A Guide to Availability Management

Best Practice Guide

Availability management challenges in volunteer disaster and emergency response

For response agencies, coordinating the availability of emergency personnel is operationally critical to delivering services effectively. As incident managers will attest though, it’s really not that simple. A whole host of complicated factors make availability management structurally difficult for organizations to achieve, especially for agencies heavily reliant on volunteer resources.

Though fulltime staff members figure heavily in emergency response, it’s not uncommon to find organizations, like rural fire services, with career staff to volunteer ratios in excess of 1:130. And indeed, those statistics rarely account for informal or spontaneous volunteers who converge on emergency sites, often even before established organizations can arrive.

This class of informal volunteer emergency worker can provide critical first responder help, usually search and rescue, first aid, damage and need assessment. But because they tend to lack pre-established relationships with emergency managers, informal volunteers also pose clear operational risks. Dispatchers, for one, often can’t verify their trainings or credentials and are, therefore, unable to accurately match their volunteer skills with service areas.

In addition to these capability-related operational challenges, organizations face a whole host of other availability management challenges, whether dealing with fulltime staff members, long-term, formal volunteers, or spontaneous, unaffiliated emergency workers.

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