Volunteers – Vital in Emergency Management

Volunteers are the life-blood of Emergency Management. They are the ones that hear the special calling to give back and enable areas to recover and thrive during critical incidents. Additionally, VOAD’s, which stands for Volunteers Organizations Active in Disaster, are faith-based, community-based and other non-governmental organizations are members of a community which come together in order to ensure a safe, and well prepared group exists in times of crisis to serve the community. Emergency Managers, Public Safety, Volunteers, and VOAD’s need to work together, in order to prepare thrive after a critical incident.

At State of Ready we recognize how important regular communication is with these groups. We encourage you to establish how each group operates, what their goals or objectives might be, and who are the members. Now  you may ask, “Where do you get to know these groups?” The answer is simple really: throw a big net, train with them, and participate in exercises.

When you look at throwing a big net, start off by having stakeholder meetings like we previously spoke about on the podcast (or read the previous entry in the blog). When you pre-plan exercises ask these groups and bring them to the table to ask for their input as well. Finally, find out when they meet, and go meet them at their meetings. If they are willing to come to you, shouldn’t you go to them?

We encourage you to look into some of the larger groups like American Red Cross (ARC), Team Rubicon, or your local CERT like Ken Anderson our guest represents in South San Francisco. Once you have reached out to them, evaluate the best way to communicate, whether meetings, electronic mail, or social media. We also encourage you to look at calendars that are published on-line like at State of Ready. Additionally, contact your local Emergency Management Association, and your operational area Office of Emergency Services.

The reason to involve these groups is easy to understand. Often, they are already living in your community, which makes them a force multiplier during a critical incident, enhancing the services you can provide. This provides more resilience if they are prepared, and thus means a quicker recovery for the community. In Emergency Management, pre-planning often solves a lot of problems that mushroom “it” happens. Also, by involving your volunteers you can have them be role-players in exercises which means more realism in your training (think Active Shooter with 30 people running around instead of 2).

Finally, how to use them is what we have preached since the first episode. State of Ready believes in bringing as many people together as possible in order to get as much information as possible, and to provide planning to make a more resilient community. This means looking at current plans with residents and business in your community to see what would actually work during a critical events. They can see for themselves what is needed to be prepared and to help build in the redundancy needed during an event. It also would be great to allow them to create and exercise. After they create the exercise then perform a drill that allows them to discover the skills they already have, and what they may want to learn. This allows you as an Emergency Manager to start building checklists of who in your community can assist in what job tasks. It also helps you discover what additional training you might need.

We encourage you to think about the lessons learned about VOAD’s and Volunteers above specifically thinking about:

      • Find out who by casting a wide net
      • Attend training and get online to network more
      • Train together, and play together
      • How to involve by using exercises
      • Preplan on how to contact in case of emergency
      • Constant attention, training, communication creates a great organization


Thanks for joining us this week and look for next week’s podcast and blog posting on Partners in Emergency Management.   –Ed, Bill, and Ken Anderson


Conducting Stakeholder Meetings

At State of Ready we are always preparing for meetings on how to get everything done we need to do. This includes: scheduling, social media, electronic mail, writing a script, and deciding on times to record the show. We chose to focus this week on stakeholder meetings for Emergency Managers.

The idea of “shaking hands before an incident, instead of pointing fingers after” includes effective communication often at stakeholder meetings. The purpose and reasons for meetings need to focus on establishing the why for any exercise or the purpose of having a meeting is often to work on developing a common operating picture and a better understanding of responding agencies capabilities. Additionally, it provides an opportunity for networking and informal communication which beats formal communication almost every time.

When developing a stakeholder meeting it is important to think about everyone who would be involved in the exercise or event. This means you need to identify all stakeholders including those from the public sector and private industry. It also means identifying a meeting space which is centrally located and has adequate space for all of the people attending. Hopefully, this means that both bathrooms and coffee are available. Ensure that there is a properly working HVAC system, being to hot or too cold will draw the attention away from what is being said or talked about.

With this space, see if some important tech essentials are available. This includes identifying a wireless network system, maybe smartboards to record information, establishment of a Slack channel, video or audio recording, and access to a computer network which can facilitate PowerPoint presentations.

Establishing the layout of the table and where it is you want to sit and where others want to sit. How you set the tables in the room matters. Are they going to all face the speaker, stage, or screen? Or will all the tables be separated into groups for breakout sessions? Or will they be in a horseshoe shape to facilitate debate? This becomes a thriller akin to Game of Thrones and you do NOT want to lose. Also think about prepositioning assigned seating to help you run the meeting and keep people apart who will be disruptive. If you don’t know who is disruptive, you did not do your homework and get to know people in the informal communication we mentioned previously! Go back and start all over again!

Now you are ready to set an agenda and remember no one wants their time to be wasted. You can help alleviate that by creating an agenda and distributing either via handouts, email, establishing a Slack channel, or using Google Docs or Drive. Make sure someone will type up the minutes and send on a regular basis allowing people a chance to review at the start of each meeting. The agenda should contain the following:


      • Review minutes of previous meeting
      • Identify new priorities
      • Old business including tasks assigned
      • Questions
      • Set date for next meeting

Conducting meetings is a part of life in the workplace and a tremendous amount of time is dedicated to gathering people together to accomplish this. While what we talked about above might seem like insignificant or unimportant in the setting of what the actual goals of a meeting are to accomplish, they actually are VERY important to the successful outcome of that meeting. And in Emergency Management, where life safety is usually discussed, you do not want to overlook the small details.  

Thanks for joining us this week and look for next week’s podcast and blog posting on Volunteer groups and VOADS.   -Ed and Bill