, just-in-time curriculum and assign a staffmember to coordinate that. Think of it as a force multiplier position. Yes, you'll lose that body, but they can train 10 or 15 grunts in just a couple of hours.

Like I said, I don't know if any of this is feasible. I just wonder that, if we know that people are coming--and they will--why not plan to take advantage of it, even in ways that are less than perfectly helpful.

Great post, and great blog,

Anonymous said...

Think of it this way. If it was your neighborhood would you want folks no one know nothing about roaming around? we have enough of that with lookie-loo's and looters

@disaster_dave said...

I agree Anonymous! If they are affiliated you will recognize the "uniform:.

Jim, I agree with you, but people doing sandbags, moving sand back to where it belongs is much different than people working in shelters, etc (I know you know this). So what do we do with those folks if we can't get quick (affective) background checks?
I am spending many hours developing and hopefully testing in the spring a plan to process those people who will show up when we open an ACF. I plan to have places to refer people I can't clear immediately (United Way) for assignment to non BGC jobs.
But a better plan would be to sign up now.