Research leader

Prof John Handmer
Prof John Handmer Research Leader

Research team

Dr Josh Whittaker
Dr Josh Whittaker Research Team
Blythe McLennan
Dr Blythe McLennan Research Team
Dr Tarn Kruger
Dr Tarn Kruger Research Team

End User representatives

Ali Martin End-User
Peter Jeffrey End-User
Diana Bernardi End-User
Julie Molloy End-User
Deb Parkin End-User
Karen Roberts
Karen Roberts End-User
Paul Davis End-User
Adelaide Cooper End-User
Troy Davies End-User
Zoe Kenyon End-User
Ron Weston End-User
Jen Burgess End-User
Kendra Clegg End-User

Student researchers

Dr Billy Haworth Student Reseachers
Fiona Jennings
Fiona Jennings Student Reseachers

How people volunteer to keep their community safe from natural hazards is changing. As our work and life commitments change, many people do not have the time to dedicate to traditional ways of volunteering with an emergency service, undergo the required training and develop the ability to respond to potentially dangerous situations. But they still want to help, and they still want to volunteer.

There is also now more attention being given by the emergency management sector to non-traditional or informal emergency volunteers – people who volunteer without affiliation with the established organisations that have recognised roles in emergency and recovery plans. Agency leaders show a variety of attitudes and approaches to non-traditional emergency volunteers – some see them as creating legal and occupational health and safety risks for the agency, and as distracting the organisation from its core business. Others view them as a basis for surge capacity, a valuable resource and almost always the initial responders.

This completed project has investigated current and emerging issues around volunteering and volunteers responding to disaster events, and the different factors that can influence people’s participation in non-traditional emergency volunteering. Utilisation is now in progress.

Case studies were undertaken, selected to ensure coverage of different stages of disaster risk management, hazard types and types of non-traditional emergency volunteering. They include community led preparedness (Be Ready Warrandyte), community-led recovery (Community on Ground Assistance in Kinglake), spontaneous volunteer management (Volunteering Queensland’s Emergency Volunteering Community Response to Extreme Weather), the role of volunteers from faith-based groups in recovery (Pinery fire, South Australia), digital volunteering following 2015’s Cyclone Pam in Vanuatu, and a review of the national surge capacity for response that occurred for Cyclone Tracy in Darwin (1974).

These case studies have identified four key large-scale forces reshaping the nature of volunteering in the 21st century. These are changing lifestyles and values and the changing nature of work; the impact of new communications technology; greater private sector involvement; and growing government expectations of and intervention in the voluntary sector.

Five key areas of focus have also been identified to best capitalise on emerging opportunities, providing evidence and impetus to shift away from a reliance on traditional, structured volunteering models, to models that are more flexible, adaptive and inclusive of newer and diverse volunteering styles.

Emergency management organisations are aware of this shift in the volunteering landscape and its impacts, and in some instances are already responding. Findings from this project are being used to address these areas, with change makers at organisational, jurisdictional and national levels driving a shift towards more flexible, adaptive and inclusive volunteering models.

The research has influenced key national initiatives, with findings used extensively for the development of the National Spontaneous Volunteer Strategy by the Australia–New Zealand Emergency Management Committee. The strategy provides advice to emergency service agencies on best practice principles, as well as what they need to be aware of, and what they need to consider and plan for when working with spontaneous volunteers. Important issues such as legal obligations and social media are also covered, with this research integral to the strategy’s content.

Building on this, the Australian Institute for Disaster Resilience is drawing directly on the research to develop a new handbook on spontaneous volunteer management. The handbook will provide important guidance for organisations on how to incorporate the principles of the National Spontaneous Volunteer Strategy, and the most recent research on spontaneous volunteering, into their own plans and procedures.

The research is also impacting the development of new strategies in volunteer management at the organisational level, for example informing new directions and developments in the Department of Fire and Emergency Services Western Australia and the New South Wales SES. Be Ready Warrandyte, a community group in one of Melbourne’s high bushfire risk suburbs, has also drawn extensively on the research to help educate and support their local community.

The project has provided an important and comprehensive resource to benchmark best practice in supporting and integrating spontaneous volunteerism for emergency service agencies across Australia. The scope and relevance of the project will provide a valuable framework of knowledge for the future.

Year Type Citation
2018 Journal Article McLennan, B. J. Conditions for effective coproduction in community-led disaster risk management. Voluntas 28, 16 (2018).
2017 Conference Paper Jennings, F. A community's experience of bushfire response and recovery. AFAC17 (Bushfire and Natural Hazards CRC, 2017).
2017 Conference Paper Rumsewicz, M. Research proceedings from the 2017 Bushfire and Natural Hazards CRC and AFAC Conference. Bushfire and Natural Hazards CRC & AFAC annual conference 2017 (Bushfire and Natural Hazards CRC, 2017).
2017 Conference Paper McLennan, B. J., Whittaker, J., Kruger, T. & Handmer, J. Out of uniform (building community resilience through non-traditional emergency volunteering): what have we learnt?. AFAC17 (Bushfire and Natural Hazards CRC, 2017).
2017 Report Kruger, T., Whittaker, J., McLennan, B. J. & Handmer, J. Recovery volunteering after the Pinery fire, South Australia 2015: an explorative case study. (Bushfire and Natural Hazards CRC, 2017).
2017 Report Handmer, J., McLennan, B. J., Whittaker, J. & Kruger, T. Out of uniform - building resilience through non-traditional volunteering: annual report 2016-17. (Bushfire and Natural Hazards CRC, 2017).
2017 Report McLennan, B. J., Kruger, T., Handmer, J. & Whittaker, J. Strategies for non-traditional emergency volunteers: a risk-benefit framework for decision-making. (Bushfire and Natural Hazards CRC, 2017).
2016 Conference Paper Rumsewicz, M. Research proceedings from the 2016 Bushfire and Natural Hazards CRC and AFAC conference. Bushfire and Natural Hazards CRC & AFAC annual conference 2016 (Bushfire and Natural Hazards CRC, 2016).
2016 Conference Paper McLennan, B. J., Molloy, J., Whittaker, J. & Handmer, J. Harnessing the capacities of spontaneous volunteers: application and adaptation of the Queensland model. AFAC16 (Bushfire and Natural Hazards CRC, 2016).
2016 Conference Paper Whittaker, J. Opportunities and challenges of citizen-led recovery in post-disaster settings. AFAC16 (Bushfire and Natural Hazards CRC, 2016).
2016 Journal Article McLennan, B. J. Extending into community-led preparedness and planning just enough (but not too much?). Australian Journal of Emergency Management 31, (2016).
2016 Journal Article McLennan, B. J., Whittaker, J. & Handmer, J. The changing landscape of disaster volunteering: opportunities, responses and gaps in Australia. Natural Hazards 84, (2016).
2016 Journal Article McLennan, B. J., Molloy, J., Whittaker, J. & Handmer, J. Centralised coordination of spontaneous emergency volunteers: the EV CREW model. Australian Journal of Emergency Management 31, (2016).
2016 Report Handmer, J., McLennan, B. J. & Whittaker, J. Out of uniform: building community resilience through non-traditional volunteering: Annual project report 2015-2016. (Bushfire and Natural Hazards CRC, 2016).
2016 Report McLennan, B. J., Whittaker, J. & Handmer, J. Briefing paper: A proposed framework to assess strategies for engaging non-traditional emergency volunteers. (Bushfire and Natural Hazards CRC, 2016).
2015 Conference Paper Rumsewicz, M. Research proceedings from the 2015 Bushfire and Natural Hazards CRC & AFAC conference. Bushfire and Natural Hazards CRC & AFAC annual conference 2015 (Bushfire and Natural Hazards CRC, 2015).
2015 Conference Paper Whittaker, J., Handmer, J. & McLennan, B. J. Building Community Resilience Through Informal Emergency Volunteering Conference Paper 2014. Bushfire and Natural Hazards CRC and AFAC Wellington Conference 2014 (2015).
2015 Conference Paper McLennan, B. J., Whittaker, J. & Handmer, J. The future of 'non-traditional' emergency volunteering: what will it look like and how can it work? - Peer reviewed. Adelaide Conference 2015 (2015).
2015 Journal Article Whittaker, J., McLennan, B. J. & Handmer, J. A review of informal volunteerism in emergencies and disasters: Definition, opportunities and challenges. International Journal of Disaster Risk Reduction 13, 358-368 (2015).
2015 Report McLennan, B. J., Whittaker, J. & Handmer, J. Emergency volunteering in Australia: transforming, not declining. (Bushfire and Natural Hazards CRC, 2015).
2015 Report Handmer, J., Whittaker, J. & McLennan, B. J. Out of uniform: building community resilience through non-traditional emergency volunteering: Annual project report 2014-2015. (Bushfire and Natural Hazards CRC, 2015).
2015 Report Whittaker, J., Handmer, J. & McLennan, B. J. Informal Volunteerism in Emergencies and Disasters: A Literature Review. (2015).
2015 Report McLennan, B. J., Whittaker, J. & Handmer, J. Community-led bushfire preparedness in action: The case of Be Ready Warrandyte. (Bushfire and Natural Hazards CRC, 2015).
2014 Journal Article McLennan, B. J. & Eburn, M. Exposing hidden value trade-offs: sharing wildfire management responsibility between government and citizens. International Journal of Wildland Fire 24, 162-169 (2014).
Out of uniform: Building community resilience through non-traditional emergency volunteering
25 Aug 2014
Citizens may play vital roles in helping those affected to respond and recover, and can provide invaluable...
Community-Led Bushfire Preparedness in Action: The Case of Be Ready Warrandyte
18 Aug 2015
Be Ready Warrandyte (BRW) was an award-winning, community-led bushfire preparedness project instigated by...
Out of Uniform: Building Community Resilience Through Non-Traditional Emergency Volunteering
18 Aug 2015
The public is usually first on the scene in an emergency or disaster and remain long after official services...
Joshua Whittaker Conference Poster 2016
12 Aug 2016
Citizen participation is a key principle of disaster risk reduction and resilience building.
Strategies for non-traditional emergency volunteers
30 Jun 2017
A risk-benefit framework has been designed to assist decision-makers in emergency management organisations (...