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Giving Compass' Take:
• Researchers found helpful ways for response teams to manage volunteers in the wake of a disaster.
• How can this help inform future response plans to disasters? How does volunteer management play a role in disaster relief and recovery?
• Read more on how to engage volunteers after a natural disaster.
“Assigning volunteers after a disaster can be difficult, because you don’t know how many volunteers are coming or when they will arrive,” says Maria Mayorga, corresponding author of two studies on the issue and a professor in North Carolina State University’s Edward P. Fitts department of industrial and systems engineering.
“In addition, the challenge can be complicated for efforts, such as food distribution, where you also don’t know the amount of supplies you will have to distribute or how many people will need assistance.”
The researchers used advanced computational models to address these areas of uncertainty in order to develop guidelines, or rules of thumb, that emergency relief managers can use to help volunteers make the biggest difference.
The most recent paper focuses on assigning volunteers to deal with tasks where the amount of work that needs to be done can change over time, such as search and rescue, needs assessment, and distribution of relief supplies.
“Essentially, we developed a model that can be used to determine the optimal assignment of volunteers to tasks when you don’t know how much work will be required,” Mayorga says. “For example, in relief distribution, there is uncertainty in both the supply of relief items and what the demand will be from disaster survivors.
The researchers found that a simple policy that performs well is the “Largest Weighted Demand (LWD) policy,” which assigns volunteers to the task that has the most work left to be done. In this case, work is prioritized by its importance. For example, fulfilling demand for water is more important than fulfilling demand for cleaning supplies.
However, the LWD and LQCT rules of thumb don’t work for all tasks.
In fact, the researchers found that the rules of thumb that make sense for volunteer tasks where you don’t know how much work will be required are actually a bad fit for tasks with clearly defined workloads—such as clearing debris after a disaster.
Read the full article about managing volunteers by Matt Shipman at Futurity.