Friday, August 21, 2015

Integration of volunteers and public: organisations and communication channels, possible functions, procedures

People affected by an extra-ordinary public health challenge (EOPHC), e.g. in situations of mass emergencies or disasters, cannot be reduced to the status of (passive) victims or to irrationally acting or panicking crowds. Even a well-prepared and coordinated Health Emergency Management System (HEMS) cannot control or anticipate the dynamics resulting from the decisions, actions and reactions, needs, demands and perceptions, as well as of the healthcare-seeking behaviour of people affected by an emergency.  In a mass emergency, uninjured, slightly injured, even some seriously injured survivors, their relatives present on-scene as well as bystanders or witnesses do not passively wait for (external) emergency assistance and the arrival of first responders. They take actions on site and move to hospitals nearby or even further away. This behaviour adds even more challenges to the health system and requires flexible adaptations in the health response.  Furthermore, events resulting in an EOPHC do not only have adverse effects on the health status of a community, but may - even temporarily - increase feelings and acts of solidarity and incite collaborative attitudes, contributing to disaster resilience. 

For a long time EOPHC-management focussed only on the organisation of formal responders, as reflected by the concept of command and control, e.g. by the Incident Command System (ICS). However, the integration of the activity and reactions of the community, as a fully equivalent stakeholder in emergency management, is of increasing importance.
In this respect, a wide variety of issues needs to be considered, including:
  • reactions, activities, means and needs of persons directly involved or indirectly affected (e.g. family and friends of casualties), which cannot be ‘commanded’ by a formal hierarchy (including healthcare-seeking behaviour and psychosocial aspects)
  • potential and challenges of the mobilization of (untapped) resources: material and equipment as well as human resources incorporated in the formal response and as emergency support functions, including the role of NGOs[1], volunteers, community workers and lay caregivers
  • community as potential source of information with respect to damage assessment, search and rescue priorities, evolving risks, etc. (e.g. crowd sourcing approach using mobile electronic applications and social media)
  • general public and targeted populations at risk (PAR) as crucial actors with respect to risk control and public health measures (evacuation, shelter, social distancing, etc.)
  • influence and pressure of public opinion and perceptions on policymaking and response
  • approach of increasing community resilience, as an essential factor of impact mitigation and vulnerability reduction (absorbing, buffering and local response capacity)
  • aspects of public relation, information and communication, including dealing with traditional press and mass media, as well as the challenges of new forms of social media and internet
Based on the above, IMPRESS has produced a report which elaborates the involvement of the people affected my mass emergency, a description of the reactions and activities of the community directly and indirectly affected in emergencies and the principles of resilience, based on the review of scientific literature. The role of traditional press and mass communication media is presented, with respect to emergencies, as well as the challenges and potential of new social media, the use of mobile applications and other software and possibilities for crowdsourcing. A wide spectrum of societal factors needs to be considered, including disaster vulnerability and social disparities as well as ethical values and principles of rights, equity and justice. This is part of a broader vision of disaster reduction, linked to sustainable socio-economic development, environmental stewardship and community resilience, and the involvement of communities, ordinary citizens and people exposed or potentially affected. 

  If you want a copy of this report, please sent an email to

[1] Non-Governmental Organisations

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