Widgetized Section

Go to Admin » Appearance » Widgets » and move Gabfire Widget: Social into that MastheadOverlay zone

Volunteering During A Disaster

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ASPA as an organization.

By Benjamin Paley
August 24, 2019

If you are anything like me, then spending time volunteering with your local government is a great way to utilize the skills you learned in your public administration classes. Local governments thrive on volunteers, who have been a hallmark of American society since the founding of this nation.

In the wake of major disasters that have struck at the hearts of people around the world, local government organizations, non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and not-for profits have taken the helm to assist. Thus far, my columns for PA Times have focused on ways those with degrees in public administration can utilize their knowledge for the benefit of all. This time, I want to focus on an area of volunteerism that is often featured center fold in the news: volunteering at a disaster site in the days and weeks after disaster has struck. There are individuals in the local vicinity and outside it that want to step up to the plate to help their fellow human beings recover from a disaster.

As a Floridian, and specifically a south Floridian, I appreciate the hard work and dedication of the countless individuals who dedicate their time to those affected by disasters. For example, after Hurricane Irma struck south Florida in 2017, many Floridians were left without power, city streets were badly damaged, and local grocers were at a need for supplies. Within days of Irma’s strike, volunteers were on the ground across the state of Florida to assist.

In order to present this information in the best way possible, I am going to split this piece into two parts: In part 1, I will discuss the history of volunteerism in the wake of disasters as well as some theory. In part two, I will discuss ways you can get involved in post-disaster volunteerism.

American’s desire to volunteer post-disaster goes back to the very founding of this nation. Motoko Imai, a lecturer at Tokiwa University in Japan, while comparing United States volunteers to volunteers in Japan, wrote that the idea of, “The people,” preceded the idea of, “The government.” This instilled in Americans at that time a sense of community and brotherhood/sisterhood. And Teresa R. Johnson, an intern for the International Institute of Global Resilience, in a paper titled “Disaster Volunteerism,” wrote that, “[T]he founding fathers were disappointed with their former countries and did not want an all-powerful government, so they formed their own voluntary associations.”

Johnson continues by writing about how in disaster situations, there is a concept called convergence. Specifically, there are two types of convergence: external and internal convergence. Charles E. Fritz and J.H. Mathewson in a 1957 book titled Convergence Behavior in Disasters; a Problem in Social Control, defines convergence as, “Movement or inclination and approach towards a particular point.” They define external convergence as, “Movement towards the disaster-struck area from the outside,” and internal convergence as, “Movement towards specific points within a given disaster-related area or zone.” Both types of convergence provide benefits and consequences for law enforcement and emergency personnel, as well as the volunteers involved; The safety of the volunteers could be compromised when going into a disaster zone if the area has not been deemed safe or free of hazards.

Now that you understand some of the history and theory behind disaster volunteerism, how can you get involved? There are a variety of ways for volunteers to help out after a disaster has hit. One organization that has chapters not only across the United States but also around the world is the American Red Cross. According to their website, “Volunteers constitute about 90 percent of the American Red Cross workforce. Volunteers make it possible to respond to an average of more than 62,000 disasters every year, most of them home and apartment fires. Find out about the needs in your area by searching for current volunteer opportunities.” Volunteers can help out in the following ways:

  • Volunteer management
  • Disaster services
  • Disaster Action Team
  • Disaster Preparedness Presenter
  • Public Affairs

One final great way for locals to get involved in disaster relief in their communities is through joining a Certified Emergency Response Team (more commonly known as CERT). An article on Ready.gov describes CERTs as programs that educate, “Volunteers about disaster preparedness for hazards that may impact their area and trains them in basic disaster response skills, such as fire safety, light search and rescue, team organization and disaster medical operations. CERT offers a consistent, nationwide approach to volunteer training and organization that professional responders can rely on during disaster situations, which allows them to focus on more complex tasks. Through CERT, the capabilities to prepare for, respond to and recover from disasters is built and enhanced.” In total, “There are over 2,700 local CERT programs nationwide, with more than 600,000 individuals trained since CERT became a national program.”

Disaster volunteerism is a very special way for locals to assist their communities during a time of great strife and vulnerability. The need for calm and civility, as well as efficient service delivery post-disaster, creates an environment that, when used right, could be of great benefit not only to the recipients, but also to those who are volunteering their time to help out.

Author: Benjamin Paley is a board member of the South Florida Chapter of the ASPA. He graduated in 2018 from Florida Atlantic University with a Master of Public Administration degree. He currently studies law at Nova Southeastern University. Email: [email protected].


1 Star2 Stars3 Stars4 Stars5 Stars (No Ratings Yet)

One Response to Volunteering During A Disaster

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *