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date: 26 May 2017

Disaster Volunteers

This is an advance summary of a forthcoming article in the Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Natural Hazard Science. Please check back later for the full article.

Emergency managers, community leaders, and organizations can recruit and deploy volunteers to make a difference when disasters occur. Leveraging the social capital such volunteers produce can expedite disaster response and recovery if managed effectively. Recent research brings to light the benefits and consequences of volunteerism, including the personal meaningfulness found in disaster service. Evidence-based best practices for organizing, recruiting, preparing, deploying, and debriefing volunteers inform those who seek to understand and use volunteers. Disaster volunteers may be spontaneous unaffiliated volunteers (SUVs) or affiliated with experienced organizations. The benefits each can provide vary. Trends that have influenced today’s disaster volunteers include the professionalization of disaster voluntary organizations, training and education, and social media. The development of inter-organizational partnerships represents one such trend, particularly the National Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster (NVOAD) movement toward Points of Consensus on volunteer management. Cases illustrating turning points in the history of disaster volunteerism and trends over time in the United States can be drawn from the Johnstown flood (1889), the Galveston hurricane (1900), the San Francisco earthquake (1906), hurricane Camille (1969), the Mississippi River floods, hurricane Katrina (2005), and SuperStorm Sandy (2012). Internationally, examples of best practices can be drawn from the research and experiences in the Indian Ocean tsunami (2004), the Haiti earthquake (2010), and Japan’s multiple, cascading events of 2011.