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Maine VolunteerFare

Preventing a Disaster within A Disaster: The Effective Use and Management of Unaffiliated Volunteers

Published May 16, 2006

National Leadership Forum on Disaster Volunteerism

No community is immune to the havoc and devastation caused by disaster, whether natural or man-made. When disaster strikes, emergency management and voluntary agencies automatically mobilize. Each has a specific role to help ensure a community?s successful response to and recovery from the disaster?s devastation. Yet, one element within the present system continues to challenge this process: Spontaneous, unaffiliated volunteers.

These volunteers ? our neighbors and everyday citizens ? are eager to respond and contribute to the community?s recovery, but usually lack the training to help them be effective in these roles.

Unaffiliated volunteers often arrive on-site in numbers too great for traditional disaster responders (emergency management, disaster relief agency staff, and affiliated volunteers) to manage as they try to meet the immediate needs of communities affected by disaster. The challenge, therefore, is reconciling the desire to help felt by unaffiliated volunteers with the need of responder?s to do their jobs unencumbered by the responsibility of managing volunteers.

Emergency Volunteer management

Effective and planned emergency volunteer management provides the opportunity to capture the inspiring, yet overwhelming, volunteer energy and interest that surfaces during the response phase. The envisioned disaster volunteer management process is consistent with the comprehensive emergency management cycle and includes roles for volunteers in each phase ? mitigation, preparedness, response, and recovery.

Moreover, the approach to volunteer management in any given phase of the cycle supports efforts in the next phase. This holistic approach engages volunteers in the mitigation and preparedness stages to help build more disaster-resistant and well-equipped communities. Potential volunteers are introduced to the emergency management system prior to a disaster and, therefore, are likely to become trained and affiliated with an experienced voluntary agency. This approach is designed to generate volunteers that are more effective during response and recovery.

The Four Phases of the Emergency Management Cycle

Mitigation ? Disaster mitigation includes a wide range of activities at the household, community, state and national level, that aim to reduce the damaging effects of all kinds of disasters.

Preparedness ? Disaster preparedness refers to proactive efforts undertaken by individuals, families, groups or whole communities to place themselves in a better state of readiness to withstand or avoid the

immediate impact of any kind of disaster.

Response ? Disaster response occurs from the moment an incident takes place (fire, hurricane, tornado, earthquake or man-made) through the

time that basic emergency human and community needs have been met

through rescue operations, mass shelter, mass feeding and overall stabilization of the disaster-affected community.

Recovery ? Disaster recovery follows the disaster response period and may extend for several years after a disaster. Disaster recovery relates to the collaborative efforts of individuals, communities, all levels

of government, the private sector, the nonprofit sector, and others

to re-establish a sense of normalcy, development, and growth in a community affected by a disaster.

What You Can Do As a Potential Volunteer

Throughout the emergency management cycle, there are appropriate and often simple ways that citizens can volunteer to strengthen their communities. Some of these activities are listed below.

Individuals and organizations should check with local emergency management to clarify these roles and identify other appropriate volunteer opportunities. While reading through the following suggested activities, keep the following questions in mind.

1. Which of the recommendations apply to my position and/or my organization?

2. What can I or my organization do to support the implementation of the recommendations?

3. With whom should I share this report?

4. Who are my community leaders in volunteer or emergency management?

Potential Disaster Volunteer Activities By Phase


? Survey community sites with Emergency Management officials to identify risks and ways to mitigate against them.

? Identify and disseminate information on easy, cost-effective ways that home and business owners can protect themselves against potential dangers to property and neighborhoods.

? Retrofit child care centers, nursing homes, or other important facilities to help minimize the most threatening hazards.

? Clean storm drains and gutters and remove debris from residential properties to allow the free flow of potential floodwater.

? Construct a rain garden to help minimize flooding. Rehabilitate abandoned lots into gardens that provide proper drainage.

? Plant vegetation in areas that are at risk for mudslides and landslides.

? Install smoke alarms in all properties within the community.

? Distribute smoke alarm batteries and/or reminders to change batteries and check alarms.

? Move shrubs and other landscaping away from the sides of homes, public buildings, and businesses ? replace with brush that resists or retard fires, wherever possible.

? Clear dead brush and grass from properties so it does not fuel a spreading fire.

? Conduct minor repairs on the homes of the elderly to protect against wind damage.

? Install and/or secure storm shutters on all appropriate properties.

? Install cabinet locks, secure televisions, computers, or other heavy appliances and equipment using flexible straps to reduce loss in earthquakes, and strap water heaters to walls.


? Obtain necessary training and participate in disaster exercises by joining established disaster relief groups.

? Contact your Volunteer Center, local emergency management agency, or VOAD to learn if there are community disaster preparedness projects offering volunteer opportunities.

? Contact your state or local Citizen Corps Council to learn about outreach for citizen preparedness activities, including neighborhood response planning.

? Learn about disaster preparedness and first aid training opportunities available locally or through web-based programs, such as FEMA independent study courses.

? Work to raise your awareness (and that of your family) by educating yourself about emergency management issues through best practices, newsletters, and publications.

? Develop personal, family, and business emergency response plans including the assembly of disaster supply kits for home, work, and vehicles.


? Contact your Volunteer Center or designated voluntary agencies to learn more about volunteer needs and opportunities during the response period.

? Contact the state or local volunteer coordination hotline, if available, before traveling to the area of a disaster to determine current needs for volunteers and information on how to register.

? Help is often needed for the following response activities:

-Sorting donated goods at a donations management warehouse

-Clean-up efforts that might include debris removal

-Sandbagging during floods

-Support of voluntary agencies in organized collection drives, based on identified needs

? Find creative ways to raise money for the disaster relief effort. These can include garage sales, local charity drives, etc.

? Provide moral support to first responders by sending thank you cards, flowers, etc., or by volunteering with the many groups that provide support to the families of first responders when

they are away on emergency duties.

? Check in with your own family, friends, and neighbors, especially those who are elderly or infirm, to see if they need assistance, support, or someone to talk to.

? Follow guidelines set by local officials on the scene as to what volunteers can and cannot do at the disaster sites.


? Help is often needed for activities during the recovery phase. Volunteers can contribute by participating in the following organized and supervised operations:

- Organizing community clean up projects

- Repairing and rebuilding projects

- Closing down donations management operations

? Support the efforts of local voluntary agencies to meet needs identified by local Unmet Needs Committees generally formed by local disaster recovery leaders.

? Check with your Volunteer Center, local or state VOAD, or voluntary agency affiliates to learn how you or your organization can become involved in the activities above or in other specific recovery efforts.

To read the rest of this report and the recommendations and discussions on each of these five phases, visit: