Boston Bombing Case Study
BACKGROUND: When a disaster strikes, volunteers can be an asset to help mitigate and recover from the emergency. However, without proper planning and infrastructure, volunteers can quickly become a hindrance and slow an emergency response. On Monday, April 15, 2013, 2 explosions detonated near the finish line of the Boston Marathon, killing 3 individuals and injuring hundreds more. With over 300 Red Cross volunteers already deployed for the marathon, Leighton Jones quickly changed ARC volunteer objectives, focusing on feeding, mental health, communications, community relations, fundraising, staffing and logistics among others. In addition, organizing, credentialing and folding spontaneous volunteers into the ARC operations was essential for an efficient response.
OBJECTIVE: Effectively process and manage volunteers during a no-notice event.
CHALLENGES: With such a traumatic event as the Boston Bombing, ensuring the mental healthcare of the volunteers was challenge and priority. In addition, quickly but efficiently training volunteers, especially spontaneous volunteers, and familiarize them with the agency culture/values was a challenge. Ensuring that all volunteers are motivated properly throughout a multi-operational period proved challenging as well.
SOLUTIONS: To address mental health care of the volunteers, Leighton Jones and the ARC placed an emphasis on preparing their volunteers for their specific assignments. Just-in-time training was utilized to help this process and restrictions were placed on volunteer re-deployments. Volunteer evaluations were distributed and collected to gain a better picture of what the volunteer needs were.
TAKEAWAYS: Mental healthcare of volunteers can unfortunately be lost in the midst of a fast paced, high energy response. The amount of media attention a response receives often adds to the stress level of all responders, including volunteers. This 24/7 media coverage was the case in the Boston Bombing response/recovery. Altering your operations based on volunteer evaluation feedback allows you to be as proactive as possible. Checking in with volunteers and ensuring they are appreciated is essential as well. Making sure they understand the big picture of the response and they are part of a bigger group can help this. Utilizing modern communication pathways, such as social media platforms and email blasts, helps ensures you reach your volunteers on multiple levels and reinforcing your message.
Drew Downing, MPH