Understanding the Role of Staff during Disaster Deployment and Recovery

Abstract: 

During disaster recovery, having a set of best practices already in place can save lives. This practice presents key points to consider when assigning responsibilities to program staff as outlined by the Center for Mental Health and Safety. Excerpted from the document Operation Blue Roof and Beyond: Protocol on the Deployment of AmeriCorps Teams for Disaster Recovery, the practice is based on the experiences of Florida State Parks AmeriCorps' deployment in response to Hurricane Charley in 2004; however, it is intended as a reference for any AmeriCorps program or other volunteer organization, and can be modified for relevancy in any disaster situation.

Issue:

To most effectively fulfill their duties, staff members must fully understand their role and responsibilities during a disaster recovery mission.

Action:

The most important preparation for staff is to appoint one person to be in charge for the duration of the mission. Also recommended is a second in charge, in case the lead is absent or has other business to attend to. In the case that multiple AmeriCorps programs are deployed to the same relief area, one of the program staff should be designated in charge of deployment and coordination so as to disseminate information effectively. If one particular program has the skills necessary to provide the recovery more so than other programs, a staff member from that program should be designated in charge and then delegate other pertinent leadership roles to other program staff. It is essential to the mission that pertinent information and expectations be communicated among all program staff.

It is important that each staff person take supervisory duties seriously, and that they are held accountable even though there is one staff person designated in charge. Staff is responsible for on-the-ground supervision for the AmeriCorps teams while they are serving on their assigned task and also at the camp or hotel where they are staying. It's also recommended that at least one staff meeting be held for each week on deployment. The following outline from the Center for Mental Health and Safety provides key points to consider when assigning staff responsibilities.

Effective Management Structure and Leadership

  • Clear chain of command and reporting relationships.
  • Disaster orientation provided for all staff.
  • Shifts no longer than 12 hours, with 12 hours off.
  • Briefings provided at beginning of shifts as staff exit and enter the operation.
  • Necessary supplies available.
  • Communication tools available (e.g., cell phones, radios).
  • Full-time disaster-trained supervisors and program director with demonstrated management and supervisory skills.
  • Clear and functional organizational structure.
  • Program direction and accomplishments reviewed and modified as needed.

Clear Purpose and Goals

  • Clearly defined intervention goals and strategies appropriate to assignment setting.
  • Community needs, focus, and scope of program defined.
  • Periodic assessment of organizational health and service targets and strategies.
  • Staff trained and supervised to define limits, make referrals.
  • Feedback provided to staff on program accomplishments, numbers of contacts, and other outcomes.

Functionally Defined Roles

  • Staff oriented and trained with written role descriptions for each assignment setting.
  • When setting is under the jurisdiction of another agency (e.g., Red Cross, FEMA) staff informed of their role, contact people, and expectations.
  • Job descriptions and expectations for all positions.
  • Participating disaster recovery agencies' roles understood and working relationships with key agency contacts maintained.

Additionally, staff should be assigned to supervise at least one of the teams. Staff needs to be responsible for making sure the project is running smoothly and adequate support is provided.

Outcome:

A thorough understanding of roles and responsibilities during disaster recovery missions can not only reduce the stress level of volunteers, staff, and members, but can help save lives. According to an evaluation given to AmeriCorps members deployed during Hurricane Charley, over half of the respondents stated that they believed that on-site leadership was effective, and almost half of the respondents stated that the information regarding the mission was relayed effectively.

For more information:

Website: Florida Service, Preparedness, and Response Coalition (SPaRC)

Citations: Burr, D. (n.d.). Operation blue roof: Protocol on the deployment of AmeriCorps teams for disaster recovery

 

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