Volunteers are integral to the response and recovery phases of an emergency. The involvement of volunteers in emergencies usually includes both trained volunteers and spontaneous volunteers. Trained volunteers are those who are formally affiliated with an organisation, undertake a specific role, and have received training on how to undertake their role safely. Examples include volunteer firefighters and state emergency service volunteers. Spontaneous volunteers are people who offer their assistance in response to an emergency. These volunteers are not usually formally affiliated with a volunteer involving organisation and have not been trained for a specific role. Such volunteers often undertake general roles that arise in response to the unique circumstances of an emergency. Examples include volunteers that assist with processing financial aid applications and volunteers who help with general clean up following a natural disaster.
Volunteer involvement during and following emergencies should still adhere to the National Standards for Volunteer Involvement, though some functions may be streamlined to increase expediency. If your organisation is likely to be involved in providing assistance during or after an emergency this should be planned for in advance. Of particular importance is understanding any legal or insurance obligations your organisation has that may relate to volunteers.
Managing spontaneous volunteers is very different to managing trained volunteers. Spontaneous volunteers generally offer time-limited assistance and may have no desire to work with your organisation on an ongoing basis. Due to the uniqueness of spontaneous volunteering the Federal Government has worked with disaster management organisations to provide guidance on how to involve spontaneous volunteers safely and effectively.
Click here to access Australian Disaster Resilience’s Planning for Spontaneous Volunteers Handbook.
The State and Territory Peak Bodies for Volunteering have various arrangements with their local, state, and territory Governments to coordinate spontaneous volunteers. More information about these responsibilities can be found on their respective websites.