Queensland Volunteers – Not Long Term
Thursday, 5th May 2011 at 3:13 pm
Just one week after thousands of Queenslanders registered as volunteers to assist in the floods cleanup, a vast majority that were contacted were not prepared to volunteer according to Queensland’s peak volunteering body.
Volunteering Queensland has detailed to the Queensland Floods Commission of Inquiry the complexity involved in managing unrealistic expectations of placing large numbers of volunteers in very limited time and space.
Volunteering Queensland’s submission to the Commission says some 84,000 people registered as volunteers through the organisation’s Community Response to Extreme Weather (CREW) service.
However, as a small community peak body it really had to stretch its limited resources to register people offering their time, skills, goods and services.
By way of example, the submission says at one point Volunteering QLD received a request from a client organisation asking for 30 volunteers. CREW contacted 300 people who registered on the CREW database in order to find those 30 volunteers. Only a week after registering on the database, a vast majority that were contacted were not prepared to volunteer.
It says in most cases the explanation was that personal circumstances of those who registered changed; they had to go back to work, needed to help their family and friends or simply lost interest.
Volunteering Qld emphasised that it is a referral agency, not a placement agency and cannot – nor should not – guarantee placement.
The submission says that during times of disaster the task at hand needs to take priority over the desire to provide an opportunity for every offer of support. Between disaster events, Volunteering Queensland says it needs to manage expectations about its role and the endemic issues of spontaneous volunteering.
It was Volunteering Queensland’s experience that there was significant disparity between the actual need for volunteers (based on the low demand by agencies) and the impression given in the media.
It says it can be argued that in part this was due to a lack of clear explanation about how volunteering in disaster response actually works.
CEO of Volunteering Qld, Jelenko Dragisic says the volunteer support shown during the floods was overwhelming and that the CREW system is an effective way to register volunteer interest during disasters.
Dragisic says it is important to understand that during disasters these opportunities to help in the short-term are limited with the vast majority of emergency volunteering requiring training and a longer commitment; for example being trained as an emergency volunteer with Red Cross, SES or crisis support with Lifeline.
He says while there are opportunities for people who spontaneously call up to volunteer, the best chance for engagement is to undertake emergency volunteer training during non-emergency times.
During the disaster Volunteering Qld encouraged volunteers to register now and be prepared to help later, stating that there will be opportunities to help in the days, weeks and months ahead, however it has now found the availability of many registered volunteers has changed.
As well, he says many people called up during the crisis with a high expectation to be able to help immediately but in some instances were simply looking to connect and talk about what was happening.
Volunteering Qld says it had to rapidly adapt to the unprecedented level of interest in volunteering for the floods to perform it role as a volunteer referral agency, and acknowledges that improvements to its systems are necessary and presented a number of recommendations for emergency volunteering.
The submission made the following recommendations:
- Reduce the element of “spontaneity” from the volunteering effort during natural disasters and increase long term involvement for people wanting to volunteer through a targeted education campaign.
- Increase the degree of planning and preparation amongst all agencies expected to provide services during natural disasters, with a special focus on their ability to absorb larger number of volunteers who are prepared to volunteer on a short term basis. The focus can be on examining new areas of work suitable for short term and temporary engagement by volunteers.
- Conduct research (no such research has been done to date) that would lead to a better understanding of the needs of those people who call to volunteer but in fact are more likely masking their distress and are in fact seeking to talk to someone during natural disasters.
- Better co-ordination of messages and communication issued to media. This should include regular joint media statements by all stakeholders involved in disaster recovery.
- Investigate a more thorough role of the corporate sector in disaster recovery. To date, the corporate sector was not well integrated in the disaster response and the sustainability of future disaster response and recovery should include all parties through structured and firmly agreed roles.
- Given the recent events and the incredibly rapid response from the general public wanting to volunteer, efforts should be made to engage the public in natural disaster resilience. Activities focused on building resilience offer long term opportunities for the general public, thus creating a sense of real engagement that adds value to the overall effort in managing natural disasters.
- Consider national approach that would be built on lessons learnt from Volunteering Queensland’s CREW service. This in particular is worthwhile considering given that thousands of calls came from across Australia and indeed there were many people from other states asking for CREW to be made available in other states.
To view Volunteering Qld’s submission to the Queensland Floods Commission visit http://www.floodcommission.qld.gov.au/__data/assets/file/0018/2835/Volunteering_Queensland.pdf