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FEMA IS-244.B: Developing and Managing Volunteers Course Summary

IS-244 – Developing and Managing Volunteers

Lesson 1: Introduction and Course Overview

Course Welcome

Welcome to the Developing and Managing Volunteers independent study course.

This course is designed to strengthen your abilities to prepare for and manage volunteers before, during, and after a severe emergency or major disaster. This course will:

  • Provide strategies for identifying, recruiting, assigning, training, supervising, and motivating volunteers.
  • Include discussion of spontaneous volunteers as well as those affiliated with community-based, faith-based, and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs).


Course Objectives

At the end of this course, you should be able to:

  • Identify situations in which volunteers can be a useful addition to response and recovery operations.
  • Define skill and knowledge requirements for volunteers.
  • Develop a volunteer program that includes strategies for recruiting and managing volunteers within the whole community.
  • Develop a plan for setting up a Volunteer Reception Center.
  • Identify special issues involving the use of volunteers.


Lesson Objectives

At the end of this lesson you should be able to describe the value that volunteers provide to emergency management. Enabling objectives for this lesson are to:

  • Define “volunteer,” and describe the two types of volunteers.
  • Determine areas in which your jurisdiction can utilize volunteers.
  • List five benefits to engaging volunteers.
  • List five challenges to engaging volunteers.
  • Determine how to incorporate the whole community in volunteer programs.
  • Identify local organizations that might be sources of volunteers and strategies for developing relationships with those organizations.


What Are Volunteers?

The United States has a long history of volunteerism. People of all ages and with all types of skills volunteer, and that trend will continue. Americans want to volunteer. But what exactly is a volunteer?

Federal law and regulations define volunteer as . . .

. . . any individual accepted to perform services by the lead agency (which has the authority to accept volunteer services) when the individual performs services without promise, expectation, or receipt of compensation for services performed (16 U.S.C. 742(c) and 29 CFR 553.101).


Why Do People Volunteer?

People volunteer for a number of reasons, including wanting to:

  • Give back to the community.
  • Share their skills and abilities with those who need them.
  • Develop new skills.
  • Gain satisfaction from helping the community.


Types of Volunteers

Volunteers come from many sources, but most can be categorized in one of two ways.

Affiliated Volunteers are those who are attached to a recognized voluntary or nonprofit organization and are trained for specific disaster response activities. Their relationship with the organization precedes the immediate incident, and they are invited by that organization to become involved in a specific aspect of emergency management. The organization is responsible for training, deploying, assigning, ensuring safety, evaluating, and demobilizing its volunteers.

Unaffiliated Volunteers, also known as spontaneous volunteers, are individuals who offer to help or self-deploy to assist in emergency situations without fully coordinating their activities. They are considered “unaffiliated” in that they are not part of a disaster relief organization. Although unaffiliated volunteers can be significant resources, verifying their training or credentials and matching them with the appropriate services can be difficult.


Volunteers in Emergency Management

Americans are a very caring people. They have played an important part in emergency and disaster operations for many years.

Beginning with Native Americans . . .

to the local militias of the American Revolution . . .

to black Civil War regiments,

volunteers have served in a multitude of ways during emergencies and disasters.

Some volunteers work with organized voluntary organizations. Others organize in an ad hoc manner for a common purpose. And others feel a need to help and arrive at the scene to see where they can assist.

Coordination between the emergency management function and all volunteers is critical to ensure efficient operations, so that operations are conducted safely.

All volunteers have skills to share. But volunteers must be matched with an affiliated organization that has knowledge of emergency management and the work that must be done.

A well-run volunteer program can make volunteers a crucial part of response and recovery efforts, and help survivors rebuild their lives more quickly.


Using Volunteers Effectively

There are several basic “rules” to using volunteers effectively:

  • Identifying jobs that volunteers can fill.
  • Determining the knowledge, skills, and abilities required and developing job descriptions for each job.
  • Developing a volunteer recruiting program.
  • Providing the training required to do the job.
  • Ensuring acceptable job performance and safety.
  • Providing for volunteers’ physical and mental well-being.
  • Treating volunteers with respect and showing appreciation for their work.


Identifying Areas Where Volunteers Can Help

As valuable as volunteers can be, there are some areas where volunteers should not be assigned. For example:

  • Technical jobs for which volunteers are not trained and cannot be trained in time to be useful.
  • Jobs that present a high risk for injury to the volunteer or others.
  • Jobs that require special licenses or certifications.

Additionally, jobs covered by labor agreements often cannot be filled by volunteers.


Determining Knowledge, Skills, and Abilities and Developing Job Descriptions

Each volunteer job must be analyzed for knowledge, skill, and ability (KSA) requirements so that volunteers can be matched to jobs that they are best suited for. That is not to say that there is no place for volunteers whose skills do match specific jobs. It does mean that volunteers must be assigned to jobs that:

  • They can perform effectively, efficiently, and safely.
  • Limit liability for the jurisdiction.

Consideration should be given to volunteer assignments beyond KSAs. Some volunteers may not be well suited to specific jobs, despite having the requisite KSAs. Volunteers should not be assigned to jobs for which they do not feel comfortable.

Developing Volunteer Job Descriptions

Use the points below as a guide for developing job descriptions for volunteer jobs. Because a job description may be used as a legal document, it should be as complete as possible. Have legal counsel review volunteer job descriptions before you begin recruiting volunteers for the positions.

Include . . . Description
The purpose of the job How will the position help your agency achieve its mission?
The job responsibilities What primary tasks will you expect the volunteer to do? What occasional tasks will you expect?
Job qualifications What knowledge, skills, and abilities (KSAs) are required for the job? Should the volunteer have attained a certain education level to be successful?
The person to whom the volunteer will report Will the volunteer report directly to you? To a member of your staff? To another volunteer?
The time commitment required for the position How many hours each week are required to ensure that the job responsibilities can be accomplished within a reasonable timeframe and without undue stress?
The length of the appointment How long will the position be required? Is the job open-ended, or is it a position that is only required during an emergency?
Support provided for the position Will the volunteer work independently or will he or she rely on others in the organization?
Development opportunities Is formal training available or required for the position? What are the possibilities for advancement?


Developing a Volunteer Recruiting Program

One of the greatest challenges to developing a volunteer program is recruiting volunteers with the KSAs necessary to do the job. Recruitment strategies may be broad-based or targeted and will differ based on the type of volunteer needed. Matching the volunteer need with the proper recruiting strategy is key to a successful program.


Providing the Training Required

Jurisdictions have the ethical and legal responsibility to ensure that volunteers are trained for the jobs they perform. There are important correlations between training and volunteer satisfaction and effectiveness. Proper training can also:

  • Save lives.
  • Protect property.
  • Reduce suffering.
  • Reduce liability.

There are several steps in the training process, and specific training needs will vary with the job and the volunteer’s entry-level KSAs.


Ensuring Acceptable and Safe Job Performance

As the assigning agency or jurisdiction, there is a legal obligation to ensure job performance and worker safety. There are three key steps to ensuring acceptable performance, while maintaining safety for volunteers, staff, and the public:

  1. Ensuring that performance criteria (including safety criteria) have been met through training and evaluation.
  2. Providing adequate supervision during job performance.
  3. Correcting performance issues as soon as they occur.


Providing for Volunteers’ Physical and Mental Well-Being

Persons assisting during and after an emergency or disaster are often fueled by adrenaline, and may neglect their own needs. They may ignore signs that they need food, water, rest, or just time away from the incident scene.

Supervisors must be vigilant. They need to ensure that all workers—volunteers and staff—take care of their personal needs.


Treating Volunteers With Respect and Thanking Them for Their Work

One of the most common volunteer complaints is that they are unappreciated. After all, they work side by side with paid staff, making personal sacrifices, and often bringing special skills that cannot be found among paid staff. Genuine and sincere recognition, then, is a critical component of supervision because it is key to volunteer retention.


Benefits and Challenges of Using Volunteers

Volunteers have much to offer emergency management. Often, they can provide services more cost effectively.

In addition, they may provide access to a broader range of expertise and experience . . . enable paid staff to focus their efforts where they are needed most . . . provide resources for accomplishing maintenance tasks . . . enable jurisdictions to launch programs in areas in which paid staff lacks expertise . . . act as liaisons to the community . . . provide a direct line to private resources in the community . . . increase public awareness and program visibility . . . and help foster a civil, disaster-resilient community while providing an example of service to others.

Volunteers also present challenges, however. Training and supervision of volunteers takes resources that could be used elsewhere. Unhappy volunteers can just go home. Volunteers may cause friction with paid staff who believe the positions should be filled with employees. Using volunteers may increase the jurisdiction’s liability in case of accident or injury. Clearly, jurisdictions must weigh the benefits and challenges of engaging volunteers. If a jurisdiction thinks through how best to use volunteers and plans for their involvement in response and recovery efforts, volunteers can play a huge role in augmenting a jurisdiction’s response and recovery capabilities.


Making the Decision of Whether To Use Volunteers

One of the first decisions volunteer coordinators must make is whether to develop an agency or jurisdiction volunteer program, to coordinate with established voluntary organizations, or both.

In making the decision, consider both positive and negative factors concerning volunteer participation.


Removing Obstacles to Volunteer Engagement

Many perceived obstacles about engaging volunteers are actually misperceptions that result when volunteer engagement is not well planned, managed, or supervised.


Lesson Summary

In this lesson, you have learned:

  • How to navigate through the course.
  • Introductory information about volunteers and the advantages of engaging them.


Lesson 2: The Role of the Volunteer Program Coordinator

Lesson Overview

This lesson will introduce the role of the Volunteer Program Coordinator.

At the end of this lesson, you should be able to:

  • Define the main roles and responsibilities of the Volunteer Program Coordinator.
  • List the factors involved in determining whether a Volunteer Program Coordinator is required.
  • Provide options for placing the Volunteer Program Coordinator in the emergency organization.
  • Explain the key knowledge and skill requirements of Volunteer Program Coordinators.


The Role of the Volunteer Program Coordinator

If your agency or jurisdiction chooses to develop and manage its own volunteer program, it will need at least one person to organize, develop, and manage the program. Regardless of the number of full-time staff involved, a Volunteer Program Coordinator should oversee the entire volunteer program. The coordinator’s responsibilities should include the following tasks:

  • Develop a network among emergency management, voluntary organizations, and the community at large
  • Plan for volunteer involvement
  • Develop volunteer program policy
  • Oversee the implementation of the volunteer program policy

Volunteer Program Coordinators also:

  • Develop and manage a budget to support the volunteer program.
  • Promote and publicize the volunteer program.
  • Recruit, select, assign, train, and supervise volunteers.

State, tribal, and local governments have primary responsibility, in coordination with Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster (VOADs), to develop and implement plans to manage volunteer services and donated goods.


Developing a Network

Many if not most jurisdictions have existing relationships with organizations that assist with disaster response and recovery, and those organizations can play a large part in managing spontaneous volunteers.

Other organizations within the jurisdiction, such as the local food bank, faith-based groups, and private businesses, can also play an important role.

It is important to work with the whole community to:

  • Coordinate procedures for planning and managing spontaneous volunteers.
  • Absorb some of the spontaneous volunteers into community organizations.
  • Provide resources that may not be available during routine times.

It may be helpful to develop memorandums of understanding, cooperative agreements, or other agreements with network partners before an emergency occurs. These agreements are often difficult to develop, however. It may be better for nonprofit organizations to work with State, tribal, and local governments during the planning process to identify the roles the organizations may play in the overall emergency operations plan.


Planning for Volunteer Involvement

There are many points to consider when planning for volunteer involvement. Several important points are listed below.

  • The types of incidents identified in the jurisdiction’s hazard analysis as high risk/high impact or low risk/high impact.
  • Skills that may be needed for the identified incidents.
  • The degree to which required skills are available in the jurisdiction.
  • Availability of required skills outside the jurisdiction.
  • Estimated number of untrained volunteers who may come to the incident.

Each of these points and others must be addressed and incorporated into volunteer program plans.


Developing Volunteer Program Policy

The agency’s or jurisdiction’s volunteer program policy should be based on an overall strategy for engaging volunteers. Those who will develop or participate in the volunteer program should work with voluntary organizations, private industry, and others to develop a policy for managing volunteers.

Any volunteer program policy developed should have the support of all program partners. Additionally, the policy should be reviewed by the legal counsels of all participating partners. If the use of volunteers has implications for bargaining-unit employees, the policy should be developed with and reviewed by bargaining units.


Overseeing the Implementation of the Volunteer Program Policy

Following development of the volunteer program policy, the policy must be implemented and monitored. That responsibility most often falls to the Volunteer Program Coordinator working together with all program partners.

Volunteer policy implementation cannot wait until an incident occurs. An initial step in implementing the program should be to develop a series of progressive exercises that test the viability of the policy. The exercises should be evaluated carefully, and the policy revised as necessary.


Developing and Managing the Volunteer Budget

Volunteer labor is free, but there can be many expenses associated with implementing a volunteer program. The Volunteer Program Coordinator will need to work with agency and/or jurisdiction policy and finance personnel to determine which expenses will be covered as part of another budget (e.g., utilities, office space) and which expenses won’t be (e.g., special facilities such as animal boarding and exercise areas, volunteer food and shelter, insurance).

The Volunteer Program Coordinator will also need to work with volunteer organizations and others in the jurisdiction to determine what, if anything, they can provide and at what cost.

As with any budget, the volunteer budget must be monitored to ensure that funds are expended properly and not exceeded.

Some agencies and jurisdictions may have their budgets managed by finance or other designated personnel. However, preparing and monitoring the budget will typically be the Volunteer Program Coordinator’s responsibility, unless those tasks are specifically assigned to someone else.


Promoting and Publicizing the Volunteer Program

Promoting and publicizing the volunteer program is an important part of policy implementation. By promoting and publicizing the volunteer program, the agency or jurisdiction can:

  • Present the volunteer program as an important part of emergency management.
  • Specify the types, numbers, and skill levels of volunteers required.

Promoting and publicizing the volunteer program drives volunteer recruitment, selection, and other efforts.


Recruiting, Selecting, Assigning, Training, and Supervising Volunteers

Finally, it is time to recruit, select, assign, train, and supervise volunteers. Each of these tasks may be approached differently based on State law, tribal or local ordinance, agency or jurisdiction policy, and the capabilities of the cooperating voluntary organizations.


Limits of Authority

Before beginning any work on the volunteer program, the Volunteer Program Coordinator should meet with his or her supervisor, and potentially the agency’s or jurisdiction’s legal counsel, to be clear on leadership’s expectations and any limitations on the Volunteer Program Coordinator’s authority. A formal job description or other directive should be provided to ensure that all involved are clear about what the job does and does not require.

The Volunteer Program Coordinator also should meet with all volunteer partners to ensure agreement on the limits of all participants’ authority.


Factors To Consider When Appointing a Volunteer Program Coordinator

There are a number of factors to consider when appointing a Volunteer Program Coordinator.

  • How is the volunteer program coordinated currently?
  • Is the current method working?
  • Can the program be reorganized under voluntary organizations, nongovernment organizations (NGOs), private industry, or other community groups?
  • Is the appointment of a Volunteer Program Coordinator feasible under any circumstances?


Volunteer Program Placement in the Emergency Organization

The placement of the volunteer program in the emergency organization can be variable. To a large degree, placement depends on:

  • The need to incorporate agency programs into the jurisdiction’s program.
  • Voluntary organizations with which the agency volunteer program must coordinate.
  • How volunteers will be engaged before, during, and after an emergency event.

There are several factors to consider when integrating volunteer programs within the larger emergency organization. Volunteer program placement in the organization should:

  • Provide clear reporting relationships.
  • Foster coordination among all players and decisionmakers in the volunteer program.
  • Enable communication between the volunteer program and other functions within the emergency organization.
  • Facilitate needs identification and resource deployment.


Reporting Relationships

The Incident Command System (ICS) is a management system designed to enable effective and efficient domestic incident management by integrating a combination of facilities, equipment, personnel, procedures, and communications operating within a common organizational structure.

While ICS is designed to enable effective and efficient domestic incident management, its principles are applicable to emergency operations at the Emergency Operations Center.

One key principle involves reporting relationships, or chain of command. Chain of command refers to the orderly line of authority within the ranks of the incident management organization. An effective chain of command:

  • Provides for a single reporting point for each person in an organization.
  • Clarifies reporting relationships.
  • Eliminates the confusion caused by multiple, conflicting directives.


Lesson Summary

In this lesson, you have learned:

  • The main roles and responsibilities of the Volunteer Program Coordinator.
  • Factors involved in determining whether a Volunteer Program Coordinator is required.
  • Options for placing the Volunteer Program Coordinator in the emergency organization.
  • Key knowledge and skill requirements of Volunteer Program Coordinator.



Lesson 3: Developing a Volunteer Program

Lesson Overview

This lesson will introduce the importance of following a systematic process when developing a volunteer program.

At the end of this lesson, you should be able to:

  • Determine how volunteers can be used most beneficially in their emergency management programs.
  • Identify legal and liability issues involving volunteers.
  • Design a volunteer program.
  • Develop a volunteer job description.
  • Develop a strategy for recruiting, assigning, training, supervising, and evaluating volunteers.


Developing a Volunteer Program

Americans have a history of wanting to help following a disaster. They have played important, even critical roles to help save lives, protect property, and preserve the environment.

Many have even given their lives to help others.

  • But how will you plan for the types of volunteers who may come to the disaster scene?
  • How will you formulate a strategy for engaging volunteers effectively?
  • Who will you work with?
  • What will the volunteer program cost?
  • What insurance and liability issues need to be addressed?
  • Who will write volunteer job descriptions?
  • What will the process be for recruiting, assigning, training, supervising, and evaluating volunteers?

This lesson will answer each of these questions and provide an opportunity for you to plan a volunteer program in your agency or jurisdiction.


Analyze Agency and Program Needs

Before beginning to develop a volunteer program, it is necessary to determine agency or jurisdiction needs. Analyzing needs involves:

  • Considering the agency’s mission or jurisdiction’s responsibilities during an emergency as well as the jurisdiction’s most likely hazards.
  • Reviewing current personnel resources to identify performance gaps and areas where volunteers might be able to help.
  • Describing volunteer jobs in terms of the tasks that must be done; the knowledge, skills, and abilities required to perform the tasks; and additional resources that are needed to accomplish the tasks.

Criteria for Developing a Volunteer Job

Criteria Yes No
  1. Is there meaningful work for volunteers to do? (Consider its significance to the agency and how to explain the need for the job to potential volunteers.)
  1. Is it cost-effective to use volunteers? (Consider the time, energy, and funding required for recruitment, orientation, and training.)
  1. Is a support framework in place for a volunteer program, including:
    • A Volunteer Program Coordinator?
    • Volunteer policies?
    • Volunteer workspace and other resources?
    • Insurance covering volunteers and protecting the agency/jurisdiction from liability?
  1. How will paid staff interact with volunteers? (Consider experience and receptiveness, as well as role and responsibility definitions for staff and volunteers.)
  1. Has the agency/jurisdiction developed clear policies and procedures for volunteer management?

When designing jobs for volunteers, remember that the jobs should reflect both the needs of the agency/jurisdiction and the volunteers. Volunteer needs may include:

  • The desire to contribute to the community.
  • The need to interact with other people.
  • An interest in the job itself.
  • The desire to learn new skills.


Develop Job Descriptions

A well-defined job description is a valuable tool for an effective volunteer program. A good job description is:

  • The first step in the recruitment process.
  • A tool for marketing the agency’s need to potential volunteers.
  • A focal point for interviewing, screening, and selecting volunteers.
  • The basis for volunteer job training.
  • A reference point for performance evaluation.

Paid staff can be invaluable when developing job descriptions. Paid staff are most familiar with the work requirements. Also, developing job descriptions helps ensure staff buy-in to the volunteer program.

Guidelines for Developing Volunteer Job Descriptions

Because job descriptions may be used as a legal document, they should be as complete as possible. All job descriptions should be reviewed and approved by legal counsel before recruitment begins. When developing volunteer job descriptions, consider:

  • The job purpose. How will the position help the agency/jurisdiction achieve its mission?
  • Job responsibilities. What primary tasks will be expected? Are there other tasks that the volunteer will be required to perform on occasion?
  • Job qualifications. What KSAs are required for the job? Does the job require a specific education level or certification?
  • Reporting requirements. To whom will the volunteer report? What will the chain of command be?
  • The time commitment for the position. How many hours each week are required to ensure that the job can be accomplished without causing undue stress?
  • The length of the appointment. How long will the position be required? Is the job open-ended or is it a position that is required only during an emergency?
  • Support requirements for the position. Will the volunteer work independently or rely on others in the organization?
  • Development opportunities. What are the possibilities for advancement?


Recruit Volunteers

Recruitment—getting the right volunteers into the right jobs—is crucial to a successful program. Recruitment can be:

  • Broad-based (general) in cases where there is a need for a large number of individuals for jobs requiring skills that many possess or when a wide variety of skills is required. Broad-based appeals are typically made through mass media outlets.
  • Targeted (selective) in cases where volunteers with specific skills are required. Targeted appeals are usually made through the Volunteer Reception Center, specialized media such as journals, or through personal contacts.

Determine whether broad-based or targeted recruiting—or a combination of recruiting strategies (e.g., recruiting as part of community activities, such as Make a Difference Day or Martin Luther King Jr. Day)—seems most likely to be successful when developing a recruitment strategy.


Develop a Recruitment Strategy

After determining the types of volunteers needed, the next step is to develop a recruitment strategy. There are several broad tasks for developing the strategy:

  • Work with partner organizations to develop a message inviting those interested in volunteering to affiliate with a voluntary organization before an emergency occurs.
  • Develop a volunteer “profile” based on what is known about the volunteers needed.
  • Determine ways to reach the volunteers (e.g., networking with the whole community, analyzing how other agencies/jurisdictions reach their volunteers).
  • Identify organizations that have an impact on the agency/jurisdiction (regardless of whether the agency/jurisdiction is at the State, tribal, or local level) or that are affected by the agency’s/jurisdiction’s actions.
  • Select one or more ways to reach the audience needed.


Develop a Recruitment Message

After determining who and where to recruit, the next task is to write a message that will reach potential volunteers. When developing a recruitment message, it is important to remember:

  • The aspects of the job that make it attractive to volunteers.
  • How the message will be released (e.g., print versus social media).

Regardless of the message or medium, all recruitment messages should include:

  • An opening that will catch the audience’s attention.
  • A statement that describes the role(s) that volunteers will play and the problems they can solve.
  • A statement of the KSAs needed so that potential volunteers can determine whether they can do the job.
  • A description of what the volunteer will gain.
  • Directions for getting involved.

If possible, it may be advantageous for voluntary organizations and NGOs to use their experience and help develop the recruitment message.


Match Volunteers to Jobs

All volunteers should be screened to ensure they are a good fit for jobs available. Those who seem to be a good fit should continue through the interview process. Topics to address in the interviews include the following, as applicable:

  • Volunteer’s skill levels for the job being considered.
  • Ability to work long hours under stressful conditions.
  • Amount of time the volunteer will spend unsupervised.
  • Experience working with individuals with functional needs (e.g., children, elderly people, people with sensory or access needs, people with limited English language skills).
  • Requirement to handle funds.
  • Requirement to operate a vehicle.
  • Level of physical or emotional risk.

There are several additional steps to take following interviews with potential volunteers. For example:

  • If there is physical risk to the volunteer, ensure that persons assigned are physically and mentally capable of performing the job.
  • If certifications or licenses are required to perform the job during non-emergency times, ensure that persons assigned have those certifications or licenses.
  • If volunteers will be assigned to jobs involving people with access and functional needs, conduct background checks to ensure that they have nothing in their backgrounds that might put those people at risk.


Screening Process

Because time is of the essence during an emergency, screening and interviewing quickly will be critical. Fortunately, there are several steps you can often take in advance that will make this process more efficient when an emergency occurs:

  • Requiring applicants to complete an application
  • Checking references
  • Verifying licenses and certifications
  • Conducting interviews

Depending on State law, implementing these screening steps also may reduce the jurisdiction’s vulnerability to legal action should an incident involving volunteers occur.

Wherever possible, screening and even interviewing should be completed before an emergency occurs. If pre-emergency screening is not possible, it is preferable for emergency management personnel to capitalize on the expertise at the local Volunteer Reception Center, which increasingly serves as a resource for volunteer recruitment and management.


Screening Tools: Job Applications

Job applications are typically used early in the screening process because they present the agency or jurisdiction with information they need to determine whether the volunteer is a good fit for emergency positions. Applications should also include a consent form that enables the jurisdiction to conduct more indepth screening.

Consent forms should ask the applicant to:

  • Verify the accuracy of information on the application.
  • Waive the right to confidentiality for screening purposes.
  • Consent to reference checks, criminal background checks, etc.

Select this link to review a sample job application.


Conduct Interviews

Following initial screening, the next step in placing volunteers involves interviewing applicants who appear most qualified. Interviews help the jurisdiction/agency determine which volunteers are the best fit in the emergency organization. They also provide the potential volunteer with an opportunity to evaluate the jurisdiction/agency and the job available to determine whether the job is a good fit.

The interviewer should use the tools below when interviewing potential volunteers:

  • The job application.
  • A form for recording the interview.
  • A list of open-ended questions to ask.
  • Information about the jurisdiction/agency to give to the interviewee.

A goal of all interviews should be to identify the candidate’s skills and motivation for volunteering and to match applicants with potential jobs. Other goals may include:

  • Identifying undesirable candidates.
  • “Marketing” the jurisdiction/agency to the candidate by answering his/her questions and providing other information, as appropriate.

Because of the volume of volunteers wanting to help in an emergency, procedures should be developed for conducting expeditious group interviews.

Certain questions cannot be asked during interviews, including questions relating to:

  • Race, national origin, birthplace, or religious affiliation.
  • Marital status.
  • Credit card or home ownership.
  • Age, height, or weight.
  • Pregnancy or childcare arrangements.
  • Arrest record (other than what appears on a background check).
  • Discharge from military service.
  • Length of residency in the community.
  • Health (other than questions related to the candidate’s ability to perform a specific physical task).

Do not ask anything that is not directly related to the candidate’s ability to perform a specific job.

After conducting each interview, the interviewer(s) should consider the candidate’s responses and make a decision about further action. Decisions can include:

  • Placement.
  • Additional screening.
  • Rejection.

Select this link to review a sample form for recording interviews.


Train Volunteers

After volunteers are brought on board, they must be trained so that they are:

  • Able to perform their jobs effectively.
  • Satisfied with their volunteer job assignments.

There are several ways to train volunteers successfully, depending on the job assignment. The most common types of training are:

  • Orientations.
  • Classroom training and self-instruction.
  • On-the-job training.



Orientations provide a broad overview of voluntary organizations, government agencies, nongovernmental agencies, and/or jobs. Components of a successful organizational orientation include:

  • The organization’s mission and relationship to the community and other organizations.
  • Organizational values.
  • Organizational procedures and issues.
  • How volunteers are engaged in the organization.

Components of a successful job orientation include:

  • The purpose of the job.
  • How the job fits into the overall organization.
  • Authority and accountability.
  • Resources available for job performance.
  • How successful job performance fits into accomplishing the organization’s mission.

Orientations can be delivered by one or multiple facilitators, by using video or other media, or by combining facilitator-led with video/media presentations. It is preferable to open an orientation with a welcome from a senior organizational official. Having current or past volunteers participate in the orientation also adds authenticity to the welcome process for new volunteers.


Classroom Training and Self-Instruction

Classroom training and self-instruction are designed to provide and enhance knowledge, skills, and abilities so volunteers learn the “how to” of job performance.

Training can be general or specific. General training includes training that is common to many positions, such as communications and interpersonal skills, leadership and supervision skills, or problemsolving skills.

Some topics, especially those intended to introduce students to a new topic, are well-suited to self-instruction. Self-instruction is also useful when reviewing information or improving skills and knowledge before undertaking classroom training. In addition, self-instruction is often used for refresher training.


On-the-Job Training

On-the-job training (OJT) is exactly what it says: Training delivered in the workplace or simulated workplace. OJT is very flexible and can be conducted using a combination of methods. Among the most common OJT methods are:

  • Shadowing, where the trainee observes job performance.
  • Coaching, where an experienced performer watches the trainee perform the job and provides on-the-spot correction.

Other OJT methods can be employed based on the nature of the job.


Develop a Training Plan

A record of training provided to each volunteer is important for:

  • Ensuring that volunteers have received the training they need.
  • Documentation for promotion.
  • Post-incident volunteer evaluation.

Proof that training has been provided may also protect the agency/jurisdiction from liability.

Select this link to view a sample training plan.


Supervise and Evaluate Volunteers

Good supervision empowers volunteers to succeed and ensures completion of assigned work. Supervision involves:

  • Establishing performance expectations.
  • Acting as a coach and team builder.
  • Communicating ideas effectively.
  • Listening and synthesizing information received from others.
  • Giving constructive feedback and taking corrective action, when needed.
  • Recognizing volunteers for their contributions.


Provide Corrective Feedback

Volunteers have the right to know job expectations and receive feedback about how well they are doing.

Positive feedback is relatively easy, but many supervisors face difficulties when providing corrective feedback.

There are several steps that supervisors can take to conduct a successful corrective feedback session:

  • Establish and maintain a nonthreatening environment.
  • Discuss the volunteer’s strengths first, then move to areas in which the volunteer needs to improve. Provide concrete examples of each.
  • Listen to the volunteer’s input and take it seriously.
  • Provide suggestions for improving job performance, and gain the volunteer’s agreement.
  • Develop a plan for improving weaknesses jointly with the volunteer, including scheduling feedback sessions.

Always keep a written performance improvement plan (i.e., a record of corrective feedback and agreed-upon steps for improving future performance) as a future reference.


Evaluate Volunteers

Evaluations can be formally scheduled performance reviews or can be done informally by discussing job performance with the volunteer.

Evaluative feedback should follow naturally from supervisory feedback and the volunteer’s performance improvement plan.

Regardless of how volunteer evaluations take place, they should always be kept confidential.

Some hard-and-fast guidelines that evaluators must follow when conducting volunteer evaluations include the following:

  • Ensure all comments are fair.
  • Focus on the work, not the individual.
  • Follow agency/jurisdiction guidelines for disciplinary procedures.

Corrective actions may include:

  • Additional training or supervision.
  • Reassignment.
  • Suspension.
  • Termination.


When Termination Is Called For

Termination should always be reserved for times when all other measures have failed or when there has been gross misconduct.

Volunteers should have been made aware of grievance and appeal procedures during their job orientations. They should be encouraged to use these tools if they have concerns that cannot be resolved at the supervisory level.

If a volunteer resigns, supervisors should conduct an exit interview to gain information about:

  • His or her reason for leaving.
  • Suggestions for improving the position and/or volunteer experience.


Evaluate the Volunteer Program

As volunteers begin to rotate out of their emergency jobs, the Volunteer Program Coordinator should gather evaluative feedback on the overall volunteer program. Evaluating the volunteer program regularly ensures that it is meeting the needs of the:

  • Agency or jurisdiction
  • Volunteers

Volunteer evaluation should not be the only means of program evaluation, though. In addition to the volunteers themselves, other sources of feedback include:

  • Paid staff
  • The public
  • Voluntary organizations
  • Exercise performance
  • Lessons learned from actual emergencies

Program evaluation has several long-term benefits. It allows the Volunteer Program Manager to:

  • Increase volunteer satisfaction.
  • Upgrade the program to improve services.
  • Improve efficiency and reduce costs.
  • Identify what works and what doesn’t and develop corrective strategies.


Evaluation Methods

Who gives the feedback is just as important as how the feedback is gathered. Methods for gathering and processing feedback include:

  • Staff surveys.
  • Internal reviews that compare program results with objectives.
  • External reviews that compare and contrast the agency’s/jurisdiction’s volunteer program with other volunteer programs.

Evaluation analysis should include consideration of alternate explanations but should not include assumptions or conclusions that cannot be confirmed by evaluative data.


Incorporate Feedback Into the Volunteer Program

Because volunteer programs are an important part of emergency response and recovery, program feedback should be used to revise the Volunteer Annex to the jurisdiction’s Emergency Operations Plan (EOP).

The revised document then becomes the basis for new procedures that should be formally developed, trained, exercised, and evaluated again.


Lesson Summary

In this lesson, you have learned how to:

  • Determine how volunteers can be used most beneficially in their emergency management programs.
  • Identify legal and liability issues involving volunteers.
  • Design a volunteer program.
  • Develop a volunteer job description.
  • Develop a strategy for recruiting, assigning, training, supervising, and evaluating volunteers.



Lesson 4: Working With NGOs and the Private Sector

Lesson Overview

This lesson will introduce ways to work with nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) and other private sector organizations that could provide volunteers during an emergency. At the end of this lesson, you should be able to:

  • List the key responsibilities of the Volunteer Program Coordinator with regard to nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) and the private sector.
  • Develop a list of NGOs and other private sector organizations that can provide volunteers during an emergency.
  • Ascertain the type(s) of volunteer services that could be provided by identified organizations.
  • Identify and address common issues involved with managing volunteers and points of contact that can be used for consultation and advice.
  • Develop a topical outline for a plan to work with NGOs and other private sector organizations.


Benefits of Appointing a Volunteer Program Coordinator

During emergencies, more volunteers may be needed than the jurisdiction can recruit or manage. Specialized skills may be required that are not available through the jurisdiction. Working with voluntary and other outside organizations is critical to running a volunteer program that is efficient, effective, and safe.

Some jurisdictions or agencies resolve these issues by appointing a Volunteer Program Coordinator who is responsible for working with and coordinating volunteer management inside and outside the jurisdiction’s emergency operations capabilities.


General Internal and External Responsibilities

The appointment of a Volunteer Program Coordinator can resolve many volunteer issues, both inside and outside the jurisdiction. Whether working internally or externally, the Volunteer Program Coordinator has several general responsibilities, including:

  • Developing effective working relationships. The Volunteer Program Coordinator acts as a liaison between the jurisdiction/agencies and outside organizations.
  • Collaborating with internal and external agencies and organizations to develop an exercise plan to coordinate volunteer services.
  • Working with internal and external organizations to develop a plan for addressing volunteer needs before an emergency occurs.


Coordination Issues

Some issues just cannot be solved unilaterally—at least not if the jurisdiction/agency wants to maintain a good relationship with external organizations. Coordination issues that are critical for partner organizations to work out together include:

  • Determining the circumstances under which a Volunteer Reception Center will be opened, how it will be staffed, and how volunteer services will be matched with requests for volunteer services.
  • Identifying which agencies or organizations will be responsible for providing which emergency services.
  • Deciding which agencies or organizations will be responsible for recruiting, training, supervising, and evaluating volunteers.
  • Developing a plan for addressing volunteer needs before an emergency occurs.

Coordination issues should be resolved among all stakeholders and incorporated into the Volunteer Management Annex of the Emergency Operations Plan.


Responsibilities for Working With Internal Stakeholders

Before working with external organizations, the Volunteer Program Coordinator has important responsibilities within the jurisdiction/agency. Generally resolving internal issues involves working with:

  • The emergency planning/management team to gather or confirm information about how they prefer to use volunteers. The emergency planning/management team will have the final say about whether and how volunteers will be engaged. Their preferences will guide the Volunteer Program Coordinator as he or she works with others inside and outside the jurisdiction.
  • Agency personnel to determine:
    • Whether they can provide volunteers and if so, the types of skills their volunteers can provide.
    • Whether they will need volunteers and if so, the types of skills they will need.

Working with other organizations and their volunteers requires the ability to work as a team toward a common mission. Developing collaborative relationships takes time and involves:

  • A commitment to participate in shared decisionmaking.
  • A willingness to share information, resources, and tasks.
  • A professional sense of respect for all team members.


Coordination Responsibilities

Collaboration requires flexibility to agree on common terms and priorities, willingness to compromise, and commitment to learn from others’ experience in previous emergencies and volunteer engagements. Collaboration provides clear advantages to all by:

  • Eliminating duplication of services, resulting in a more efficient response.
  • Expanding resource availability.
  • Enhancing problemsolving through cross-pollination of ideas.


Coordinate With NGOs, Business, and Others

Although they are not given the credit they deserve, NGOs, business, and others have played a key role in emergency planning and response.

Some organizations have established volunteer programs. Others have provided equipment, emergency supplies, and other critical materials needed for the jurisdiction to respond to and recover from an emergency. Still others have provided specialized technical expertise needed for the response and recovery.


Involve Citizen Corps

Think expansively when identifying organizations that could help meet the jurisdiction’s needs. One excellent source of volunteers and expertise is Citizen Corps. Citizen Corps was created to help coordinate volunteer activities that will make jurisdictions safer, stronger, and better prepared to respond to any emergency situation.

Local Citizen Corps Councils implement Citizen Corps programs.

The Citizen Corps mission is to:

  • Prepare the public for local risks with targeted outreach.
  • Engage voluntary organizations to help augment resources for public safety, preparedness, and response capabilities.
  • Integrate whole community representatives with emergency managers to ensure disaster preparedness and response planning represents the whole community and integrates nontraditional resources.

Citizen Corps affiliate programs expand the resources and materials available to States and local jurisdictions through partnerships with programs and organizations that:

  • Offer resources for public education, outreach, and training.
  • Represent volunteers interested in helping to make their jurisdictions safer.
  • Offer volunteer service opportunities to support first responders, disaster assistance activities, and community safety efforts.

Citizen Corps Partner Programs

logo for Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) The Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) Program educates people about disaster preparedness and trains them in basic disaster response skills, such as fire safety, light search and rescue, and disaster medical operations. Using their training, CERT members can assist others in their neighborhood or workplace following an event and can take a more active role in preparing their community. The program is administered by the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
logo for Fire Corps The Fire Corps promotes the use of citizen advocates to enhance the capacity of resource-constrained fire and rescue departments at all levels: volunteer, combination, and career. Citizen advocates can assist local fire departments in a range of activities including fire safety outreach, youth programs, and administrative support. Fire Corps provides resources to assist fire and rescue departments in creating opportunities for citizen advocates and promotes citizen participation. Fire Corps is funded through the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and is managed and implemented through a partnership between the National Volunteer Fire Council, the International Association of Fire Fighters, and the International Association of Fire Chiefs.
logo for USA on Watch USA on Watch – Neighborhood Watch works to provide information, training, and resources to citizens and law enforcement agencies throughout the country. In the aftermath of September 11, 2001, Neighborhood Watch programs have expanded beyond their traditional crime prevention role to help neighborhoods focus on disaster preparedness, emergency response, and terrorism awareness. USA on Watch – Neighborhood Watch is administered by the National Sheriffs’ Association in partnership with the Bureau of Justice Assistance, U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ).
logo for Medical Reserve Corps (MRC) The Medical Reserve Corps (MRC) program strengthens communities by helping medical, public health, and other volunteers offer their expertise throughout the year as well as during local emergencies and other times of community need. MRC volunteers work in coordination with existing local emergency response programs and also supplement existing community public health initiatives, such as outreach and prevention, immunization programs, blood drives, case management, care planning, and other efforts. The MRC program is administered by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).
logo for Volunteers in Police Service (VIPS) Volunteers in Police Service (VIPS) works to enhance the capacity of State and local law enforcement to utilize volunteers. VIPS serves as a gateway to resources and information for and about law enforcement volunteer programs. Funded by DOJ, VIPS is managed and implemented by the International Association of Chiefs of Police.
logo for Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS) DHS works closely with the Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS) to promote volunteer service activities that support homeland security and community safety. CNCS is a Federal agency that operates nationwide service programs such as AmeriCorps, FEMA Corps, Senior Corps, and Learn and Serve America. Participants in these programs may support Citizen Corps Council activities by helping to establish training and information delivery systems for neighborhoods, schools, and businesses, and by helping with family preparedness and crime prevention initiatives in a community or across a region.


Develop a Strategy for Working With External Organizations: Meeting Individually

Relationships with external organizations must be developed before an emergency occurs, even if all available services may not be activated for each. It may be helpful to schedule preliminary meetings with representatives of individual organizations to:

  • Describe the jurisdiction’s needs.
  • Gather information about resources, including:
    • Resource availability.
    • The circumstances under which the resources would be available.
    • Timeframes required to activate and deploy volunteers.
    • Time limits for volunteer use.
    • Treatment of potential liability issues.

Following individual meetings, the Volunteer Program Coordinator should study the information gathered before meeting with external organizations as a group.


Develop a Strategy for Working With External Organizations: Meeting as a Group

Following individual meetings and data analysis, one or more meetings should be scheduled with all external organizations to review the data and gain agreement on how:

  • All players can work together.
  • They will communicate with each other and with the jurisdiction.
  • Resources will be requested, activated, deployed, tracked, and deactivated.
  • Volunteer and other services may not be used.
  • Volunteers will be trained and supervised and by whom.

Organizational culture should be discussed to the degree that it can affect volunteer services. If there are other key areas needing agreement, they should be discussed thoroughly at the meetings.


Gaining Support From Decisionmakers

After agreement is reached among all stakeholders, the decisions made should be documented, in writing, for inclusion as the Volunteer Management Annex of the Emergency Operations Plan (EOP).

Each organization is responsible for ensuring that the annex moves through the proper chain of command for review and approval.


Pre-Decision Steps

Draft documents may need to go through several rounds of review by legal counsel and others before taking any draft policies or procedures to decisionmakers. Each organization’s legal counsel should be consulted at this time, and questions or objections raised by any organization’s counsel should be addressed in house or among organization members, as necessary.

It may be necessary for the stakeholders to review and negotiate revisions based on legal counsel review. Some degree of compromise may be required of the stakeholders, but every comment should be addressed.


Taking the Proposal to Decisionmakers

Jurisdiction/agency decisionmakers make the final decisions about whether negotiated agreements are acceptable. Because protocols for gaining approval vary from organization to organization, the Volunteer Program Coordinators should follow the review process established by the jurisdiction/agency.

In addition, the Volunteer Program Coordinator should develop a presentation in the format the decisionmaker prefers and should be available and able to answer questions about the agreement and the benefits the volunteer program presents.

If one or more decisionmakers have questions or comments on the document, it may be necessary to convene additional meetings with the organizations.


Involving the Public

After gaining approval from decisionmakers, the document should be released for public comment. Seeking public input and feedback on volunteer program plans and strategies helps engage citizens who have valuable contributions based on past volunteer experiences – as well as those who might volunteer in future emergency situations.

Input from the public should be taken seriously, and considered for possible inclusion in the plan. If public input leads to significant revisions, it may be necessary to:

  • Send the document through another round of stakeholder meetings, and
  • Submit the document for a second review and approval by the decisionmakers.

Always invite and encourage media representatives to attend public meetings.


Lesson Summary

This lesson introduced:

  • The key responsibilities of the Volunteer Program Coordinator with regard to nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) and the private sector.
  • How to develop a list of NGOs and other private sector organizations that can provide volunteers during an emergency.
  • How to identify the type(s) of volunteer services that could be provided by identified organizations.
  • How to identify and address common issues involved with managing volunteers and points of contact that can be used for consultation and advice.
  • How to develop a topical outline for a plan to work with NGOs and other private sector organizations.



Lesson 5: Managing Spontaneous Volunteers

Lesson Overview

This lesson will introduce issues related to managing spontaneous volunteers. At the end of this lesson, you should be able to:

  • Relate the benefits of engaging spontaneous volunteers.
  • List the principles and values guiding management of spontaneous volunteers.
  • Develop a plan for managing spontaneous volunteers.
  • Develop a plan for managing and reducing volunteer stress.


Benefits of Engaging Spontaneous Volunteers

Despite the best planning efforts with NGOs and other entities, spontaneous volunteers are likely to self-dispatch to the incident scene. If both internal and external organizations do not plan for these volunteers, they will not be engaged effectively, and the situation can get out of control.

A well-planned strategy for engaging spontaneous volunteers can change a potential problem into a benefit for the:

  • Emergency survivors.
  • Jurisdiction.
  • Volunteers themselves.

When well planned for, spontaneous volunteers have:

  • Proven to be a cost-effective resource during response and short-term recovery operations.
  • Offered a wide range of expertise and experience.
  • Provided services that allow paid staff and first responders to focus their efforts on tasks that need their attention.
  • Provided resources that may otherwise be unavailable during an emergency.

To ensure that spontaneous volunteers are used to the best possible purpose, they must be managed effectively.

Planning should always include the Volunteer Program Coordinator and all organizations participating in volunteer management.


Principles of Managing Spontaneous Volunteers

Managing spontaneous volunteers is based on the principles shown below and on the next screen.

  • Volunteering is a valuable part of every jurisdiction. When spontaneous volunteers are well managed, the volunteers contribute to the healing process of survivors and the entire jurisdiction.
  • Members of the jurisdiction should be encouraged to become affiliated with an established agency or organization before any disaster, if possible, and should be trained for the role they will play in response and recovery activities.
  • Emergency response provides an excellent opportunity to direct volunteers toward long-term affiliation and community involvement.

Other principles for managing spontaneous volunteers include:

  • Spontaneous volunteer management should be part of the jurisdiction’s Volunteer and Donations Management Annex.
  • Clear, consistent, and timely communication is required for effective management of spontaneous volunteers.
  • Consistent terminology is imperative when referring to spontaneous volunteers. Pick a term, and stick with it.


Including Spontaneous Volunteers in the Volunteer and Donations Management Annex

The principles should be incorporated into a plan for managing spontaneous volunteers. The plan will help direct spontaneous volunteer efforts effectively. A spontaneous volunteer plan is valuable in other ways as well. It ensures that all who have a role in spontaneous volunteer management are:

  • Clear on who is in charge of assigning, supervising, and deactivating the volunteers.
  • Using common language.
  • Following pre-determined procedures.

Working from and adherence to a written (and exercised) plan can also limit the jurisdiction’s/agency’s liability in the case of injuries to volunteers.


Plan Purpose and Contents

In an emergency, decisions and communications need to be made quickly and information must be released quickly and efficiently. To make volunteer management easier, the plan should:

  • Include the purpose, assumptions, and policies to guide the management of spontaneous volunteers.
  • Guide community organizations in engaging spontaneous volunteers.
  • Include post-disaster public education strategies.
  • Prepare organizations to activate and operate the Volunteer Reception Center (VRC), and identify who is authorized to open and close the VRC.
  • Include post-disaster public messaging strategies and boilerplate public service announcements (PSAs), where practical.
  • Include detailed VRC procedures.


Plan Purpose, Assumptions, and Risk Management Strategy

The plan purpose, assumptions, and risk management strategy establish a context for plan implementation. These sections of the plan should:

  • Describe the relationships between the emergency management agency and organization(s) designated to manage spontaneous volunteers.
  • Specify which organization will be responsible for the costs of managing spontaneous volunteers.
  • Determine whether and when to activate a toll-free phone number.
  • Include whether and how spontaneous volunteers should register by computer, the basic data needed, and identification required when registering.

Additional information that should be contained in this section of the annex includes:

  • How requests for volunteers will be prioritized.
  • How spontaneous volunteers will be trained and which exercises they must participate in.
  • How volunteers will be supervised and evaluated.
  • How VRC staff will be trained.
  • Contingencies for backup plans for power failure or other operational disruptions.
  • How in-State mutual aid and Emergency Management Assistance Compact (EMAC) agreements might be used to augment VRC staff.


Public Education Strategies

The plan also should provide a strategy for educating the public between emergencies. The strategy should:

  • Encourage the public to volunteer with a recognized organization before an emergency.
  • Explain the advantages of becoming affiliated with a recognized organization.
  • Describe the importance of not self-deploying, and the potential negative effects for the response and the volunteer if people self-deploy.
  • Identify what volunteers should bring if they are deployed (e.g., water, gloves, goggles, nonperishable food).


VRC Activation Procedures

A VRC may not be required in all emergencies but should be planned for nonetheless. In larger emergencies or disasters, a VRC can serve to organize the volunteer response by:

  • Registering spontaneous volunteers so organizations know who has reported, their skills, and other important information required for assignment.
  • Matching the skills of spontaneous volunteers to agencies or voluntary organizations needing assistance.

The plan should include guidance to prepare one or more agencies to activate and operate a VRC and who can authorize VRC activation.

Select this link to review other considerations for VRC operations planning.


Planning for VRC Operations

Based on past emergencies, there are several important operational issues to take into account when planning for VRC operations. These issues include:

  • Conduct volunteer orientation to ensure each volunteer understands expectations, policies, etc.
  • Establish volunteer identification system that addresses the type(s) of identification to be issued, access restrictions based on identification issued, and timeframes for reissuance to ensure that all volunteers onsite have been registered.
  • Coordinate with emergency management, public information, and other key response/recovery functions.
  • Assign responsibility for maintenance of volunteer database(s).
  • Establish documentation system for recording volunteer hours, especially if they are eligible for reimbursement from FEMA.


Establishing a VRC

When activated, VRCs should be established as described in the spontaneous volunteer management plan. It is quite possible that some variance from the plan will be required based on the circumstances surrounding the emergency, the number of spontaneous volunteers, and other factors. The plan should serve as a starting point, though.

When an emergency requires activating the VRC, activation must occur quickly and efficiently. Procedures for establishing a VRC should be developed jointly with stakeholders, in advance of any disaster or emergency, and agreement should be reached on:

  • Site selection.
  • Staffing.
  • Other resource support.
  • What agency or agencies will pay for what aspects of VRC operations.

VRC activation should be approved by agency or organization leaders and included in volunteer agreements. Procedures should be incorporated into a Volunteer Management Annex to the Emergency Operations Plan and exercised as part of the jurisdiction’s overall response plan.


Site Selection

Site selection for the VRC is extremely important. Any site under consideration as a VRC should:

  • Be out of high-risk areas.
  • Be secure, either by location or through other security measures.
  • Be large enough to accommodate all VRC stations, equipment, and traffic flow.
  • Provide adequate space for volunteers.
  • Include areas for conferences, orientations, and safety briefings.
  • Have food facilities or be within walking distance to food sources.
  • Provide adequate parking for staff and volunteers.

Empty stores may make good VRCs.


VRC Resources

Large or wide-scale incidents will draw a large number of spontaneous volunteers. The VRC will require considerable resources to process the flow efficiently. The next several screens will describe needed resources.


VRC Staffing

Adequate staffing is critical to effective management of spontaneous volunteers. Every VRC staff position should be considered carefully and filled with individuals who have trained and exercised for the job.

Select this link to review some of the staff positions needed at the VRC and the duties they perform. Note that other positions may be needed, depending on the volunteer turnout.


VRC Equipment Needs

The VRC will need specific equipment to ensure proper volunteer intake, registration, assignment, safety, and demobilization. Resource availability and deployment times (by organization) should have been covered during plan development and will include:

  • Office furniture, including space dividers
  • Office supplies
  • White boards or chalk boards
  • Communication equipment (e.g., radios, faxes, computers, etc.)
  • Software
  • Maps and map stands
  • Directional signs
  • Hygiene supplies
  • Vehicles

Other equipment may be required as well. Check the resource list for the Emergency Operations Center (EOC) for other equipment suggestions.


Risk Management and Safety

Risk management and safety present challenges for volunteer and emergency management at incident sites. Most incident sites are dangerous places, and volunteers who are onsite to respond and assist must be protected from harm.

Strong volunteer management safeguards are required for spontaneous volunteers who show up in or near the incident scene. If the jurisdiction/agency does not take steps to protect volunteers from injury or illness, it may be found liable if a volunteer gets hurt and files a lawsuit.

Because volunteer safety and risk management are paramount, it is crucial that volunteer programs develop, implement, and adhere to safety policies. Some policies that can help keep volunteers safe are listed below.

  • Implement an identification system that limits volunteers’ access to areas where they are assigned. Photo IDs are best. Colored stickers can be used to identify approved areas. If site access remains a problem, IDs should be changed and reissued at specified intervals.
  • Develop security procedures for spontaneous volunteers. Use a guard or other mechanism to verify site authorization.
  • Issue personal protective equipment (PPE), train volunteers in how to use it, and enforce use of such equipment.

Select this link to review a description of several documents on volunteer safety and litigation avoidance.


VRC Documentation

Because VRCs manage spontaneous volunteers who provide life safety and sustainment services, volunteer hours can be used as an offset against the grantee’s cost share requirement for FEMA reimbursement.

To provide accurate costs that may be eligible for reimbursement, the jurisdiction should record the hours served by spontaneous and affiliated volunteers doing work that is eligible for FEMA reimbursement. These costs are eligible as part of the non-Federal share or local match for Federal reimbursement.

The only acceptable ways to determine the value of a volunteer is to determine the:

  • Hourly rate, including benefits, at which a government employee would be paid to do the work, OR
  • Hourly rate the jurisdiction would have to pay a contractor to do the work.


Documenting Volunteer Accomplishments

Recognition by the jurisdiction for a job well done helps retain volunteers and encourages them to affiliate with recognized organizations.

Documentation of voluntary accomplishments also can be used to support grant proposals and increase the perceived value of the volunteers to the community.

Volunteers can be recognized in any number of ways. Common recognition methods include:

  • Certificates
  • An appreciation dinner

Regardless of how volunteers are recognized, a senior elected or appointed official should participate in the event.


Demobilizing the VRC

When the influx of spontaneous volunteers subsides and remaining volunteers can be managed by the organization responsible for the VRC from its regular office or directed by long-term recovery organizations, the VRC can be demobilized.

Demobilization should take place in accordance with the spontaneous volunteer management plan. The decision to demobilize should be made among key stakeholders, and a date should be determined several days in advance of beginning the closure.

The steps required to demobilize the VRC usually include:

  • Arranging for documentation storage to ensure analysis and retention.
  • Returning of borrowed property.
  • Cleaning and restoring the VRC to its original condition.
  • Ensuring that all VRC personnel (paid and unpaid) have access to disaster stress management assistance, if needed.
  • Conducting a “hot wash” to discuss the forms, procedures, partners, and operating hours to determine whether changes need to be made to improve future operations.


Managing Volunteer Stress

Stress is part of everyone’s life. Stress is usually compounded in an emergency situation. During the course of performing their assigned duties, some volunteers may witness scenes that cause extreme stress reactions, including:

  • Death and injury.
  • Property devastation.
  • Extreme emotional reactions of survivors.

Also, disaster response work often takes place under less than ideal working conditions. Long hours and skipped meals can contribute to volunteer stress.

There are steps to take before, during, and after an emergency to manage stress.

  • Before. During the volunteer orientation or during stress management seminars, ask seasoned volunteers to talk about how they have dealt with stress.
  • During. Ensure that volunteers are matched to appropriate job assignments, get regular meals and breaks, and are rotated out at the end of a reasonable-length shift. (Note that “reasonable” shift length will vary based on the size, type, and complexity of the incident; the job; and other factors.)
  • After. Invite a mental health professional to hold a Critical Incident Stress Debriefing (CISD). CISD involves gathering people who were involved in a crisis to discuss their reactions with their peers.

Each activity undertaken to mitigate volunteer stress is part of Critical Incident Stress Management (CISM).


Lesson Summary

This lesson introduced you to:

  • The benefits of managing spontaneous volunteers.
  • The principles and values guiding management of spontaneous volunteers.
  • Planning for managing spontaneous volunteers.
  • Planning for managing and reducing volunteer stress.