***** Managing Spontaneous Community Volunteers in Disasters. By Lisa Orloff. CRC Press, available from ASIS, Item #1979, www.asisonline.org; 323 pages; $79 (ASIS members), $87 (nonmembers).
Author Lisa Orloff uses case studies and anecdotes, along with other tools, to provide a practical guide for managing spontaneous volunteers following a disaster so that emergency responders can get the most out of those volunteers.
The work highlights several areas that are important in volunteer management, including volunteer assessment, behavioral health, and social media usage. However, while the author has firsthand emergency response experience and while she provides good examples and makes valuable points, some of the quotes she includes are attributed to the wrong source, raising questions about the reliability of other details.
There are also oversights and overstatements. Overstatement is evident even in the book’s introduction, which says, “In the years following the attacks of 9/11, the international community has experienced disasters on a scale not seen in previous history.” While the world has seen some devastating disasters in that time, other disasters have had both higher death tolls and greater economic costs. The statement encourages the reader to read on, but eventually readers may find themselves asking, “How did she know that?” and “Is that really true?”
In other cases, the author does not present all sides of an issue, which could leave the reader with a mistaken impression of certain situations. For example, while the author suggests that volunteers might exhibit passive signs of stress including difficulty sleeping and forgetfulness, other researchers have posited that volunteers drawn to disaster might experience more active signs of stress including mania, compulsion to remain on the job, and adrenaline-induced energy. A reader who is not looking for these signs of stress might not be prepared for the exhaustion, mistakes, and danger that can result from them.
The most useful part of the text is probably the sample forms, including a spot screening checklist for rapidly evaluating the suitability of volunteers, a volunteer self-assessment, and a memorandum of agreement template for facilitating interagency coordination. These forms may provide a good starting point for emergency managers and community leaders developing their own volunteer management protocols, and they can be modified to suit each organization.
The book is interesting and provides a good range of examples of successful volunteer management in disasters. But it does have a number of shortcomings, as noted.
Reviewer: Deena S. Disraelly, Ph.D., is a researcher at a Washington, D.C., area think tank and has more than 15 years’ experience working in and training others to support emergency response. She earned her doctorate by studying the potential to improve disaster management volunteerism through outreach to social networks. She serves on the ASIS Global Terrorism, Political Instability, and International Crime Council.