As surely as disasters and emergencies happen, citizens will try to help in any way they can. Some international approaches to working with spontaneous volunteers favour a highly centralized, top-down approach that expects all volunteers to conform to emergency management organization and procedures, while others insist that emergency managers should work within the bottom-up emergent social structures that form in the wake of disaster.
Spontaneous volunteers challenge the emergency management community to re-think its approach to disaster response and recovery. This briefing explores the opportunities and challenges presented by spontaneous volunteerism and offers recommendations for designing a community-focused volunteer framework. The Canadian emergency management community will need to grapple with six critical issues to design a more productive, coordinated approach to spontaneous volunteers: mutual trust, leadership and authority, risk and liability, mental health, skill matching, and retention.