When disaster strikes, people’s natural instinct is to help in any way possible. Psychologists suggest a variety of reasons for this behavior, including the need to be part of something bigger and to feel connected to the area affected. Regardless of the reason, communities affected by disasters should be prepared for an outpouring of support that may include spontaneous and unsolicited volunteers. It is important to prepare a plan for how to manage the volunteer process.
Developing a plan
Volunteer and donations management plans are an important tool to ensure that vital assistance helps facilitate stabilization and recovery efforts. Where plans do not exist or assistance offers are not properly managed, the generosity potentially does more harm than good and can interfere with response and recovery efforts.
- A comprehensive emergency management program not only includes the all-hazards emergency operations plan, but also procedures for managing donations and volunteers.
- School districts may want to make this a free-standing plan or incorporate it into their existing emergency operations plans. Either way, it should outline policies and procedures for the request and acquisition of donations and volunteer assistance.
- The plan should ensure that such assistance is compliant with health, fire, and volunteer management processes already in place for the district.
Fortunately, many school districts already have a proven framework in place that incorporates managing assistance into daily operations. It is the system that manages campus volunteers and the programs that provide assistance with personal items and school supplies for students. Volunteers are already a valuable part of the school community and can provide essential services. Mirroring the day-to-day school volunteer programs is a good place to begin a donations and volunteer management plan.
In developing or reviewing a volunteer and donations management plan, it is important to continue to vet all volunteers, regardless of whether they already participate in an existing district volunteer program or are new volunteers for the current disaster or emergency event.
A good place to begin the vetting process is through the organization’s existing visitor management system.
Finding volunteers and emphasizing safety
Disaster volunteers provided through local organizations are likely to be vetted and received training through the sponsoring organizations. However, volunteers who are working within the organization should receive additional training related to the school emergency management systems and disaster response specific to the district.
It is important to conduct background checks and enforce regular policies for volunteers:
- When possible, an in-depth background check should be completed either through traditional district volunteer vetting processes or in conjunction with local emergency management programs.
- When working with a community emergency management or volunteer program, school districts should ensure that policies and procedures remain in place to protect students. This includes restrictions for weapons, non-custodial parents, and sex offenders.
A well-managed assistance program is good for the community and for the district in helping ensure a more efficient and effective recovery process. However, before accepting any volunteer support, check with your general counsel or contact TASB Legal Services for more information.
For more information on Donations and Volunteer Management, please visit the National Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster (NVOAD) website. For more information on TASB Risk Management Fund’s Emergency Management support and planning, please contact Melanie Moss at 512.505.2868.