Managing Spontaneous Community Volunteers in Disasters: A Field Manual, 1st Edition (Hardback) book cover

Managing Spontaneous Community Volunteers in Disasters

A Field Manual, 1st Edition

By Lisa Orloff

CRC Press

323 pages | 66 B/W Illus.

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While history has identified a need for improved coordination during emergencies, it has also demonstrated that community volunteers positively impact their neighborhoods during times of crisis. Laying out the rationale and process by which emergency managers, community leaders, and non-governmental aid organizations can effectively collaborate and integrate citizen response, Spontaneous Community Volunteers in Disasters explains how to engage, train, and utilize spontaneous unaffiliated community volunteers (SUCV).

The book prepares leaders to integrate local volunteers into any scale emergency response. Protocols and flexible management solutions are outlined to ensure safe and effective planning and execution. Work templates provided can be modified to suit the needs of any community. This accessible manual provides the tools to:

  • Assess your agency’s role, tasks, and challenges to meet community needs in a disaster
  • Build a plan for managing SUCVs by developing internal and external protocols
  • Develop effective spot screening and selection methods
  • Engage community members in information-sharing and outreach campaigns
  • Consider policies and procedures that create relevant roles for volunteers and community groups to build a resilient team for disaster recovery
  • Provide National Incident Management System (NIMS) compliant answers to address common barriers to using SUCVs

Combining field experience and psychosocial research, the book makes a strong case as to why community involvement in disaster response will have a positive impact on a community’s resilient recovery.

Praise for Spontaneous Community Volunteers in Disasters:

All emergency management coordinators can benefit from this book.

Howard Butt, New Jersey State Police, State CERT Coordinator

Lisa Orloff has done an excellent job in both identifying a significant opportunity in emergency response and meticulously outlining how that opportunity can best be leveraged.

Dr. Michael Chumer, New Jersey Institute of Technology

The Alliance for Nonprofit Management has nominated the book for the Terry McAdam Award. This award is bestowed upon the Committee's choice for the most inspirational and useful new book published for the nonprofit sector.


The role of the volunteer is becoming more important in the planning, development, and implementation of an effective emergency response. World Cares Center’s training on how to best utilize spontaneous volunteers has made New Jersey better prepared to address this issue and maximize the value that these volunteers contribute to response and recovery efforts. All emergency management coordinators can benefit from this book.

Howard Butt, New Jersey State Police, State CERT Coordinator

Lisa Orloff has done an excellent job in both identifying a significant opportunity in emergency response and meticulously outlining how that opportunity can best be leveraged. Spontaneous volunteers are vital to the success of an emergency response, and, as such, they must be harnessed and led in a planned, focused manner. The author should be commended for articulating this opportunity and packaging it in a manner that benefits the entire emergency response effort.

Dr. Michael Chumer, New Jersey Institute of Technology

Table of Contents

The History of Spontaneous Volunteerism in Disaster Response

History of Spontaneous Volunteerism in Disaster Response

Lessons Learned from Spontaneous Volunteerism in Disaster Response

The Ecosystem of Supportive Partners in Disaster Response

National Government Initiatives

National or International Nongovernmental Agencies


Local Faith-based Organizations and Nongovernmental Organizations

Ordinary Citizens, Good Samaritans, and Local Assets

Exploring the Unique Challenges of Today’s Disaster Response

Public Challenges

Public Apathy


Diverse Populations and Cultures

Where People Settle

The Carless Society

Internal Capacity Challenges

Lack of Staff and Partner Expectations


A Typology of Disasters: Traditional Hazards and Threats



Natural Disasters


Coastal Storms

Landslides and Mudslides






Blizzards, Ice Storms, and Severe Winter Storms

Human-Made Disasters

Construction Accidents

Chemical and Industrial Hazards

Transit of Hazardous Material through Your Town

Disaster Management Concepts Applied to Spontaneous Unaffiliated Community Volunteer Management

A Common Lexicon of Terms

The Life Cycle of Disaster Response





The Incident Command System

Integrated Communication Concepts

Emergency Support Functions

Adjunct ESFs

Assessing Internal Readiness

Defining Agency Roles and Tasks in Disaster Response

Assessing External Partner Support

The Many Faces of Disaster Volunteers

Identifying SUCV Roles

Survey Results

Tailoring Your Plan for Different Phases of Disaster

Tailoring Your Plan for Anticipated Hazards

Weighing the Pros and Cons of Utilizing SUCVs




Emotional and Physical Concerns

Internal Capabilities: Staffing

Protocols for SUCV Management

Internal Protocols

Designate Oversight

Span of Control

Agency Responsibilities

Catalogue Your Resources

Follow Up with Volunteers

Developing Protocols for Volunteers to Follow

Length of Shift

Length of Volunteer Commitment

Briefings and Debriefings

Post-shift Reports

Code of Conduct

Confidentiality Agreement


Family Preparedness

Volunteer Responsibilities

External Protocols

Choosing Disqualifiers

Core Attributes

Additional Attributes: Workshop Feedback

Volunteer Application

Volunteer Self-Assessment

Agency Outreach Flyer

A Volunteer Reception Center and Point-of-Distribution Model

Volunteer Reception Centers

Adapting to Your Size and Needs

Planning Your Volunteer Reception Center

Networking and Communication


Preparing an Efficient Floor Plan

Some Considerations in Laying Out Your Floor Plan

Running a VRC/VRA while Continuing to Serve Those in Need

Public Information

Staffing Policies and Procedures

Outside Normal Business Hours

VRC Roles and Positions

Executive Responsibilities

Executive Positions

VRC Director/ICS Commander

Operations Officer

Planning Officer

Logistics Officer

Finance Officer

Public Information Officer

Safety Officer

Position Descriptions for Roles That May Be Fulfilled by SUCVs

Greeters or Receptionists


Resource Coordinator and Data Entry

Volunteer Orientation and Training Coordinator

Social Support Services

Food, Water, and First-Aid Services



The Volunteer Reception Center Model Applied to the Public-Health Sector’s Points of Distribution Model

Position Descriptions for Roles That May Be Fulfilled by POD Volunteers

Clerk Assistant (Data Entry)




Food Service

Supply (nonmedical)


Spot Screening, Assessment, and Selection

Interview Fundamentals

Spot-Screening Logistics

Spot-Screening Safety

Spot-Screening Checklist

Keep an Objective View

Share Relevant Data

Use Spot-Screening Time Wisely

Modeling Values: Actions Speak Louder than Words

The Process

Volunteer Application and Self-Assessment

Interviewer Templates

Five Types of Interview Questions

Cultural Sensitivity


Outcome of Interview: Steps to Take upon Selection

Offer a Role

Agree on a Communication Strategy

Validate or Check Credentials



Decline with Gratitude

Reducing Attrition and Unwanted Behavior through Proactive Management: A Competency Model for Leaders and Managers

Why Good Management of Volunteers Is Essential

Find Existing Resources to Manage Volunteers

Understand the Needs of Your Managers and Your Volunteers

Proactive Management Protocols

Provide a Team Orientation

Just-In-Time Training

Share Your Agency’s Mission, Vision, and Values

Clarify Expectations

Promote Self-Care

Prepare Volunteers for Sunsetting

Long-Term Recovery Roles

Build Your Team

Leverage Command Presence

Building a Resilient Team

The Impact of Mental Health Issues in Volunteers

Potential Negative Side Effects of Volunteer Work

Risk Factors for Trauma and Stress Disorders

Secondary or Vicarious Trauma

Compassion Fatigue

Posttraumatic Stress Disorder

Symptoms of PTS D

Signs that Stress Is Taking a Toll

Managing with Self-Care in Mind

Creating a Safe Space

Matching Skills and Roles




Free and Confidential Resources

Bonding with Your Team

Communicating Self-Care Concerns

Self-Care Training for Your Volunteers

Family Preparedness and Care

The Buddy System

MEDS: Move, Eat, Drink, and Sleep

Relaxation Techniques

Self-Care outside of Volunteering

Volunteer Self-Care Guidelines

For External Distribution

Self-Care while Volunteering

Self-Care outside of Volunteering

Additional Self-Care Notes

Relaxation Techniques: Deep breathing

Keeping a Journal

Other Relaxation Techniques

Be Aware: Some Signs of Stress

Social Media and Emergent Technologies in Spontaneous-Volunteer Management

New Web 2.0 Technologies in Disaster Response

Federal Measures

Social Technologies in Action



SMS Texting


Information-Sharing Portals

International Applications

The Case of World Cares Center’s Response in Haiti

The Case of Bangladesh: Citizen Response to Floods, from Cell Phone

Early-Warning Systems to Hand-Cranked Radios

The Case of Burma: Citizen Response to Cyclone Nargis

The Case of India: Women’s Organizations Response to Gujarat Earthquake

The Need to Engage Social Media and Web Technologies


Appendix: Forms


Each chapter includes an Introduction, Conclusion, and End-of-Chapter Questions

About the Author

About the Author:

As Founder and Executive Director of World Cares Center, Lisa Orloff has taken her experiences as a spontaneous unaffiliated volunteer during the September 11 relief efforts and created an organization that addresses our nation’s most valuable yet underutilized resources: everyday citizens. As a spontaneous unaffiliated volunteer, Ms. Orloff created an impromptu supply chain running from the Jacob Javits Center to triage units around Ground Zero using available resources, a map from the telephone book, and her personal cell phone. To fill the unmet need of necessary supplies, Ms. Orloff managed over 300 other spontaneous unaffiliated volunteers and supported official responders working in collaboration with the NYPD, the Army National Guard, and a host of other agencies. She emerged as a liaison between community volunteers and government agencies, most notably FEMA and OEM, working together on community-focused long-term recovery initiatives.

Taking from her 9/11 experiences and subsequent all-hazards responses, Ms. Orloff remains committed to supporting national initiatives that enhance community-led response and recovery efforts in areas preparing for or recovering from disasters. Ms. Orloff continues to work with an ever growing team of cirriculum steering committee members, seasoned facilitators, and emergency managers to develop and deliver community-based programs that bridge the gaps in education, communication, and collaboration.

Ms. Orloff serves as a subject matter expert working with the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Networks and Information Integration on the development of the ReadyResponders™ Network. Ms.Orloff continues to gauge the needs of the community on how to effect cross- sector communication, and develop an information sharing network for Emergency Managers, NGO's, CBO's and community members to communicate in preparedness, response and recovery initiatives.

Ms. Orloff has keyed World Cares Center’s growth from a grassroots volunteer-led effort to a 501(c) (3) nonprofit organization with national preparedness and recovery initiatives. She is an established international speaker on spontaneous volunteer management, responder self-care, community preparedness initiatives, and building resiliency within disaster-affected communities. Ms. Orloff is a member of the UN WHO Mental Health Committee, Representative of World Cares Center associated with the Department of Public Information of the UN, the National Institute for Urban Search and Rescue, International Association of Emergency Managers, NYC-VOAD, NVOAD, NOVA’s National Community Crisis Response Team, and the Advisory Boards of Citizen Corps and the WTC Health Registry. She is also a board member of NYCVOAD, My Good Deed and Arts for All. Ms. Orloff is a graduate of the Institute for Not-for-Profit Management’s Executive Level Program at Columbia University’s Graduate School of Business. She is a recipient of the Mayor’s Voluntary Action Award for her service during 9/11.

Subject Categories

BISAC Subject Codes/Headings:
POLITICAL SCIENCE / Public Affairs & Administration
SOCIAL SCIENCE / Volunteer Work
SOCIAL SCIENCE / Disasters & Disaster Relief