EIIP Virtual Forum Presentation – March 9, 2005

Managing Spontaneous Volunteers
In Times of Disaster

Ande Miller
Executive Director
National Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster (NVOAD)

Susan Jensen
Voluntary Agency Liaison
FEMA Region V

Avagene Moore
EIIP Moderator

The following version of the transcript has been edited for easier reading and comprehension. A raw, unedited transcript is available from our archives. See our home page at http://www.emforum.org

[Welcome / Introduction]

Avagene Moore: Welcome to the EIIP Virtual Forum! Amy Sebring, my partner/associate, and I are pleased you could join us today!

Today's topic is "Managing Spontaneous Volunteers." If you have not read the background materials, including our speakers' bios, please do so after today's session. It is my pleasure to introduce our guests today.

First we have Ande Miller, Executive Director of the National Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster (NVOAD). Ande also served as the Manager for Operations at the national headquarters of the American Red Cross. In addition to specialties in relief effort management and family services to those affected by disaster, she also attained the highest Red Cross rating for Voluntary Agency Liaison.

Our second speaker is Susan Jensen, Voluntary Agency Liaison, FEMA Region V. Susan has extensive experience in the area of Donations Management planning and training, serving as lead instructor at FEMA's Emergency Management Institute (EMI) for the State Donations Management and Donations Management Train-the-Trainer courses.

On behalf of the EIIP, we welcome you to the Virtual Forum, Ande and Susan. Ande, we will let you start us off today. Susan will follow. Ande, I turn the floor to you.


Ande Miller: Good afternoon, thank you for this opportunity today. This timing is perfect, we just completed a Volunteer Management Committee meeting and all we talked about is fresh in my mind. Now for the history:

All of us in the disaster arena have been aware that one of the blessings that come from a disaster event is the kindness of family, friends and neighbors extended to those whose lives have been disrupted by a disaster. Along with this blessing comes the challenge of channeling the desire to help to the right place at the right time.

We all know that pre-disaster training of disaster workers is the best help, but we have also dealt with the offer of help from next door, the next town, the next county, the adjacent state, across the country and sometimes across the world. We all saw this in unprecedented magnitude, and those outside of the disaster response, relief and recovery community saw this first hand and sometimes for the first time, in the wake of September 11, 2001.

VOAD organizations had been addressing this challenge and that of unsolicited donations for several years. With this new attention one of our members, The Points of Light Foundation, and Volunteer Center National Network, United Parcel Service and the Federal Emergency Management Agency hosted the National Leadership Forum on Disaster Volunteerism in April 2002 to address volunteers and disaster preparedness, response, relief, recovery and mitigation.

The collaborative report of the conference is shared in Preventing a Disaster within the Disaster: the Effective Use and Management of Unaffiliated Volunteers. One of the important recommendations from this forum was that National VOAD initiate a Volunteer Management Committee (VMC). I did not come to the VMC until September 2003 but quickly recognized the extraordinary talent brought together to address unaffiliated volunteers.

The VMC is currently made up of representatives from National VOAD; Points of Light Foundation & Volunteer Center National Network, American Red Cross, Humane Society of the United States, The Salvation Army/National VOAD State Representative Board of Directors member, former and current executive directors of the National VOAD, FEMA, International Association of Emergency Managers, Governor’s Office of North Carolina, VolunteerFlorida, Corporation for National and Community Service, Citizen Corps, Association of Volunteer Administrators, and the National Emergency Management Association/State of Missouri.

"The Unaffiliated Volunteers and Unsolicited Donations" annex of the newly released National Response Plan clearly recognizes the valuable support that the member organizations and friends of the National/State/Territory/Tribal and Local VOADs provide emergency management in times of disaster both with their own disaster programs and ability to manage affiliated and unaffiliated volunteers.

Now, having said all that, where are we now? Many groups, organizations, agencies, etc. across the country are recognizing the need to address the challenge of unaffiliated volunteers wanting to help in time of disaster. Our committee wants to compile the best resources/tools available for distribution to assist those tasked with managing unaffiliated volunteers.

One project will be the development of the community capacity-building exercise to help communities anticipate unaffiliated volunteers and integrate them successfully into local emergency response plans. This project includes training materials and resources, the trainers needed to prepare and execute the exercise and for chosen pilot cities a commitment to share their plans with others across the country.

In addition, public information encouraging citizens to become affiliated with the disaster response program that interests them most --before the disaster strikes-- is a cornerstone of our commitment to making the volunteer experience the best that it can be both for the helper and the those receiving help. We want our publication, Managing Spontaneous Volunteers in Times of Disaster: The Synergy of Structure and Good Intentions, to become the base for a practical plan of action.

Again, thank you for this opportunity, and now I will turn the floor over to my colleague, Susan Jensen.

Susan Jensen: Before I start, I'd like to thank everyone for participating. It's good to see some folks whose names I recognize, including Merrilee White from the committee. Welcome.

The successful integration of community volunteers in all phases of emergency management is imperative to prepare for, respond to, recover from, and mitigate the effects of disasters. The effective utilization of volunteers--regardless of where a community is in the emergency management cycle--begins with planning and intentional action.

The underlying principles guiding this planning are the "Four C’s" of the National VOAD movement: collaboration, cooperation, communication, and coordination. Many of the recommendations encourage and rely on partnerships with existing coalitions, such as state and local VOADs (also known as COADs, or Community Organizations Active in Disaster). Dynamic partnerships have also been created with Citizens Councils, AmeriCorps, VISTA, and RSVP programs, as well as community organizations that specialize in volunteer management.

The following are some recommended actions to assist in preparing your community for successful management of unaffiliated volunteers during disasters. More detailed information is available in the document Managing Spontaneous Volunteers in Times of Disaster: The Synergy of Structure and Good Intentions, available online at www.nvoad.org.


  • Determine priority needs and roles prior to an event by doing outreach to organizations that could utilize unaffiliated volunteers. Identify potential volunteer opportunities to expedite community involvement following a disaster.

  • Review local and state hazard analysis and collect community demographic information for implications regarding management of unaffiliated volunteers.

  • Develop relationships with local, state and national Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster (VOAD) member agencies, and/or with groups with regional or national capabilities to manage unaffiliated volunteers during disaster operations.

  • Emphasize the importance of collaboration in pre-disaster planning. Encourage involvement with existing community coalitions, such as Community Organizations Active in Disaster (COADs), and Citizen Corps Councils.

  • Research existing volunteer liability issues and laws that affect unaffiliated volunteer utilization. Encourage agencies and organizations that will be receiving unaffiliated volunteers to clarify their limits of liability protection.

  • Develop media and public education campaigns that encourage people to affiliate with existing voluntary organizations prior to a disaster event.

  • Utilize resources that support volunteering such as State Service Commissions, state Associations of Volunteer Centers, networks of volunteer administrators, and Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster (VOAD) member agencies, to create awareness and recognition of the role of volunteers in homeland security and emergency management.


  • Write a plan for the function of Unaffiliated Volunteer Management and include it in the local or state emergency operations plan as an annex or appendix.

  • Form a Volunteer Coordination Team (VCT) to include representatives from the lead organization for the function of Unaffiliated Volunteer Management.

  • Ensure the VCT is a component of the COAD, Citizen Corps Council, local VOAD, or other disaster collaborations.

  • Identify and train a state-level lead for unaffiliated volunteer management utilizing existing sources of expertise.

  • Encourage formation of disaster coalitions such as Citizen Corps Councils, COADs, or local VOADs, to promote interagency coordination, communication, collaboration, and cooperation.

  • Identify all potential partners and build cooperative relationships with organizations such as universities, youth groups, schools, ethnic associations, neighborhood groups, civic associations, foundations, faith-based organizations, businesses, special needs groups, voluntary agencies, senior programs, and professionals in volunteer coordination.

  • Prepare to establish a Volunteer Reception Center (VRC), where large numbers of volunteers can be efficiently processed and referred to organizations needing their services.

  • Designate an entity (for example, a local Volunteer Center or team of experienced volunteer resource managers) to manage VRC activities.

  • Identify potential sites for the VRC and develop contingency plans in the event that pre-identified sites are unavailable.

  • Develop forms and key documents for the VRC.

  • Develop streamlined registration, screening, and interviewing procedures for unaffiliated volunteers.

  • Train paid staff and key volunteers to set up the VRC.

  • Develop procedures for documenting pertinent activities, training, expenses, volunteer hours, dollar value of donated time, skills, and success stories.

  • Develop methods to evaluate the volunteers’ experience--both process and outcome--from organizations that utilized referred volunteers, Emergency Management staff, and the volunteers themselves.

  • Build a Volunteer Reception Center "Go Kit" that supports all functions within a VRC (such as registration, orientation, interviews, date entry, safety and job training, logistics, and public information).

  • Review applicable liability and insurance policies, and determine liability authority, regarding the engagement of volunteers. Ensure organizations accepting referred volunteers are aware of applicable state liability laws and insurance issues.

  • Develop a variety of communication tools, such as pre-scripted news releases, information on how individuals can affiliate, and websites, list-serves, and toll-free hotlines.

  • Conduct training and exercises for managing unaffiliated volunteers. Work with community partners and emergency management agencies to expand community exercises to include the function of unaffiliated volunteer management.

  • Develop a "shut down" or demobilization plan for how the VRC will be phased out when it is no longer needed.

Now, on to …

RESPONSE: Implement the Unaffiliated Volunteer Management Plan:

  • Activate the Volunteer Coordination Team (VCT). Use pre-identified and trained staff to fill key roles. The VCT will function within the Emergency Operations Center (EOC) as the primary coordination cell for unaffiliated volunteers.

  • Activate the Volunteer Reception Center (VRC) to serve as the coordination point for unaffiliated volunteers, develop partnerships with community and responding agencies, identify volunteer opportunities, and fill staffing needs.

  • • Address communication needs:
    • Coordinate with the Public Information Officer at the Emergency Operation Center (EOC).
    • Utilize pre-developed public messages about how and where to volunteer. Ensure all messages to the media and public are standardized and consistent.
    • Activate a dedicated toll-free number, or use other community resources such as 2-1-1.

  • Maintain a database of volunteers with skills for use during the recovery phase. The VCT should promote close coordination with long-term recovery groups to identify new or ongoing opportunities. Ensure continuity of service to stakeholders and volunteers as transition from response to recovery is completed.

Last but not least ...


Strengthen and maintain the long-term activation of the Volunteer Coordination Team (VCT) in support of the recovery operation. Provide for the continuation of services offered to stakeholders and unaffiliated volunteers during the response phase. Tasks of the VCT during recovery may include:

  • Activate a broad-based volunteer referral system that includes organizations involved in recovery and those with which volunteers can affiliate.

  • Provide support to long-term recovery organizations by leveraging volunteers from response to the recovery phase, as appropriate. As needed, develop volunteer roles and encourage participation in mitigation and preparedness activities.

  • Capture and document important facts, such as the dollar value of unaffiliated volunteers, success stories, and special activities. Utilize photographs, print and video stories from the media, and feedback from organizations.

  • Collect information from volunteers about their experience. Use this input for evaluation and future planning.

  • Recognize and thank volunteers for their service to the community.

  • Follow-up with volunteers to promote long-term retention. Encourage affiliation with organizations that provide opportunities matching the volunteer’s skills and interests.

This is a basic overview of activities that might be started to support your unaffiliated volunteer management efforts. Ande and I would be happy to answer any questions you might have, and I'd welcome comments from others on the committee as well.

Avagene Moore: Thank you, Ande and Susan. I am sure there are several questions for you both.

Amy Sebring: The link to the report is on our Background Page, but here it is again for those who have not seen it: http://www.nvoad.org/ManagingSpontaneousVol.pdf

[Audience Questions & Answers]

Burt Wallrich: Excellent presentation about important work. Your point about including local (non-NVOAD affiliated) nonprofits and faith-based organizations in this planning is very important. We have seen agencies and churches call for mobilization of volunteers immediately following a disaster, with no idea about what to do with them when they arrive.

Susan Jensen: Exactly. One of the things we're trying to do is educate our partners before a disaster. By doing this planning ahead of time, we're making sure we have good opportunities for those who do want to volunteer.

Ande Miller: You can see by the membership on our National Committee that participation is not limited to National VOAD members. I would also hope that non-profits and faith-based organizations that Burt knows about are looking to their local VOAD for collaboration opportunities.

Burt Wallrich: Participants might want to look at the County of Los Angeles' new website: www.eprepared.org. It is designed to link potential volunteers with public and private agencies that can use their services, to encourage pre-trained volunteerism and manage spontaneous volunteers. It can be used following a disaster to direct spontaneous volunteers to a VRC.

Hillary Ganton: I support the idea of having the media and public education encourage the affiliation of people with existing voluntary organizations prior to a disaster. Can this be promoted on a national level? If so, who do you suggest would lead such a promotion? I also support the idea of having plans for the "shut down" of VRCs.

Ande Miller: The VMC has drafted talking points that we hope will be used by state and local VOADs as well as a variety of organizations. The communications subcommittee has really done a good job with the PSAs, etc. We will have these on our website by mid April for any who can use them.

Susan Jensen: We're also talking about recruiting a celebrity spokesperson who can promote these ideas nationally and in local media markets.

Amy Sebring: Ande, what is the road ahead for the Committee?

Ande Miller: The committee is looking at the community exercise, an aggressive public relations campaign, but most importantly, the tools for communities to use before, during, and after a disaster, to keep the volunteers that would now be available for further training and would now be affiliated.

Susan Jensen: We're also working on developing a community-based course to help plan and train for unaffiliated volunteer management.

Frank Verny: Susan, the two referenced documents are very good. However, since they were issued has anything significant been added or can we consider these our "marching orders'?

Susan Jensen: I wouldn't say they're "marching orders" but a road map. Certainly they are good things to plan around. The documents themselves have greater detail than the presentation, and there are some communities and states that have done some good planning around the issue. We hope to be able to provide their information as well.

Derri Hanson: Ande or Susan, is there an organization that targets volunteerism education in grade schools & high schools?

Susan Jensen: Not to my knowledge. Does anyone else know of anything?

Hillary Ganton: On an individual voluntary organization basis, organizations contact local schools (public, private and religious) to promote volunteerism. We have a very large recruitment program for volunteerism education in the schools.

Ande Miller: I know the Red Cross had programs in the past but not certain if they do now.

Christy Grant: Good morning Ande and Susan. I am curious if there are plans for NVOAD to connect with the usafreedomcorps.gov website that identifies one-time and ongoing volunteer opportunities in every community and state across the country. Seems like this would be a great linkage to establish.

Susan Jensen: We actively partner with Citizens Corps and the Corporation for National and Community Service. Certainly there could be links. Excellent idea.

Ande Miller: Great idea Christy, we are working with Citizen Corps to best use all resources and that is one that was brought up in yesterday's meeting.

Angela Devlen: I agree with the approach of integrating the appropriate agencies and addressing this issue through pre-planning. However the issue of spontaneous volunteers will remain in spite of our best efforts. How many communities are considering (or have already) adopting the model above or something similar? I only know of a couple that have plans. Thoughts on what can be done to support a community that has a disaster that doesn't yet have a plan for managing unaffiliated volunteers?

Susan Jensen: We're working on developing a community-based course. In addition, we're working with state EMA and Commissions to get the word down to their local level. With many partners, we hope to be able to accomplish what you're talking about.

Sheena Vivian: Ande & Susan, could you elaborate on why communities would choose to utilize spontaneous volunteers and what some of the challenges are that you need to be aware of and plan for? (FYI: As well the province of British Columbia already has developed a course for management of 'Walk in' volunteers, as well as an on the fly training guide for using those folks. [See http://www.jibc.bc.ca/progCourses.htm. Search for course ESS203. Course Title is Managing Walk-In Disaster Volunteers.])

Susan Jensen: Communities use spontaneous volunteers for a variety of reasons. They're often a good resource for specialty tasks. It gives the community members ownership of the disaster.

Ande Miller: All of us want volunteers to be affiliated before the disaster strikes but the reality is that people want to help at the time of the disaster and have not connected with an organization. If there is a place where they can help that's good.

Susan Jensen: Just to reiterate Ande's point, yes, we want people affiliated prior to the event, but the reality is that we have to have a plan in place to address those who are moved to volunteer after a disaster. Spontaneous volunteers, if given good training, support, and opportunities can be an invaluable resource for the community. As emergency managers, our challenge is to make this happen.

Cherylyn Murphy: Ande, are you working with Citizen Corps on getting PSAs out and using them to help promote volunteering with existing organizations?

Ande Miller: Cherilyn, yes Citizen Corps is a member of the VMC.

Amy Sebring: Susan, will there be, or is there, an EMI Internet self study course on this topic? and/or will there be a train-the-trainer type course?

Susan Jensen: Yes, we're working on several training options. The first is the community-based course that's currently under development using a grant from the UPS Foundation. We're also working to update the current FEMA Donations Management course, and adding pieces of this doctrine to existing courses. There's also some talk about putting an IS course online.

Frank Verny: Susan, what is the distinction between Mitigation and Preparedness? I see them as one or at least very close. Am I missing something?

Susan Jensen: What we were trying to do by separting them is to indicate that there are activities that can be undertaken in all phases. In many respects, they overlap in this area. We do want to continue to stress the importance of pre-planning.

Angela Devlen: How can one get involved in this initiative if they are interested? Particularly those that may not yet be involved? Private sector, etc?

Ande Miller: Angela, are you thinking on the national level or a local level? If you will let me know your interest then I am happy to forward you to the right person.

Angela Devlen: Either, by either supporting or working with the committee(s) or assisting local communities with developing a plan, etc.

Ande Miller: Check our website and it tells you how to reach me and we can talk off line and move you in the right direction.

Deb Drake: What is the implication/indication for volunteers in the hospital setting?

Susan Jensen: Each entity needs to make these decisions for themselves, especially since you're talking about a very specialized type of volunteer. If a hospital would want to use spontaneous volunteers, I would recommend they be very aware of liability issues and have a robust credentialing and ID plan in place.

Hillary Ganton: I just want to point out that many hospitals are not planning to accept spontaneous volunteers during a disaster. Our Association is surveying NYC Hospitals concerning this. During 9/11 we used spontaneous volunteers with IDs and it worked out quite well.

Ande Miller: Regarding the question of hospitals, Susan is absolutely right the liability issues become even more of a discussion point, but Mercy Corps and Citizen Corps are really focusing on these issues. But, most medical facilities really need the affiliated rather than the unaffiliated volunteer.

Susan Jensen: Certainly an entity wouldn't have to accept spontaneous volunteers of any kind; that decision is up to them.

Baptiste: When looking at spontaneous volunteers, is it possible to promote the following to churches and other organizations; a need to establish a skill list of their members so that if a disaster occurs a specific request can be made by their organization leaders or media personnel advising the spontaneous volunteers on how they will be utilized, when and where to report.

Susan Jensen: That's a great idea, Baptiste. Certainly we want churches and other organizations to participate in their community's planning efforts.

Ande Miller: This challenge is reflected in the conversation today. It will remain with us.

Deb Drake: Hospitals, of course, would prefer not to use volunteers. In some communities there is a perception that groups, like Boy Scouts, stated they would come to the hospitals to provide first aid. Locally, in Boise, the hospitals don't have a plan to use them. But some public agencies (HRSA-related; Healthcare Resources Services Adminstration) are pushing to use unaffiliated volunteers.

Merrilee White: Volunteer Florida will have a document posted on our website soon called Unaffiliated Volunteer Management: Florida's Record-breaking 2004 Hurricane Season. It's an aggregate of survey responses from Volunteer Centers and other organizations that operated VRCs during the hurricanes. With back-to-back disasters, there were some surprises. Pre-disaster relationships and back-up communication are critical to successful VRCs.

Sheena Vivian: Although hospitals aren't great places for spontaneous volunteers, as we further prepare for the threat of pandemic we will require all volunteers, affiliated and unaffiliated, to be considered for use in care centres since there isn't likely to be enough traditional medical staff or facilities available.

Hillary Ganton: One short comment - although Hospitals may prefer not to use spontaneous volunteers, in reality, in disaster situations, they may need to use spontaneous volunteers who may be used in basic support assignments such as delivering equipment, disseminating information internally, transporting patients (if trained by staff or regular, affiliated volunteers), helping with food services, etc.


Avagene Moore: Thanks to Ande and Susan and our audience today. We greatly appreciate your effort and time on our behalf. I am sure our audience will benefit from the experiences you shared with us today. Please stand by a moment while we make some quick announcements.

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Again, the transcript of today's session will be posted later today and you will be able to access it from our home page. An announcement will also be sent to our Mail Lists when the transcript is available.

Thanks to everyone for participating today. We appreciate you, the audience! Before you go, please help me show our appreciation to Ande Miller and Susan Jensen for a fine job. The EIIP Virtual Forum is adjourned! Thank you, Ande and Susan! Great job!