Published works

Published works

Harnessing the capacities of spontaneous volunteers: application and adaptation of the Queensland model

TitleHarnessing the capacities of spontaneous volunteers: application and adaptation of the Queensland model
Publication TypeConference Paper
Year of Publication2016
AuthorsMcLennan, BJ, Molloy, J, Whittaker, J, Handmer, J
Conference NameAFAC16
Date Published08/2016
PublisherBushfire and Natural Hazards CRC
Conference LocationBrisbane

Spontaneous volunteers are defined in Australia as: ‘those who seek to contribute on impulse—people who offer assistance following a disaster and who are not previously affiliated with recognised volunteer agencies and may or may not have relevant training, skills or experience’ (Australian Red Cross 2010; Cottrell 2010). Spontaneous volunteering by unaffiliated members of the public following a disaster event is certainly not a new occurrence (Whittaker et al. 2015). Known in the sociological disaster literature as convergence, it is recognised as an inevitable and normal response to — particularly large-scale — disasters (Drabek and McEntire 2003; Sharon 2004). A related term that is not commonly used in Australian emergency management is ‘emergent volunteerism’. This ‘involves new forms of volunteering that occur in response to unmet needs, whether perceived or real’ (Whittaker et al., 2015, p.363).

Spontaneous volunteering has gradually gained in profile and legitimacy in Australia disaster management over the five to ten years (Australian Red Cross 2010). This process has sped up due to the combination of a number of high-profile volunteering efforts such as the Brisbane Mud Army, and the shift toward a resilience-based approach to disaster management (COAG 2011). Most recently, a National Spontaneous Volunteer Strategy was endorsed by the Australia–New Zealand Emergency Committee in late 2015 that provides guidance to emergency management organisations.

From a management and policy perspective, until recently spontaneous volunteering has largely been portrayed as an unpredictable and uncontrollable nuisance and risk rather than as a legitimate part of response and recovery (Helsloot and Ruitenberg 2004; Scanlon et al. 2014). Certainly, having unexperienced and uninformed members of the public converge on a disaster site presents many real and difficult to manage health, safety and wellbeing risks for volunteers, residents and trained responders alike (Whittaker et al., 2015). It can also disrupt the formal response effort and divert resources away from the people and communities that are directly impacted (Fernandez et al. 2006).

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