EIIP Virtual Forum Presentation July 13, 2005
A Tool to Encourage and Facilitate Volunteerism
President, Emergency Network Builders LLC
The following version of the transcript has been edited for easier reading and comprehension. A raw, unedited transcript is available from our archives. See our home page at http://www.emforum.org
[Welcome / Introduction]
Avagene Moore: Welcome to the EIIP Virtual Forum! Amy Sebring, my partner/associate, and I are pleased you could join us today! Today's topic is "www.eprepared.org - A Tool to Encourage and Facilitate Volunteerism."
It is a pleasure to welcome Burt Wallrich back to the EIIP Virtual Forum. Burt is a regular participant in the Virtual Forum and has graciously spoken to our cyber-audience before. Burt Wallrich is now President of Emergency Network Builders LLC. Emergency Network Builders LLC provides consulting services to local emergency management agencies that are seeking to foster a comprehensive community preparedness network that includes local non-profit and faith-based organizations as well as government, national relief organizations, and trained volunteers. Please see Burt's bio for more of his career background.
Burt, we are pleased to have you back with us today. I now turn the floor to you.
Burt Wallrich: I am glad to have this opportunity today to tell you about a public website that is being created by The Los Angeles County Office of Emergency Management (OEM) - http://www.eprepared.org.
Eprepared.org uses innovative map-based technology to:
Encourage individuals to become trained and affiliated disaster volunteers.
Link potential disaster volunteers with agencies that can use their skills and their desire to be helpful.
Assist organizations and Citizen Corps entities to become more effective in their disaster work by helping to build their volunteer base.
Reduce spontaneous post-disaster volunteerism and give authorities tools to use in dealing with spontaneous volunteers.
I say that the site "is being created" because the project is not quite finished. However, it is about 75% complete and you can log on now - no password is required. It is operational and the public is using it.
The website is a collaborative effort of three partners: LACO OEM, which defined the desired functionality of the project, is using Citizen Corps grant funds to pay for it, and has ultimate control of the site; the UCLA Advanced Policy Institute, which is doing the technical work on the website using its expertise in map-based resource databases; and my consulting firm, Emergency Network Builders LLC, which has a contract to do outreach to faith-based and community non-profit organizations, CERT programs, and Neighborhood Watch groups and get them registered on the site.
The spirit of volunteerism is at a high level in the U.S. at this time. However, in order to for people to go from a vague idea that it would be nice to volunteer somewhere to taking concrete action to become a volunteer, they need information about how to locate and contact available volunteer opportunities, what skills are needed, and, not least important, where the opportunities are located geographically.
Few people will regularly travel long distances to work a volunteer position. This is certainly true in an area like Los Angeles, with its great distances and notorious traffic. For this reason, eprepared.org is primarily map-based. People who use this site to research volunteer opportunities may search for information by a number of variables, but the first method that presents itself is geographic.
Thus, when you open the site with your browser, this is what you see at the top of the home page:
I have added an arrow which points to a window that invites the viewer to insert their zip code. (All the arrows you see on subsequent slides have been added for this presentation.) By the way, the photo on the home page changes every 3 seconds (with a DSL connection) and highlights CERT training exercises and other volunteer activities around Los Angeles County.
Once the visitor types in their zip code they will go immediately to the "map room" and see a map showing that zip code and the surrounding area. They can zoom in or out to see more or less geography.
The map displays icons for volunteer agencies, CERT teams, and CERT calendars. There is also an icon for individual CERT volunteers, but that information is passworded and is not available to the general public. The visitor has a number of options on the map page. On this screen shot, the icons are labeled and the function that creates a link to each icon's individual write-up has been turned on.
At this point, if the viewer clicks on the icon labeled "World Vision," for example, they will be taken to World Vision's own page on the site. This is the top of that page:
And this is the bottom of World Vision's page:
Note that there is a hot link to World Vision's own web site as well as a link to an email contact form. A person who is interested in volunteering with World Vision can send its volunteer coordinator a message stating their interest. The message goes directly to World Vision; it does not go through eprepared.org.
All of the information on an agency's own page has been entered by them and is completely under their control. One of my tasks in this project is to go out to agencies and walk them through the registration process. Each agency has administrative rights to its own data, and can edit its page whenever it wants. However, it can't edit anyone else's data, and the public cannot access the administrative section of the site.
The goal of the site is to eventually include all faith-based and secular non-profit agencies that have a plan to use volunteers for disaster work. A corollary is to encourage agencies that don't have disaster volunteer plans to develop one and, in the process, to become members of Emergency Network Los Angeles, the local VOAD (Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster).
Another goal is to encourage potential volunteers to seriously consider what it means to make a commitment to an agency and why they should affiliate with an agency and be trained before there is an event rather than showing up during the response phase. To this end, a paper on "Effective Volunteering" has been posted on the site (in two versions, including a PDF file for printing).
A second use for the "Effective Volunteering" paper is that it can serve as a model for a volunteer manual if an agency does not yet have one.
Returning to the home page, if the visitor does not enter their zip code but scrolls down the page instead, this is what they will see below the photo and interactive zip code window.
The top band lists the four components of Citizen Corps, briefly describes each, and has hot links to pages where the visitor can get more information about and learn how to contact each component. The CERT portion of the site is almost completed but the other Citizen Corps sections are not. The next band is a hot link to information about all the organizations that are registered on the site. If the visitor clicks here they will go to the entry page for that list.
The visitor has a number of choices from this page. They can do a complete zip code search just as they could have from the home page. Or, they can elect to see all the private organizations that are listed. Or, just the faith-based organizations. Or, just the community-based (secular) non-profits. Or, all the government agencies that are seeking volunteers.
Finally, they can combine search functions and, for example, see all the faith-based organizations in a certain zip code area on a map that is not cluttered by the icons for other types of organizations. If the visitor had asked to see the list of all the faith-based organization that are seeking volunteers they would open a page with that list.
As you see, each entry includes name, address, a map of the organization's location, and the beginning of their Mission and Services statement, if the organization has submitted one. If the visitor selected World Vision from this page they would get to the same write-up for that organization that we saw before.
Or, if the primary issue for the visitor in thinking about disaster volunteer work is to use a particular skill they have, such as mental health counseling or data entry, they can click on "Service Opportunities," on the same page. That would open a listing of all the categories of skills that are needed, with the number of agencies recruiting in each category.
Clicking on "Helpline," for example, returns a list of 6 agencies that name this as one of the skills they need. Again, a click on a particular agency brings up its complete write-up and direct links.
The fourth and final way a visitor can search for an appropriate volunteer opportunity is by language. A Korean-American, for example, might want to volunteer for an organization in which his or her language skills and cultural knowledge would be useful. If they scroll down the list of Service Opportunities they will get to a listing of languages. Clicking on a language returns a list of all the agencies that are trying to recruit people with that language skill.
The search procedure for CERT teams works the same. Using either a geographic search or clicking on the CERT header on the home page returns a list of CERT teams and CERT training opportunities that are available. Eventually, the web site will allow CERT team leaders who have been granted appropriate administrative privileges to get a list of team members which will include their contact information, and data on their training level and other skills. Team leaders will be able to exchange information with each other so they can provide mutual aid in a major event.
The Neighborhood Watch component of the site is not yet functional. When it is, a search for Neighborhood Watch volunteer opportunities will return a list of the agencies that operate N.W. programs, such as Sheriff and police agencies, rather than the N.W. groups themselves. There are so many individual N.W. groups that they would completely overwhelm the mapping function.
Other functions, accessible from the home page, include a calendar. CERT trainings are listed, and any agency that is registered on the site has the power to add an item, such as a community fair or a training session, to the calendar. The calendar is operational now.
Functions to be activated in the future include a listing of available training sessions, a library of basic preparedness information, a link to Citizen Corps newsletters, and links to basic disaster information sites such as the American Red Cross, DHS, and so on.
Finally, I want to say a little about spontaneous, post-disaster volunteers. There is growing acknowledgement that people who come forward in great numbers immediately after an event are more of a problem than a resource. They can be thought of as similar to the donations of used clothing that come pouring in after an event. Just as the public is beginning to be educated that a donation of cash is much more useful than used clothing, we have to start educating the public that spontaneous volunteerism is not a part of the solution to a community's need in time of crisis.
Spontaneous volunteers usually go to ground zero, where they get in the way of first responders. There is no time to check credentials. While most of them are honest and well-meaning, there can be some who are mentally ill and even some who have criminal intent. You don't know if the person who claims to be a doctor is really an M.D. or someone who flunked out of pre-med training. These factors create serious liability issues for the controlling jurisdiction.
The problem of spontaneous volunteers, like the problem of donations of used clothing, will never be completely eliminated. But it can be reduced through a number of measures. Publicizing volunteer opportunities on a day-to-day basis can increase the number of people who become trained and affiliated before there is a disaster. Having a known web site for volunteer information, like eprepared.org, provides a place where useful information about volunteering can be quickly posted after an event. Spontaneous volunteers who can't be utilized at the time they show up can be referred to the local web site, thanked for their concern, and encouraged to affiliate with an agency and become trained for future events when the immediate crisis is over. From a public relations standpoint this is far better than simply rejecting their offer of help.
Perhaps most important is having one organization or agency prepared to handle spontaneous volunteers at the time of an event. The model is the Seventh Day Adventists, who, as part of their NVOAD commitment, have agreed to handle donations of unsolicited goods. Emergency Network Los Angeles is finalizing an agreement with one of its local member agencies that has expressed a willingness to handle spontaneous volunteers.
The agency that takes on this responsibility should establish an assembly and intake site for spontaneous volunteers well away from ground zero. Personnel responsible for maintaining security at ground zero need to know where the assembly area is and be prepared to direct spontaneous volunteers there. This is better than simply ordering them to go home. Having a volunteer assembly and intake area allows for some level of screening and matching of skills with needs. All of these steps together will begin to make the problem of spontaneous volunteers more manageable.
That concludes my prepared remarks. I welcome your questions and comments. I will now return the floor to our Moderator.
Avagene Moore: Thank you, Burt. Most interesting - this should serve as a model for other communities. I am sure there are several questions for you from our audience.
[Audience Questions & Answers]
Tim Newman: How much did the website cost to create and operate and who pays?
Burt Wallrich: I don't know the complete cost. The funding came, at least in large part from the LA County Citizen Corps grant for 2004.
Amy Sebring: Burt, what kind of response are you getting from the agencies you are doing outreach to, for participation? Any particular challenges there?
Burt Wallrich: No, they are very glad to sign up. It doesn't cost them anything so whatever benefit they get from it is all gravy.
Amy Sebring: Are local public health agencies included?
Burt Wallrich: They will be when Volunteers in Medical Service page is activated. There are some health-related nonprofits on the site
Kristin Buckley: Great presentation, Burt. Thanks. When a disaster next occurs, how will the website change to accommodate the inevitable "spontaneous volunteer"?
Burt Wallrich: That is something that the County and ENLA are still working on. There are two related issues. One is phone and broadcast information for potential volunteers. The second is actually receiving, processing, and utilizing the volunteers who do show up (despite being discouraged form doing that). Those two issues might be handled by the same organization or by two different organizations.
Isabel McCurdy: Burt, this is a great initiative for people who are on the Internet- what about the people who aren't?
Burt Wallrich: That's the weakness of all Internet projects, isn't it? LA County now has 2-1-1 telephone coverage for non-emergency information and people could call that number for information.
Avagene Moore: Burt, are the agencies listed seeing an increase in volunteers who wish to be affiliated and trained?
Burt Wallrich: I don't think that is happening yet. There hasn't been as much publicity about the site as there should - or will - be.
Brett Graves: Burt, do you know of other areas/localities that have implemented a similar system/website?
Burt Wallrich: No. LA has another similar site for people with disabilities. It's called LILA - Living Independently in Los Angeles. It was also developed by UCLA and was the model for eprepared.org. A little more on cost--I know that LA County does not intend to charge any other entity that wants to model the site. UCLA would need to be paid, but it would cost less to do it now that the problems have been solved. But the actual mapping has to be done (and paid for) in each community.
Amy Sebring: You have just alluded to my question which is about publicity. The site could be an information resource for the media I expect. What do you have planned for media publicity?
Burt Wallrich: Amy, I hate to cop a plea, but the whole issue of publicity is on someone else's plate. My firm has nothing to do with that.
Kristin Buckley: In addition to your Effective Volunteering resource, are you planning on adding other resources about disaster volunteering. The Points of Light Foundation and the National VOAD Volunteer Management Committee have many that may be of use to you.
Burt Wallrich: Those will certainly be two of the hot links when that part of the site is built out.
Michaela Kekedy: I recently attended a workshop on handling spontaneous volunteers given by someone who helped manage it at WTC. She mentioned a good document on the subject. It is at http://www.nvoad.org/ManagingSpontaneousVol.pdf.
Burt Wallrich: Thank you, Michaela. This is an issue that has become very visible in the last few years.
Amy Sebring: Forgive me if you have already addressed this, but when do you anticipate this will be complete Burt?
Burt Wallrich: I hope it will be complete by the end of this calendar year. There is one more set of contracts to be let, and that should be done soon. I'm waiting to finish my part anytime I get the go ahead.
Avagene Moore: Burt, do you have any other comments you wish to add about the Web site or your work with the LA OEM?
Burt Wallrich: Only that I am working on a completely different, but related project with LA OEM which is developing targeted outreach materials for people with disabilities and seniors. That's very interesting and challenging. (and not web based)
Lori Wieber: There are some existing volunteer connections sites on the web. (VolunteerImpact is one I can think of at the moment) Were these considered during any of this effort? Many folks use them to find volunteer opportunities by type. How do things compare?
Burt Wallrich: I think the main thing that sets eprepared.org off from any other is the fact that it is map-based that makes it very useful for someone who is looking for concrete information about volunteering rather than general information about agencies.
Amy Sebring: This may be beyond the scope of your work Burt, but is there any specific outreach to the private sector community, such as large businesses, as a potential source of volunteers?
Burt Wallrich: That is beyond the scope of my work, but I have to say both that it is a great idea, and I haven't heard any discussion of it.
Isabel McCurdy: Burt, are these the local chapters or head -quartered agencies? Are they linked together?
Burt Wallrich: These can be both strictly local organizations, local chapters or affiliates of national organizations, and regional bodies. Any organization that will use volunteers in a disaster setting in Los Angeles County is potentially eligible to be listed.
Michaela Kekedy: Since your work was funded with a grant, what would you recommend with the available grant opportunities if a city or county wants to expand its current website to include something similar to what you have done? Or a place to start looking? Key words to use?
Burt Wallrich: I know that LA County had a Citizen Corps grant available to it, that there was a lot of discussion about possible uses for the grant--the discussion included other parties such as LA City, Emergency Network Los Angeles, etc. -- and the decision was to apply to use the grant for this purpose. I think you would check with your point of contact for DHS funding.
Kristin Buckley: Where will the outreach materials for people with disabilities and seniors be located? We have a VISTA project that would find this information very helpful.
Burt Wallrich: That project is part of LA County's ESP (Emergency Survival Program) and when it is completed it will be posted on the County OEM website, along with the other ESP materials, as well as being available in print, large type print, Braille, tape, etc. [See http://www.espfocus.org.]
Lori Wieber: In theory this site could grow to encompass an ever expanding geographical area without regard to jurisdictions. From your perspective what, if any, limitations make sense? Is it more a function of funding than anything else?
Burt Wallrich: In this case the geography was determined by the funding. It was LA County's grant and could only be spent on projects that serve county residents. LA County, with 10 million people and 4000 square miles is probably a big enough universe by itself but in some cases it would make sense to do this regionally, or even to cover a whole state.
Isabel McCurdy: Burt- do you have a follow up email contact?
Burt Wallrich: My email is burtw at ix.netcom.com. I'll be glad to do follow-up.
Avagene Moore: Thank you, Burt! We greatly appreciate your effort and time on our behalf.
Burt Wallrich: Thank you all for your interest and attention.
Avagene Moore: Please stand by a moment while we make some quick announcements. If you are not currently on our mailing list, and would like to get program announcements and notices of transcript availability, please see the Subscribe link on our home page. If you are interested in becoming an EIIP Partner, please see the "Partnership for You" link on the EIIP Virtual Forum homepage http://www.emforum.org . Again, the transcript of today's session will be posted later today and you will be able to access it from our home page. An announcement will also be sent to our Mail Lists when the transcript is available.
Thanks to everyone for participating today. We appreciate you, the audience! Before you go, please help me show our appreciation to Burt Wallrich for a fine job. The EIIP Virtual Forum is adjourned! Thank you, Burt! Great job!