— Volume II No. 3: October 2006 —

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Strategies for Managing Volunteers during Incident Response: A Systems Approach


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Lauren Fernandez

Lauren S. Fernandez is a program manager for the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, Office of Grants and Training. Her responsibilities include leading capabilities assessment programs and data analysis, managing national information technology systems, and developing technical assistance programs. From 1998-2004, she worked for SRA International as a systems analyst and emergency management planner. She has field experience as an emergency medical technician and an incident commander for the Appalachian Search and Rescue Conference. Ms. Fernandez holds master’s and bachelor’s degrees in systems engineering from the University of Virginia (1998). She is pursuing a doctoral degree in engineering management (crisis and emergency management) at The George Washington University in Washington D.C.

Joseph Barbera

Joseph A. Barbera is co-director of The Institute for Crisis, Disaster, and Risk Management; associate professor of engineering; and clinical associate professor of emergency medicine at The George Washington University. He is a board certified emergency physician and has been involved in disaster response and emergency management since 1986. As part of local or federal teams, he responded to the Oklahoma City Bombing, mine disasters, earthquakes, 9-11 (Pentagon and NYC), anthrax 2001, Katrina and other hurricanes, and the Indonesian tsunami. Dr. Barbera is involved in emergency management initiatives at the local, state, and national levels, and has provided emergency management expertise to multiple organizations, including the White House medical staff and the U.S. Capitol. He writes and lectures on a wide variety of topics in emergency management and medical response.

Johan Van Dorp

Johan van Dorp is an associate professor in the Engineering Management and Systems Engineering Department at The George Washington University. Through his research and consulting, he has assisted organizations in making structured decisions involving complex systems, specializing in risk and reliability problems. Dr. van Dorp received degrees from the Delft University of Technology and The George Washington University.

During disasters, large numbers of people with no pre-planned role arrive at the scene and other areas of response activity to offer assistance. Spontaneous volunteers can be a significant resource, but are often ineffectively used and can actually hinder emergency activities by creating health, safety, and security issues, distracting responders from their duties, and interfering with ongoing operations. The challenge for incident managers is to capitalize on the available volunteer resources while ensuring safety and the responders’ ability to effectively perform tasks within the established incident management system. This article presents a systems-based approach to planning for spontaneous volunteer management in disasters.

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Fernandez, Lauren, Joseph Barbera, and Johan Van Dorp. “Strategies for Managing Volunteers during Incident Response: A Systems Approach.” Homeland Security Affairs 2, issue 3 (October 2006)