Grassroots Recovery with a National Impact

This morning I took some time to browse through the variety of TED talks to see if anything struck some interest with me.  First of all, if you aren’t familiar with TED, they host a variety of free talks and presentations on various topics.  They get some great speakers and the presentations are short… usually 10-20 minutes.  Most of the topics are about something new and innovative – their tag line is ‘Ideas Worth Spreading’, and they certainly abide by that.  Sometimes I watch their presentations because the subject area interests me, and other times I watch it to see some innovative or refreshing presentation skills.

The TED presentation I watched this morning is titled: Caitria and Morgan O’Neill: How to step up in the face of disaster.  It’s a short, 10 minute presentation which I highly recommend.  Their background is on the TED page, but in short these two sisters, both in grad school, experienced an F 3 tornado in their hometown in Massachusetts.  From their explanation, it seems that there wasn’t much organization or leadership in their town relative to supporting volunteers.  If you’ve been in emergency management for a while, you’ve probably experienced this.  There are a wealth of volunteers who want to help in the event of a disaster, but they must be organized and supported.  Often times local governments either don’t have the resources to deal with spontaneous volunteers or simply don’t want to – they may not want the trouble, the liability, or would prefer that another organization, often times someone like the American Red Cross, to deal with them.

The main trouble is that most jurisdictions don’t plan for volunteer management.  A volunteer management plan is a plan that should absolutely be part of the Comprehensive Emergency Management Plan (CEMP) of any jurisdiction.  Yes, not for profits often times do take on this role, especially with a localized disaster and if they have the capability to do so, but in the event of a regional disaster they simply don’t have the people to dedicate to this task – and it’s not something that’s easily done or simply managed.  The bottom line is that local jurisdictions are responsible for taking care of their people, and this is one more way to make it happen.

The O’Neill sisters, learning from their home town experiences and leveraging their educations and other experiences, eventually put together a company called  They have applied simple but effective methodologies to manage resources, including volunteers, in the event of a disaster.  They have traveled across the country applying their system and seem to be quite successful in doing so.  One of the things that encourages me the most about them is that they advocate community preparedness.  They know that for any system to reach its potential of effectiveness, it must be integrated into preparedness efforts, not just show up after the disaster.  It seems they have a product and service that can be applied to any jurisdiction and would work well with existing structures, like a VOAD, and with volunteer management and recovery planning efforts.  The information on their website indicates that they are busy helping communities impacted by Hurricane Sandy.  It’s great to see local efforts and innovation in emergency management!  Best of luck to Caitria and Morgan O’Neill.

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