Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Untrained volunteers may do harm as well as good during disasters

Date:
March 26, 2014
Source:
Johns Hopkins Medicine
Summary:
In the immediate aftermath of hurricanes, floods and other disasters, it’s not uncommon for people to turn out in large numbers to assist victims, clear debris and chip in on dozens of other tasks to get a community back on its feet. Their altruism is inspiring, but results of a study suggest these unsolicited or "spontaneous" volunteers may be putting themselves and others at risk for injury and, in rare cases, death as a result of their lack of training in safe and proper disaster response.

In the immediate aftermath of hurricanes, floods and other disasters, it's not uncommon for people to turn out in large numbers to assist victims, clear debris and chip in on dozens of other tasks to get a community back on its feet.

Their altruism is inspiring, but results of a study by a Johns Hopkins expert suggest these unsolicited or "spontaneous" volunteers may be putting themselves and others at risk for injury and, in rare cases, death as a result of their lack of training in safe and proper disaster response.

In a report published online on March 25 in advance of the print edition of Disaster Medicine and Public Health Preparedness, Lauren Sauer, M.S., surveyed 24 nongovernment volunteer organizations (NVOs) that had responded to disasters in the past and found that 19 of them -- or 79 percent -- had spontaneous volunteers show up to help. While a majority of those organizations said they found such volunteers useful, 42 percent reported that volunteers had been injured in the response, and there were two reported deaths among them. Organizations were allowed to respond anonymously as a way to encourage survey participation.

Sauer, a disaster training expert and faculty member in the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine's Department of Emergency Medicine, says she decided to conduct her survey when she found that the level of risk such volunteers may face had never been well-studied despite how ubiquitous the volunteer phenomenon is in the United States.

"In the U.S., it's very common to see a big outpouring of volunteers after a disaster. People feel compelled to turn out," Sauer says, noting that after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks in New York City, 40,000 volunteers streamed to ground zero. "What's interesting is no one's taken a close look at the level of risk for the people who show up after these disasters without any training on how they can stay out of harm's way."

Sauer also found that:

Only about one-third of the organizations responding to the survey said they accepted any legal liability for unsolicited volunteers. Sixteen percent of organizations reported lawsuits as the result of casualty among unsolicited volunteers.

Two organizations always made sure that the volunteers they tapped in a disaster had prior response training, called "credentialing." Only one organization performed background checks on volunteers. More than half -- 53 percent -- of the groups said they provided on-the-spot or "just-in-time" training for volunteers turning out to a disaster site.

Prior to her survey, Sauer reviewed studies documenting psychological stress among untrained volunteers in the wake of their disaster experience and found that post-traumatic stress disorder was common.

Overall, Sauer says, her research raises a number of compelling volunteer safety and liability issues that need to be addressed with further studies and the development of a safer, more systematic approach to taking on unsolicited and untrained volunteers in the field right after a calamity.

There are some models worthy of consideration, says Sauer. For example, the community service organization Points of Light Foundation, based in Atlanta, recommends that a "go kit," which includes training information, be issued to volunteers prior to them being allowed into a disaster area to assist.

"The presence of spontaneous volunteers is unavoidable after a disaster. They are always well-intentioned and have a high level of altruism. We don't want to discourage that," says Sauer. "But it does appear from this study that the NVOs need to take a harder look at safety and liability issues. The goal should be minimizing any risk of harm to their volunteers."


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by Johns Hopkins Medicine. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. Lauren M. Sauer, Christina Catlett, Robert Tosatto, Thomas D. Kirsch. The Utility of and Risks Associated With the Use of Spontaneous Volunteers in Disaster Response: A Survey. Disaster Medicine and Public Health Preparedness, 2014; 8 (01): 65 DOI: 10.1017/dmp.2014.12

Cite This Page:

Johns Hopkins Medicine. "Untrained volunteers may do harm as well as good during disasters." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 26 March 2014. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/03/140326141652.htm>.
Johns Hopkins Medicine. (2014, March 26). Untrained volunteers may do harm as well as good during disasters. ScienceDaily. Retrieved July 23, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/03/140326141652.htm
Johns Hopkins Medicine. "Untrained volunteers may do harm as well as good during disasters." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/03/140326141652.htm (accessed July 23, 2014).

Share This




More Science & Society News

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Boeing Ups Outlook on 52% Profit Jump

Boeing Ups Outlook on 52% Profit Jump

Reuters - Business Video Online (July 23, 2014) Commercial aircraft deliveries rose seven percent at Boeing, prompting the aerospace company to boost full-year profit guidance- though quarterly revenues missed analyst estimates. Bobbi Rebell reports. Video provided by Reuters
Powered by NewsLook.com
9/11 Commission Members Warn of Terror "fatigue" Among American Public

9/11 Commission Members Warn of Terror "fatigue" Among American Public

Reuters - US Online Video (July 22, 2014) Ten years after releasing its initial report, members of the 9/11 Commission warn of the "waning sense of urgency" in combating terrorists attacks. Mana Rabiee reports. Video provided by Reuters
Powered by NewsLook.com
CDC Head Concerned About a Post-Antibiotic Era

CDC Head Concerned About a Post-Antibiotic Era

AP (July 22, 2014) Sounding alarms about the growing threat of antibiotic resistance, CDC Director Tom Frieden warned Tuesday if the global community does not confront the problem soon, the world will be living in a devastating post-antibiotic era. (July 22) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Raw: First Lady Says `Drink Up' More Water

Raw: First Lady Says `Drink Up' More Water

AP (July 22, 2014) First lady Michelle Obama, along with help from some children, unveiled a temporary sign on the White House's South Lawn. It's part of her initiative to get Americans to drink more water. (July 22) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:

Breaking News:
from the past week

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile: iPhone Android Web
Follow: Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe: RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins