Volunteers in Emergency Management
13 November 2014 at 9:16 am
What's the relationship between formal and informal volunteers in emergency management asks Adrienne Picone the CEO Volunteering Tasmania.
Wednesday 12th November was Wear Orange Wednesday (WOW). Each year the community is asked to express their appreciation for State Emergency Service volunteers by wearing something orange or creating an orange environment for the day.
There are over 40,000 SES volunteers across Australia giving around a million hours of their time in times of crisis. When calamity strikes it is the men and women in orange lending a skilled and steadfast hand to those in need. SES volunteers help out on our worst of days, during floods, fires, road crash rescue and search and rescue. They also help to build resilient communities.
SES has a long and proud history in Australia and are exemplars of good practice in volunteer management and engagement. SES volunteers are encouraged to develop leadership and management skills, they receive accredited training as well as having the opportunity to put something back into the community.
Trained volunteers are key to emergency management in Australia but nationally the trend is seeing numbers of formal volunteers declining while more are putting up their hands to be involved informally.
The level of expertise required of emergency volunteers necessitates a focus on their level of skill and knowledge but more and more it seems that leaders in emergency management are thinking about the interface between emergency management services and the general community.
In any disaster local people will turn up to help out friends and neighbours. They are often the first of the scene and they have the local knowledge. They know where to go and who to ask and they can quickly garner people and physical resources. If well utilised they are an invaluable resource and support to emergency services.
Some research that is coming out of RMIT looks at the relationship between formal and informal volunteers. How can emergency services harness the talents and knowledge that exists before a disaster happens and will remain long after the initial effects of the disaster are felt and the experts have left? http://www.bnhcrc.com.au/
Clearly there are some potential risks and challenges that need to be addressed but the very fact that it is being explored speaks volumes about the innovation that exists within our emergency management services in Australia.
The research in this space is timely with Volunteering Australia about to open up a national conversation on the definition of volunteering. Under the current definition VA only recognises formal volunteers.
The people that pitch in in times of need or donate their time in an ad hoc way contribute so much to our quality of life and yet they are not currently recognised as volunteers. It is great to see emergency management services leading the way and looking at ways that they can work alongside informal volunteers for mutual benefit.
On WOW day spare a thought for our SES volunteers and the outstanding work that they perform both in times of disaster and in building resilient communities. Let’s hope that we never need to be the beneficiaries of their services but it is heartening to know that when disaster strikes there are those among us that are willing to join up, get the appropriate training and provide help.
Thank you to all of the SES volunteers across Australia. http://www.wearorangewednesday.com.au/
About the author: Adrienne Picone is CEO Volunteering Tasmania and has worked with volunteers for over 10 years as a Volunteer Manager, trainer and management consultant. She has qualifications in education and extensive experience with Local and State Government as well as not for profit organisations. Seven years ago she joined Volunteering Tasmania (VT), the state’s peak body for volunteering and for the last five years she has been the Chief Executive Officer. VT is a Not for Profit organisation that advocates for and represents the needs of volunteers in Tasmania.