The changing landscape of disaster volunteering: opportunities, responses and gaps in Australia

Abstract

There is a growing expectation that volunteers will have a greater role in disaster management in the future compared to the past. This is driven largely by a growing focus on building resilience to disasters. At the same time, the wider landscape of volunteering is fundamentally changing in the twenty-first century. This paper considers implications of this changing landscape for the resilience agenda in disaster management, with a focus on Australia. It first reviews major forces and trends impacting on disaster volunteering, highlighting four key developments: the growth of more diverse and episodic volunteering styles, the impact of new communications technology, greater private sector involvement and growing government expectations of and intervention in the voluntary sector. It then examines opportunities in this changing landscape for the Australian emergency management sector across five key strategic areas and provides examples of Australian responses to these opportunities to date. The five areas of focus are: developing more flexible volunteering strategies, harnessing spontaneous volunteering, building capacity to engage digital (and digitally enabled) volunteers, tapping into the growth of employee and skills-based volunteering and co-producing community-based disaster risk reduction. Although there have been considerable steps taken in Australia in some of these areas, overall there is still a long way to go before the sector can take full advantage of emerging opportunities. The paper thus concludes by identifying important research and practice gaps in this area.

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Acknowledgments

We thank the Bushfire and Natural Hazards Cooperative Research Centre for funding this research in conjunction with the Centre for Risk and Community Safety at RMIT University. The authors also wish to thank the many end users who have generously given their time, knowledge and experience to the “Out of Uniform: building community resilience through non-traditional emergency volunteering” project. Our gratitude also goes to two anonymous reviewers for their valuable feedback on an earlier version of this paper.

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McLennan, B., Whittaker, J. & Handmer, J. The changing landscape of disaster volunteering: opportunities, responses and gaps in Australia. Nat Hazards 84, 2031–2048 (2016). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11069-016-2532-5

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Keywords

  • Disaster management
  • Disaster volunteering
  • Volunteers
  • Resilience
  • Volunteer strategies
  • Spontaneous volunteering
  • Digital volunteering
  • Community-based disaster risk reduction (CBDRR)