4 Reasons Why You Should Screen Volunteers in Disaster Situations

Posted Thursday, November 14th, 2019 by Doss Church, Founder, Galaxy Digital

Volunteer Background Checks in Disaster Situations

Guest post by Doss Church, Founder, Galaxy Digital

Volunteers are often the first on the scene immediately following a disaster. In some cases, spontaneous volunteers in surrounding communities are the first to reach out to those in need, even before professional help arrives. Therefore, it’s essential that spontaneous volunteers are organized and prepared before disaster strikes. Part of managing disaster risk is ensuring volunteers are suited for the types of disaster response and relief activities required. However, without proper systems and planning in place, spontaneous volunteers can fail to meet the needs of the community and the objectives of professional disaster response teams, despite their best intentions.

Conducting background checks for disaster response volunteers is an important component of preparing and managing this type of volunteer base. In addition to training and establishing communication channels and hierarchy, it’s important to consider adopting strategies to manage risk and reduce liability by screening your volunteers.

Why Should Your Organization Conduct Background Checks on Disaster Response Volunteers?

Community safety is paramount. Your organization can do its part by conducting background checks for each of your disaster response volunteers. This step should be a part of any disaster response team’s risk management strategy:

1. Vulnerable Populations

Your volunteers may assist vulnerable individuals and children immediately following a traumatic event. Volunteers may encounter distressed individuals and those separated from family. By conducting background checks when onboarding emergency and disaster response volunteers, you’ll help ensure that your volunteers do not pose a risk to individuals in need of real assistance.

2. Community Confidence

Your organization and your community can have confidence in the volunteers you’re deploying.

Having the reassurance that you’re taking steps to onboard and work with a team of vetted volunteers can help bring you and the community peace of mind. Remember, your volunteers represent your organization or community. Prepared, responsive, and respectful volunteers will boost your team’s accountability, so you can certify that you’re operating as safely as possible.

3. Risk Management

One key component of risk management is implementing background checks during the onboarding process of incoming volunteers (and including any current volunteers who have not yet completed a background check). According to FEMA, risk is defined as, “a measure of the potential for deviation from an expected outcome: uncertainty”. FEMA defines the term “risk management” as, “a process of risk identification and analysis, risk control/mitigation, and risk financing that seeks to reduce the negative consequences of risk.” Each disaster response organization will have a strategy in place for managing and reducing the specific risks involved in operating during or after an emergency or disaster. The goal of risk management is to mitigate additional harm to affected populations and other volunteers and response team members. What’s more, your organization can be held liable if a volunteer associated with your organization causes additional harm.

4. CERT Requirements

If these aren’t reasons enough, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) is requiring all members of Community Emergency Response Teams (CERTs) to complete a background check. Any affiliated community organizations and community members should follow suit to meet FEMA regulations. Local communities, cities, and towns are ultimately responsible for emergency disaster response efforts. The state and the federal government only step in to supplement response and recovery efforts when local assistance is overwhelmed. Volunteer organizations like yours are responsible for safeguarding community members against additional risk. If you are a CERT manager, you’ll want to check with FEMA regulations and to ensure you’re conducting the correct background checks to meet any government requirements.

Final Thoughts

Screening volunteers in disaster situations is an important step to helping secure your volunteer operations. Disaster can strike in an instant – any place, any time. When it does, effectively leveraging volunteers you can trust, plays a big role in the immediate and ongoing relief effort.

Galaxy Digital and Sterling Volunteers are proud to have a long-standing partnership. Through our integration we help organizations efficiently onboard, manage and screen volunteers – enabling them to focus on what matters most – making a difference in the community.