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Get Involved

Get Involved

In addition to your personal preparedness, consider getting involved in neighborhood and community emergency preparedness activities. Assist emergency planners and others in considering the preparedness needs of the whole community, including people with disabilities and others with access and functional needs. Communities are stronger and more resilient when everyone joins the team. People with disabilities often have experience in adapting and problem solving that can be very useful skills in emergencies.

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Volunteering in a Disaster

It is commonly believed that the bulk of response and recovery work is conducted by government organizations. Although this is true for first responder activities such as police, fire rescue, and emergency medical response, the bulk of activities in large disasters is done by volunteers and non-government organizations. When lots of people are significantly affected by a disaster, the majority of response and recovery activities are typically achieve only through the valiant efforts of volunteers.

There are two types of volunteers which respond to the needs of affected people:

1) Affiliated Volunteers – volunteers who are officially associated with an organization which is responding to a disaster (e.g., American Red Cross)

2) Spontaneous Unaffiliated Volunteers (SUV) – volunteers who arrive at a disaster to help with no organizational ties

Both types of volunteers are very important to affecting response and accomplishing recovery. SUVs have unique liability and technical difficulties. Receiving SUVs is part of all disaster responses; however, it is a time and labor intensive process which involves:

  1. Reception and Waiting – SUVs often arrive from outside of the affected area hoping to go straight to the place where they are needed most and start “filling sandbags” or the like. Many volunteers are disappointed when they arrive and are directed to a Volunteer Reception Center (VRC) and are asked to sit in chairs or stand in line until they have been processed. Volunteers need to be tracked for safety, efficiency, federal reimbursement of volunteer working hours, and other important purposes. However, because their experience did not meet their expectation, some volunteers start their experience underwhelmed.
  2. Interviewing – The first station at a VRC attempts to identify a volunteers skills, interests, physical capabilities, stress tolerance estimates, and may include a background or credential check depending on the type of work they are likely to be matched to (e.g., daycare, security, medical license, etc.).
  3. Matching – The second station at a VRC connects volunteers with the volunteer requests from all operational organizations (e.g., emergency management, food services, debris removal, While it is preferable to connect a volunteer to a task of the volunteers’ interests, the operational needs, and the volunteers’ capabilities and certifications are often prevailing factors.
  4. Briefing and Wavering – SUVs’ do not come with workers compensation; therefore, a waver and/or a memorandum of agreement may be required. In some cases, SUVs may not have any workers compensation coverage. This is especially true if they have not been processed through a VRC. Therefore, the third station at a VRC provides volunteers with an operational orientation (who is doing what when, where, and why), provides safety instructions, key volunteering information, and addresses volunteering liability issues. After the briefing, volunteers are often asked to sign a waiver.
  5. Just-In-Time-Training – Depending on which organization an SUV is matched with, this training may happen at a VRC or at an organizations base of operations.
  6. Badging – Some volunteers may have permission to work in restricted areas, in which case they will need to be identified.

Volunteers who are affiliated have these tasks completed before arriving at the disaster. Often, a single representative from an organization checks in with a management official, receives a task and area of operation, then all their volunteers get to work. Affiliated volunteers have workers compensation and other relevant insurance coverages through their volunteer organization, they often arrive fully trained and equipped, are already badged, and have lodging provided.

IMPORTANT: Lodging is not necessarily provided to SUVs. Frequently SUVs assume that the disaster operations or a disaster shelter will provide lodging. This is not the case most of the time, and SUVs often end up paying for a hotel room out-of-pocket or sleeping out of their car.

Because of these many considerations, it is generally encouraged that potential volunteers become affiliated with a volunteer organization as soon as possible. This will enable them to be processed, trained, and as an add benefit - significantly increase their community's resilience (Community resilience is the ability of a community to survive a disaster - physically, emotionally, culturally, and economically; this is achieved through developing new disaster related social networks, building social bonds, increasing their own individual and family preparedness, and promoting disaster preparedness among their social circles). Further, it is likely that the affiliated volunteer experience will be much more pleasant than the SUV experience. However, volunteers are always needed in disasters - there is never enough. If you are unaffiliated and desire to volunteer, please volunteer! Being prepared for the above mentioned contingencies may help improve your experience.

Here is the list of Montana's Volunteer Organizations Active in Disasters (MT VOAD), any of these organizations would be good to join and help build community resiliency. This is not a comprehensive list of disaster related volunteer organizations in the state; rather, these are considered state (level) resource organizations. Organizations like Community Emergency Response Teams (CERT) and Search and Rescue Teams (SAR) is considered a local resource organizations. Please look at your city or town's volunteer page for a more specific list of organizations in your area.

Montana VOAD

American Red Cross of Montana: Disaster Services (ARC)

Montana Civil Air Patrol (CAP)

Church World Service (CWS)

HOPE Animal-Assisted Crisis Response (HOPE-AACR)

The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS)

United Way of the Lewis & Clark Area (UW-LCA)

United Way of Yellowstone County (UW-YC)

Latter-Day Saints Charities (LDSC)

Lutheran Disaster Response (LDR)

Montana Food Bank Network (MFBN)

Southern Baptist Convention (SBC)

Samaritan's Purse (SP)

The Salvation Army: Intermountain Division (TSA-ID)

The Salvation Army: Northwest Division (TSA-NW)

Team Rubicon (TR)

World Renew: Disaster Response Services (WR-DRS)

Yellowstone Conference of the United Methodist (YCUM)