Opportunities in Disaster Services for Advisory Board Members
By Jeff Jellets, Territorial Disaster Coordinator
Salvation Army advisory boards represent a wealth of expertise, resources, and leadership that provide critical support and guidance to many Salvation Army programs. Advisory boards are often a motivating force within local communities, and board members act as some of The Salvation Army's chief advocates, advisors, negotiators, and supporters.
An area that is often overlooked, however, is the contributions advisory members can make in strengthening The Salvation Army's emergency disaster services program. Disaster work is one of the most vital (and visible) of the Army's many services. But with the busy schedule of Salvation Army officers and staff, few corps have the time to adequately prepare for a disaster event.
Advisory board members can help fill that gap, taking responsibility for developing a local disaster response team. In addition to recruiting and training disaster volunteers, board members often have relationships with local community leaders or businesses that can provide critical resources during a crisis.
Because of the intense visibility of disaster work and the urge most Americans have to help during an emergency, a disaster services project may be just the right thing to help galvanize some less active board members into action. Disaster work is also a great way to open doors to community leaders and businesses which might not otherwise have a relationship with The Salvation Army.
The first step is to identify one (or more) advisory board members who will take the initial responsibility for developing your local disaster response team. You'll want to identify someone with good management and communication skills and someone who can organize activities according to a schedule.
You do not necessarily need to select your most active board member; in fact, this might be a good time to engage someone new. While developing a disaster team is an important project, it can be a finite one for an advisory board member -- with a definite beginning and end - and little (to no) fundraising. As you recruit advisory board members for this project, explain that they will be very busy early on as new disaster team members are recruited and trained, but that part of the goal of this program is develop a team that can eventually sustain itself. Once the disaster team is functional, advisory board members can often step back into the role of advisors and advocates, supporting the team, but not necessarily running it.
Recruiting Your Local Disaster Team
Once an advisory board member (or members) has been identified to lead the project, the next step is to recruit a group of perspective volunteers as the nucleus of your new disaster team. This step is probably going to involve the bulk of advisory board members' time as they work to get the word out through a variety of sources that The Salvation Army is recruiting.
Start by speaking to local church groups, civic clubs, and associations about the Army's disaster program and the need for volunteers. Advertise for volunteers on local media, including radio, newspapers and local websites, using the sample news release if necessary. Meet with the local fire department and emergency management agency; they may have a fire buffs' association or Citizen Emergency Response Team (CERT) whose members might be interested in volunteering. Contact the local community volunteer center or United Way to invite individuals who may have already expressed an interest in disaster volunteer work.
If the corps is assigned a canteen, use that as the focus of the recruitment drive. New volunteers will quickly relate to the need for a crew to man the vehicle and the role food service plays in a disaster operation. Also, bear in mind, disaster service is unpredictable and can be very strenuous. Recent retirees in good physical condition who can travel on short notice make some of the best recruits.
Finally, before beginning the recruitment drive, schedule a date for the next step in the process, disaster training. Publicize this date as much as possible when you recruit new volunteers.
Conducting Disaster Training
Conducting the first disaster training classes should not be very difficult. Divisional and territorial headquarters provide a wealth of training resources and can provide training instructors if necessary. Plan to schedule at least one full day of disaster classes, beginning with Introduction to The Salvation Army Emergency Disaster Services (4.0 hours) and, if the corps has a canteen, Disaster Food Services: Handling and Delivery (8.0 hours).
Try to recruit approximately twenty-five participants for the classes. This is an ideal number for training. Assume that there will be some attrition and about half of those who attend the training will drop out and never become active disaster volunteers.
As the classes are conducted, advisory board members, the local corps officer, and key Salvation Army staff should participate. This will help them get to know the new volunteers, screen them appropriately, and identify those with useful skills or leadership potential. As the classes progress, be sure to hand-out and collect Disaster Worker Registration forms and other appropriate paperwork from all those that attend.
Implementation and Growth
Once the initial round of disaster training has been completed, schedule a disaster team implementation meeting as soon as possible. Try to avoid long delays between the training and implementation meeting. The longer the stretch between the two events the more volunteers are likely to be lost.
The goal of the implementation meeting is to start molding the new volunteers into a disaster team and assigning responsibility. Leaders for the disaster team should be appointed and specific instructions should be given about how the disaster team will be activated and deployed in an emergency. Establish a call down procedure.
If the corps has a canteen, charge the new volunteers to inspect the unit, determining what items within the canteen need repair and what supplies need to be bought to make the canteen fully operational. Plan an exercise so that the new volunteers become familiar with actually operating the unit. This can be as simple as serving lunch to corps members on a Sunday after worship, serving dinner to residents of a shelter, or providing snacks to members of a local Boys and Girls club.
Remember, to retain your new volunteers, you must get them engaged. Set expectations. Assign responsibilities. Volunteers who feel that they have a stake in the disaster program will participate; those that don't are likely to drift away.
Depending on their availability, the advisory board members who began the project may become active members and leaders within the disaster team or, if their time is limited, they may take an advisory and support role. Regardless, the board members should provide regular updates about the activities and growth of the disaster team at advisory board meetings.
As the disaster team becomes more established and more comfortable in delivering basic services, there is always room for growth. Some team members may want to qualify as training instructors and deliver their own classes. New disaster workers need to be recruited, perhaps in very specific areas such as emotional and spiritual care or logistics. Encourage advanced training for core disaster team members.
Working with Community Leaders and Businesses
Another role for advisory board members is to help the local Salvation Army develop critical relationships with community leaders and local businesses that can help provide critical resources during a disaster event.
During a crisis, The Salvation Army is dependent upon the cooperation and support of local government to deliver emergency services. Advisory board members can help introduce the Army to key community officials, like the county emergency manager, police chief, fire chief, mayor and other elected officials. This allows the Army to build a relationship with these individuals before a disaster occurs and allows for better understanding and cooperation between agencies during an actual disaster response.
Likewise, The Salvation Army must be able to access supplies, such as food, facilities, and fuel, from local venders. Otherwise, its disaster operation rapidly runs of the raw material necessary to support service delivery. Advisory board members may be key business leaders who can help secure some of these critical resource or they may have business-to-business connections with venders who can be contacted to provide support during an emergency.
Consider using advisory board members to build a network of logistical resources that can be readily accessed in a disaster, including:
- Automotive Repair/Service
- Cleaning Supplies
- Communications Equipment (cellular phones, internet)
- Fuel (gas, diesel, propane)
- Food Supplies
- Heavy Equipment (forklifts, pallet jacks, dock plates)
- Office / Shipping Supplies
- Real Estate (temporary disaster offices/warehouses)
- Rebuilding Supplies
- Trucking (Shipment, Storage - both refrigerated and dry)
- Vehicles (rental cars, vans, and trucks)
Advisory Board Members as Disaster Workers
Even if they lack formal disaster training, some advisory board members have technical or leadership skills that can be readily applied to a disaster situation. During a local disaster event, when local Salvation Army personnel may be very limited, consider asking advisory board members to serve as "leadership" volunteers on a disaster operation:
- Community leaders - use as liaisons to local government or representatives within a county emergency operations center (EOC); community leaders may already know many of the agency representatives working within the EOC;
- Reporters, public relations executives, writers - use as public information officers to develop news releases and interact with media;
- Pastors, clergy, and mental health counselors - use for emotional and spiritual care, interacting with rescue workers and disaster victims.
Advisory board members can play a significant role in helping the local Salvation Army develop a local disaster program. One the most important disaster-related projects an advisory board can undertake is recruiting and training local volunteers to form a local disaster response team. After the new volunteers are recruited and trained, advisory board members must be sure to engage the disaster team members in an active program. Set expectations. Assign responsibilities. Volunteers who feel that they have a stake in the disaster program will participate; those that don't are likely to drift away. Another role for advisory board members is to help the local Salvation Army develop critical relationships with community leaders and local businesses that can help provide critical resources during a disaster event. Some advisory board members have technical skills, such public relations or pastoral training that can be directly applied to a disaster situation. Corps officers should consider including these advisory board members as part of their local disaster team.