First responders can only do so much during a disaster. Volunteers are increasingly a huge part of the equation, and that includes spontaneous volunteers.
There has been little or no training for these responders, but that just changed with the launch of VolunteerReady.org, an online portal that provides free courses for volunteers or potential volunteers. The video-based courses run from 10 to 15 minutes and are accessible by smartphone, PC or tablet.
The initial phase or pilot consists of five graphically driven videos, each with downloadable infographics that outline the key points of the topics. At the end of each video is a knowledge assessment to drive home the key ideas of the subject matter.
The videos were developed by software provider Cornerstone OnDemand in collaboration with FEMA, Catholic Charities USA; Emergency Management Institute; Mennonite Disaster Service; Points of Light; Southern Baptist Disaster Relief; Team Rubicon; and The Salvation Army.
“We know from working with our working group and the number of organizations in our orbit [Cornerstone OnDemand also previously launched DisasterReady.org] is we have heard consistently from these organizations that are working with spontaneous volunteers that there is a lack of training and resources for this audience,” said Alexis Denny, director of grants and consulting for the Cornerstone OnDemand Foundation.
Denny said the groups with which Cornerstone OnDemand has been affiliated have been mostly focused on affiliated volunteers, who have been given specific training. “For individuals just showing up, most of them have no experience and don’t necessarily understand what they’re stepping into, and there’s really nothing that exists in terms of on-demand training.”
For volunteer coordinators, the scene can be chaotic and dealing with new, spontaneous volunteers who need some direction is difficult. A coordinator can point potential volunteers to the videos to see what they may be getting into, what they may be asked to do and help the potential volunteer decide if it’s really what he/she wants to do at the time.
The courses, so far, include: Spirit of Service; Know Before You Go; Code of Conduct; Rules and Disaster Response; Physical Safety; and Emotional Resiliency. Denny said those five were chosen from a long list of subjects and that more courses will be available in the next couple of months.
The Spirit of Service course, Denny said, is a bit of an introduction to volunteering. “A feel-good video, if you will,” she said. “We talk about what contributions someone who isn’t necessarily experienced can bring and how they can work with professional organizations.”
She said the Code of Conduct course teaches safety and effectiveness of volunteers and how to help people during times of need and grief with respect to cultural differences and emotions.
“The energy and enthusiasm of local volunteers is welcomed and encouraged when disasters strike,” read a statement by Team Rubicon’s Deputy Director of Field Operations Pat Ross, on the VolunteerReady.org website. “Pausing to ensure individuals are ready to go, enhances safety, promotes effective integration into volunteer organizations, and ensures an awesome experience for those volunteering,” he continued.
Denny said the idea came to light two years ago when, after launching DisasterReady.org, which focuses on training humanitarian workers outside of the country, the foundation wanted to have an influence in the States also.
With the number of disasters and the high incident of volunteerism, the foundation convened a working group. “The idea is that people can take this training in advance or even onsite,” Denny said.
“It’s intended to provide some basic concepts they need to know and also help people understand if they should show up to help. If you’re a volunteer coordinator, it’s super chaotic and the likelihood you’re going to be able to step away and give someone very clear instruction before you put them into a task is highly unlikely.”