Volunteers are the lifelines of our communities after a disaster. We cannot expect the state and federal governments to meet all of our citizens’ needs after a disaster. A crucial component of our response is the involvement of volunteer agencies and individuals. In this article, Cindy Imperato, Chair of the Broward County Chapter of the American Red Cross, explains hos volunteers can make an invaluable impact by increasing response capacity through several different roles.

Cindy Imperato began her tenure as Chair of the Board of Directors on July 1, 2018. She also serves on the Advisory Boards of the Broward County Crime Commission, Women in Distress, and PACE school for girls.

Extension and Volunteer Coordination

State and community extension personnel can contribute significantly to disaster response and recovery, particularly in the area of volunteer coordination. Managing volunteers is one of the core competencies of Extension professionals with 4-H responsibilities. A disaster response and recovery process requires specialized training for managing volunteers.


Volunteer Organizations Active in Disasters

Many volunteer organizations (VOADs) provide volunteers and volunteer-management assistance after disasters. These groups are both locally-based and nationally and internationally-recognized nongovernmental organizations (NGOs). Immediately following a disaster, faith-based organizations are known for providing a large number of volunteers. As Cindy Imperato explains, volunteer coordinators benefit greatly from VOADs since they provide tactical support to the volunteer field staff.


State Government Organizations

Students, faculty, and staff at community colleges and universities often volunteer. Most of these event-like activities take place for a short time and are covered by local or regional media. Higher education institutions or affiliated government agencies and departments usually provide long-term support through their facilities maintenance departments, animal and natural resources programs, and Extension programs. Volunteers from colleges and universities can be highly valuable as managers or laborers.


Volunteer Roles in Disaster Recovery

People here are generous when it comes to helping those in need, which is why they naturally come to the aid of those affected by disasters. The highest number of state and local volunteers usually occurs on weekends, when most people are off from work. Hands-on management and organization of volunteers after a disaster are two major concerns. Having an on-site disaster phone system and publicizing contact information is an important first step for a volunteer coordinator. A volunteer coordinator can use this system to establish contact with incoming volunteers and to gather solid information about them, ads Cindy Imperato from the American Red Cross.

In an incident command system (ICS), volunteers play an important role in many aspects of disaster management. Among their responsibilities are clearing and sorting debris, organizing, stocking, loading, and unloading supplies at points of distribution (PODs), and organizing long-term recovery through renovation, restoration, and rebuilding homes, when necessary. Aside from managing and sorting donated goods and food, volunteers also organize transportation for themselves or those impacted by the disaster, and deliver supplies to those in need.

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