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Bushfire Recovery: The Importance of Volunteer Management

Australia is on fire. 

Having just become a father, it’s incredibly scary to watch the effects of climate change in full swing and I can’t help but wonder what kind of world our little Evie will grow up in. Natural disasters are becoming an all too regular occurrence with floods, droughts and fires wreaking havoc on communities worldwide. In the past week a State of Disaster has been called in New South Wales and Victoria, a first in Australia's history, while at the same time Melbourne experienced its coldest day in January since the 1960’s clouded in a thick haze of smoke. Climate change is real and it is here. 

And yet, in the midst of all the chaos there has been countless acts of mate ship, compassion and generosity, most of which has come from an army of volunteers willing to give up their time to help others.

Hundreds of volunteer firefighters have been risking their lives for the greater part of three weeks now often forgoing food, sleep and water to help stabilise the fires, saving countless homes and lives in the process. Throughout the country, volunteer groups have been established to provide much needed food, water, clothing and shelter to those affected and displaced and additional help has been sent to wildlife hospitals to assist with the recovery and care of wounded animals. Rosterfy’s own, Ahmad Elhawli  spent the best part of 40 hours driving around country Victoria with friends from the Muslim community delivering food and water to those in need.

If we put aside the incredible work the CFA and the MFBA are doing (who have their own internal processes), the need for a centralised platform for the community to be involved with emergency management is necessary to ensure that we are harnessing the Australian population that are wanting to help.

This was made clear in 2017 when we received a call from the Mayor's office in Houston following Hurricane Harvey to see whether or not Rosterfy could be utilised to help manage the recovery efforts powered by volunteers. In the aftermath of the Hurricane, the Mayor of Houston put a call out to the town to encourage all those who were in a position to help to meet at The George R. Brown Center to volunteer their time to start the process of rebuilding. Incredibly, thousands responded to the call but when they arrived, there was no centralised platform for managing volunteers and with no way of delegating they were turned away. Through the process we ended up working with a local Houston charity to help connect the community with opportunities to volunteer across the next 12 months assisting with everything from the removal of debris to creating care packages, which allowed us to play a small role in the recovery efforts. 

This experience provided invaluable insight into the importance of having a central volunteer management system as without anything in place the chaos simply created more chaos, wasting precious time which could have better been directed towards rebuilding the city.  

The reality is that over the coming years, the effects of climate change will mean more fires, more floods and more droughts, which will in turn place greater pressure on volunteers to rise to the call for help. So what can be done? 

First and foremost both the Federal and State Government need to implement a centralised platform to streamline workforce management of volunteers as part of their Emergency Management action plan. I’m not talking about a jobs board. I’m talking about an end to end strategy with a lense to recruitment, screening, rostering, rewarding and recognition to provide an ongoing legacy. Earlier this week Daniel Andrews announced that The Victorian Government has established Bushfire Recovery Victoria (BFV), whose sole purpose will be to support the communities and ensure that rehabilitation projects are both locally-driven and locally-delivered. In our opinion, we need to ensure that volunteer management and technology to support this (both from within and external to the community) is integrated into the recovery efforts to ensure that resources and calls for help are used effectively.

Although we are already in the midst of this, climate change impact isn’t going away so there’s no time like the present to get this implemented to ensure we are ready come next time. As seen with Hurricane Harvey, the community wants to help so let's give them a platform to do so in the most efficient manner. So where to start?

Through a simple registration page, charities and non for profits can capture important information about their volunteers, which can in turn be used effectively to manage the recovery efforts. If for example you have identified that a volunteer can drive a forklift, you could opt to send them to a location that could benefit from this skillset.

Often overlooked but so important, a centralised workforce management platform also allows groups to ensure volunteer welfare, making sure that adequate supplies including protective gear, food and water is where it needs to be. Volunteer Engagement Expert, Tracey O’Neill summed it up very well in her article, “Australia burns” when she referenced how under resourced some of volunteers have been from not having the right protective gear to not having enough food and water. What we at Rosterfy would love to see is charitable organisations tracking volunteers involvement to incentivise and reward volunteers for their time. We need to remember that volunteering essentially means working for free and as such we need to provide ways in which to create a sustainable, positive, lasting legacy should be considered and factored into the process. 

In the coming weeks, Rosterfy will be pulling together a more detailed overview of steps organisations can take to create a sustainable volunteer workforce with regard to emergency management but for the time being my top tips would be:

  • If you can, look towards the future compared to just the short term. The recovery efforts here will take years. How can your program be sustained for the entire journey?
  • Start now while the motivation to help is at the highest point and start recruiting your volunteer database
  • Create a simple registration page that captures details of your volunteers including their location, skills and availability to assist. 
  • Spend some time determining what your requirements are. I understand this is hard to do in a crisis but an hour or two planning will help to ensure that volunteers’ time is maximised and that you get the most out of your workforce.
  • Ensure your communications are clear from the beginning about expectations and next steps that will be required. 
  • Thank your volunteers!! Remember that volunteers are donating their time so a simple thank you at the end of the day goes a long way. If you can step it up and provide simple incentives and rewards then it will increase your chance of sustaining those volunteers for the long term. 

At the end of the day we all want the same thing - to be able to help and make an impact in the recovery in our own little way. Unlike the fires, we can control the way our community can be involved in the recovery efforts IF we put in place the right strategy and technology to do so. While it’s easy to point fingers and dwell in the past, let’s focus our attention to the future and learn from this to ensure we’re better prepared for next time.

 

ABOUT ROSTERFY

Rosterfy is widely regarded as the most comprehensive white labelled volunteer management solution in the world, providing end to end technology for some of the largest workforce programs in the market including The Dubai World Expo 2020, The Super Bowl, The London Marathon and Cancer Council Australia.  As a business our mission is connecting communities to events and causes they are passionate about.  

This opinion piece was written by Rosterfy Co Founder, Shannan Gove. For more information about Rosterfy visit https://rosterfy.com or contact Shannan directly via LinkedIn or email

*Image courtesy of the ABC