Type: Process Essays
Sample donated: Antonia Bush
Last updated: April 20, 2019
Candelaria VelasquezDr. Deedee BennettEMGT 4060Argumentative paperDecember 6, 2017 SpontaneousVolunteers in Times of DisastersIntroductionVolunteerismhas existed for many years, tracing back to the 18th century (Warta,2009). Volunteerism can be defined as anyone who is willing to offer their freetime to take up a task. Volunteers are very important because they offerbenefits to the community, especially during disaster response.
During disasterresponse, volunteers are viewed as positive because they help in distributinggoods and disseminating information about services offered by emergency responders(Whittaker, McLennan, & Handmer, 2015, 363). Althoughvolunteers have been viewed as something positive during disaster response,there are issues and risks that exist which can prevent emergency managers fromdoing their jobs (Fernandez, Barbera, & VanDorp, 2006b). Issues withvolunteers include that they can impede emergency managers from doing their jobin disaster response, are unprepared, and may have limited resources. There are2 types of volunteers that exist which are affiliated volunteers andunaffiliated volunteers. Affiliated volunteers are those who are professional,formally trained, belong to an organization, and can manage disaster situations(Barsky et al, 2007). Unaffiliated volunteers are those who are untrained, donot belong to a formal organization, appear spontaneously in disastersituations, and can disrupt emergency response (Barsky et al, 2007). This paperwill focus on unaffiliated spontaneous volunteers and highlight the challengesthat they may pose for emergency managers.
Importance of VolunteersVolunteers are very importantbecause they bring together the community to work together toward completing agoal during a disaster. But, one type of volunteer that is usually common inhelping during disaster response are known as spontaneous volunteers which is atype of emergent group. Emergent volunteer groups are usually people in thecommunity, where a disaster has taken place, that come together spontaneouslyto address the needs of individuals that have been affected by a disaster.Although, they are very helpful and important they can impede emergencymanagers from doing their job in disaster response. Concernsabout Spontaneous VolunteersVolunteersimpede emergency managers from doing their job by interfering with emergencyoperations. An emergency operation that they interfere with is coordination.During a disaster response, emergency managers are busy coordinating search andrescue teams, transportation units, resources, volunteers, medical units andmany other activities. With spontaneous volunteer’s emerging spontaneouslyduring a disaster, emergency managers may not get to people who are trapped anddying.
Another issue that spontaneous volunteers bring on emergency managers isdistraction. Because emergency managers have so much going on, with many officialsreporting back to them about the disaster situation, spontaneous volunteers canbecome a distraction for them. They become a distraction when emergencymanagers must stop what they are doing to coordinate them and fill them in onthe situation since they most likely lack situational awareness. They may alsoprevent emergency managers from getting to the disaster site on time. On April2013, a 7.
0 magnitude earthquake hit the city of Yan, Sichuan, China in whichthe disaster response was compromised because civilians who wanted to help, byvolunteering, caused a traffic jam that made it difficult for first respondersto get to the affected area (Liu & Robinson, 2013, 595). Spontaneousvolunteers are not the common type of volunteer. Most volunteer groups thathelp emergency managers in disaster response are prepared and trained byorganizations. Unlike common volunteers, spontaneous volunteers did not existbefore and do not belong to a specific organized group which makes themunprepared for disaster response. “Their volunteering is entirely spontaneous,unlike formal or organized volunteers who are recruited, trained, and giveninstructions by government and non-governmental organizations …” (Twigg , 2017, 445). Spontaneous volunteers with no training can become more of aburden for emergency managers then actually helping because they do not havethe necessary skills sets. For example, volunteers must be trained for the fourphases of disaster which are preparedness, response, recovery, and mitigation.
In the preparedness stage, spontaneous volunteers need to be trained inpreparing a plan on how they must respond to a disaster and how to allocate theresources available to them. For response, spontaneous volunteers need to betrained with activities that will help them assist victims in a disaster. Inrecovery, spontaneous volunteers must be trained to help in short term (such ashelping in search and rescue missions etc.) and long-term recovery (such ashelping to rebuild homes and communities etc.). And mitigation training isneeded with preventing or reducing the harm a disaster can have on a community.These volunteers who are untrained may also receive more attention fromemergency managers when they should be focusing on disaster victims.
“Untrainedvolunteers who approach response organizations to offer their capacity maythemselves require more assistance from a strained organization than theycontribute to the resolution of the problem, by requiring transportation,supervision, and equipment” (Rogstadius, et al., 2013, 879). Thelack of training can also create additional problems. An additional problemthat is most likely to occur with untrained spontaneous volunteers is that theyare at risk in hurting themselves and others. Without training, spontaneousvolunteers can create more problems rather them help because they engage ininappropriate or unsafe activities, providing inaccurate information tosurvivors and the press, exploiting victims, stealing from damaged or abandonedhomes or vehicles etc. (Craven, 2015, para. 4). In a worst-case scenario,volunteers entering collapsed buildings to save trapped individuals can lead tothe death of victims and their selves as well as taking the time away fromemergency managers.
These volunteers may also use equipment that they are notexperienced with and may end up killing or hurting themselves, which is whatemergency managers are trying to avoid from happening in a disaster. It canalso lead to health problems as well. Not all disasters are the same and thosewithout the proper training of all types of disasters can harm their health.For example, volunteers who decide to help in a disaster with high levels oftoxic chemicals may increase their chances of developing illnesses such ascancer. “Each disaster is unique in terms of social and economic backgrounds oftheir victims and human health hazards. Therefore, the knowledge and skills ofthe volunteers is essential for effective commencement of the rescue mission”(Liu & Robinson, 2013, 595). Another example of a type of disaster isterrorist attacks.
In a terrorist attack, where the area is considered a crimescene, spontaneous volunteers that emerge to help, with no prior training of whatto do in such a disaster situation, can tamper with evidence. Also, in manydisasters the victims may be overwhelmed and stressed from the situation. Spontaneousvolunteer who come across such victims might not know how to comfort them andpossibly give them incorrect information about where to get the assistance theyrequire (Craven, n.d.
). This can also cause the untrained volunteer to becomeoverwhelmed and lead them to suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).Because many of these volunteers choose to start volunteering without thedirection and guidance of an official or emergency manager, they may violatecultural beliefs of victims or communities. In turn, this can affect thecredibility of volunteer’s, emergency managers, and other officials respondingto the disaster. Spontaneousvolunteers are not well-equipped and have limited resource. During a disasterresponse, volunteers may arrive unequipped and require significant logisticalsupport such as food and shelter (Fernandez, Barbera, & VanDorp, 2006).
These volunteers do not think about how they are going to eat or where they aregoing to get food because they are just there to help. During a disaster,emergency managers have a limited number of food to offer to victims as well asto the partners they work with including volunteers. But those volunteers thatthey feed are volunteers that have been recruited to help in a disaster anddoes not include spontaneous volunteers. But because these spontaneous volunteersemerge and help, emergency managers cannot simply turn food away from them.Instead they must feed them which puts a strain on the few food resources theyhave that are supposed to be for the people in need. Spontaneous volunteersalso do not bring any type of equipment with them and may have the misconceptionthat they will be provided equipment on the scene.
This, again, goes back toemergency managers not having enough tools to give around. When responding todisasters, emergency managers have a limited amount of resources for officialsand recruited volunteers to use and when these resources are strained byspontaneous volunteers they may need to request for more resource materialsthat they may or may not get. This can also strain the funds that emergencymanagers receive. Benefits of Spontaneous Volunteers Onemight object here that spontaneous volunteers bring benefits during disasterresponse and recovery efforts.
Because a disaster is a serious disruption forcommunities, the resources of the affected area becomes overwhelmed andemergency managers are not capable of handling the situation on their own;thus, leading to having less effectiveness on disaster response and recovery.During the emergency disaster response and recovery phase of the September 11thattack on the World Trade Center, the effectiveness of emergency response andrecovery needs were met and enhanced by the activities of over 15,000volunteers who showed up to help (Lowe & Fothergill, 2003, 303). Emergencyresponders also have limited resources, such as food and water, and volunteersare great to partner with to bring resources during disaster response.Volunteers can bring in resources such as food, water, clothing, first aidkits, blankets, shelter, and medical exams etc. Saving emergency managers money is something else thatcomes along with spontaneous volunteers. Spontaneous volunteers act on theirown and they immediately want to help in recovery efforts.
These volunteershelp by rebuilding homes, cleaning up, and removing debris which can saveemergency managers thousands of dollars. Recently, during Hurricane Harvey, thecost for cleanup reached up to 200 million dollars (Sims, 2017). During thedisaster response of the 2010 and 2011 earthquakes in Christchurch, NewZealand, volunteers spent their time providing labor that was estimated to be$1 million dollars for one week (Whittaker, McLennan, & Handmer, 2015,363).
Spontaneousvolunteers also help during search and rescue missions. In a disaster, manypeople can become trapped under debris and collapsed buildings and volunteersare usually the first ones to show up before emergency managers, to help thesevictims. Because Emergency managers cannot be at too many places at once,victims of the disaster who are trapped can lose their lives and many of thosemissing may not be found.
But with the help of spontaneous volunteers,emergency managers can save more lives than lose in a short amount of time.During the response and recovery phases of the 1976 Tangshan earthquake inchina, over 300,000 people who crawled out from debris went on to form rescueteams that approximately saved 80 percent of people who were trapped and buriedunder debris (Whittaker, McLennan, & Handmer, 2015, 362). With emergencymanagers having more help, they can have more time to address other issues.
Anotheradvantage that spontaneous volunteers can have on emergency managers is beingknowledgeable about the affected community and its people. They are a helpfulresource for emergency managers because of the timely manpower, skill,abilities, and perception they provide on a community’s needs (Fernandez,Barbera, & VanDorp, 2006b). Many people who volunteer are people from theaffected community who have the desire to help their people and community.
Emergency managers do not have as much knowledge as do volunteers from theaffected area and do not know the cultures and beliefs of the people.Spontaneous volunteers can better communicate with their people and help otherscope with their stress and emotions because they are the ones whose communityhas been affected by a disaster. Volunteerism has been known to reduce stress,empower victims, an outlet for rage, and help in the healing process (Fernandez,Barbera, & VanDorp, 2006b).
ConclusionSpontaneousvolunteers are important because they can enhance disaster response andrecovery tasks such as search and rescue operations, bring resources (like foodand water), have knowledge on affected communities, and help emergency managerssave money. Although these volunteers have good intentions for volunteering,they are more likely to cause challenges for emergency managers and impede themfrom having a successful mission. Some of the concerns that come fromintegrating spontaneous volunteers are that they possess no training, disruptcoordination, are not well-equipped, create safety and health issues, and havelimited resources. If spontaneous volunteers continue to volunteerspontaneously, then the concerns highlighted in this paper will continue infuture disaster relief response efforts.RecommendationsTobetter integrate unaffiliated spontaneous volunteers to have a successful andeffective disaster response in the future, emergency managers should create aplan for spontaneous volunteers.
This plan can help emergency managers createavailable tasks that spontaneous volunteers can do to help prevent thedisruption of emergency operations. Emergency managers should also send outpublic messages ahead of time through radios, television, and other forms ofmedia. Sending out public messages can help address the public if volunteersare needed to help in a disaster and where they should go if they want tovolunteer. Emergency managers should also provide training classes tospontaneous volunteers before sending them out to help in disaster response.With training classes provided, emergency managers will know where to placethose with advance experience and those with little to no experience.
Theyshould also suggest to volunteers to join volunteer organizations to havecredibility and be known as affiliated volunteers so that emergency managerscan recruit them during times of disasters. Lastly, emergency managers shouldappoint someone to supervise spontaneous volunteers so that no safety andhealth problems arise.