Convergent volunteers are unsolicited volunteers who spontaneously offer help following an incident, emergency or disaster. They ask to be used when the need exists and expect to return home when their work is done. They may never show up again, or alternately, may come back in response to the next disaster. They do not expect to be paid.
How agencies utilize convergent volunteers will vary. Many turn them away enmass as they are not setup to handle them. Others may use then out of sheer necessity. Some may have a program set up.
To the volunteer it is difficult for them to understand why they may be turned away when they think that their skills can be of immediate use. For example, after an earthquake people with a backhoe or a crane may show up offering their services without charge to move fallen structures. When turned away they often get very upset as they seldom are told why.
There are several valid reasons.
- No program in place to handle them in the proper manner to protect both the volunteer and the agency.
- Legal constraints unique to an agency or jurisdiction such as states where there are specific response agencies stated in the law.
- Inability to handle the situation at the time.
- Lack of training in agency needs, protocol and such factors.
In communications, Amateur Radio operators who show up at an agency without having been requested (or authorized under an existing plan, such as ACS or RACES) are convergent volunteers. It is not infrequent that these “self dispatched” Amateurs have caused significant problems and caused agencies to discontinue the use of any volunteers. A better way is to become part of an pre-trained emergency communications unit, which provides for recognition and familiarity with agency protocol and its need.
EMC035 – Convergent Volunteers, Originally published: July 8, 1996