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The views expressed here reflect the views of
the authors alone, and do not necessarily reflect the views of any
of their organizations. In particular, the views expressed here do
not necessarily reflect those of Big Medicine, nor any member of
Team EMS Inc.
A. CELESTE SAULS-MARKS, CVA*
Management in a Disaster
[Feb 6 2009]
According to the U.S.
Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA):
"The use of volunteers
has proven critical to emergency management. Both
individual volunteers and established volunteer groups offer a
wealth of skills
and resources that can be used prior to, during, and after an
Mobilizing the private sector can add significantly to emergency
programs. As an emergency management professional, your ability to
volunteers before, during, and after an emergency can literally
affect the lives
and well being of the local citizenry. Volunteers can impact – for
better or worse
– the ability of response agencies to do their jobs and can make a
how quickly the community is able to respond to and recover from a
disaster presents new issues, new response parameters and requires
unique adaptations to previous response scenarios, there are two
constants for every large-scale disaster: stuff – and people – show
During times of crisis, it is a natural for people to want to either
donate material goods and services, or their time, to help. While
these are well meant and needed contributions, they can present a
secondary crisis for a nonprofit or governmental agency that has not
adequately planned to address them.
Preplanning a response to these issues allows an organization to
avoid having to refocus its efforts toward processing a large volume
of volunteers later on.
Associate Executive Director, Volunteer Center of North Texas, notes
that “During a disaster, volunteers are a critical component to a
successful response effort and assist in easing staff limitations.”
Emergency planning is essential for every agency, even those with no
direct response initiatives, as during the recovery phase, most
community organizations experience an increase in client intake and
During the two days following a disaster, volunteers begin looking
for ways to help those impacted by the event. Volunteers will begin
making phone calls and web searches to determine the areas of
greatest need where they feel that they can have an impact.
Organizations need to determine how they will process a large number
of individuals rather quickly. For example, this requires an
abbreviated application process that is paper-based. While on-line
application processes are convenient, organizations need to be
prepared to process them should there be an interruption of power,
phone or Internet services.
While many individuals will attempt to directly contact
organizations, there is another large sector of the population who
come to the disaster site to offer their services. Maintaining
volunteer registration tables at the site continues to be the best
way to integrate volunteers into your program and direct them to
various volunteer opportunities. This also frees the primary
responders to focus on the relief efforts. As volunteer skills are
entered into a database, they can be referred to departments as
their constantly changing and often specific needs arise.
As volunteers are placed, managing spontaneous volunteers requires
sensitivity from staff. Disaster relief workers operate under
stressful situations and often suffer high fatigue levels. Tempers
can be short and frustrations high. Given these conditions, it can
be difficult for a well rested, relatively calm volunteer to
integrate into a chaotic environment. Staff members need to remain
aware of their current emotional and psychological state of mind so
that they can respond in a professional manner. Volunteer management
professionals also have to keep an eye on dedicated volunteers as
they can develop the same stress and fatigue levels.
Usually, there are qualified individuals who can provide critical
incident stress counseling services on site for volunteers and
staff. Concerned citizens always want to do their best and have an
impact but consideration should also be given to their safety and
Communication engages in the mission and
programs of your organization and helps
volunteers feel that they are part of the larger response effort.
Weekly emails provide information about arising needs, variations in
the situation and policy or procedural changes.
Also, if there are delays in placing volunteers due to
shifting agency needs, regular
communication can help people to understand the dynamics of a situation and
skills they may be able to volunteer. By constantly providing information
about the organization’s mission, programs and on going volunteer
opportunities, people will begin to have a broader understanding of the
agency’s culture, and professional focus giving you an opportunity to
integrate them into the existing volunteer program.
As the disaster-related needs lessen, regular
communication continues to play an important role in retaining the
volunteers. Offering the ability for volunteers to opt out of the email list
allows individuals who are not committed to your specific cause to withdraw
and find more suitable ongoing opportunities. On the other hand, it allows
your organization to draw interested individuals into your regular programs.
Disasters can have an enormous impact on communities.
Nonprofit and governmental organizations need to understand and plan for the
impact a disaster can have on their ability to serve their clients. By
creating a plan to address some of the issues related to these unusual
circumstances, organizations can ensure that they direct the many helpful
hands to people who need them most.
A. CELESTE SAULS-MARKS, CVA
A. Celeste Sauls-Marks serves
as the Director, Govt Relations and Emergency Management at the Volunteer
Center of North Texas (VCNT).
As the ServiceWorks! Director,
she developed an innovative volunteer program for the City of Dallas. Most
recently, she served as the Volunteer Coordinator on the City of Dallas
Hurricane Operations Command Staff. During the Katrina and Rita
hurricane response efforts, VCNT registered and referred 9,000 individuals
and groups to volunteer opportunities that aided evacuees. They also
provided spontaneous volunteer management at the Dallas Convention Center
Ms. Sauls-Marks is a frequent speaker to many groups including the North
American Riding for the Handicapped Association, US Dressage Federation,
Texas Association of Museums, and Tejas Girl Scout Council, to name a few.
She is a past president of the
Dallas Association of Directors of Volunteers and serves on the Participant
Advisory Board of the Great American Bake Sale, a program of Share Our
Strength. She chaired the Volunteer Committee for the American Association
of Museums Annual Conference (2002). She is actively involved as a
continuing committee chair and speaker for the Volunteer Management
Conference held each year in North Texas.
Her passions for volunteerism
and community involvement have been the driving force of her career in the
Ms. Sauls-Marks lives in Dallas, Texas with her husband Michael and their
fourlegged children: Spencer, Leda, Ming, and Percy.