In emergency management, it is clear when solidarity arises. One of the many great joys of an emergency is the “rally around the flag” effect. It is an unspoken call to action after a major occurrence that often carries with it themes of patriotism and community. Moments like 9/11 recovery or after hurricane Katrina come to mind when talking about this effect.
In the event of an emergency, namely a major hurricane, there is always an influx of volunteers from outside the area that come in to serve. These are people who want to help, whether or not they are a part of a major organization. One of the themes of my last two weeks of work as we prepare the Volunteer Reception Center (VRC) for potential use is that major disasters bring volunteers from everywhere, and it is the job of emergency management to be prepared for them.
But I am also learning how these spontaneous volunteers can actually be a hindrance rather than a help after an emergency. This is best spelled out through an example. If a category 5 hurricane was to hit my area, what would be the impact of a massive influx of volunteers?
Well, to sum up the whole thing, they would be in the way. PInellas county is predominantly accessed either by bridges from Tampa or by driving down through Tarpon Springs (an area that floods constantly). Volunteers would be clogging up the roads for essential vehicles. There would likely be no power, no lodging, and no food for them when they arrive. And many would be just getting in the way of first responders and recovery efforts.
While solidarity is a great thing and definitely helps the community when it needs it,, it ends up also bringing its drawbacks. Within the community, efforts to help in times of disaster are wonderful, but when outside help tries to enter the community, it often brings issues.