Developing public disaster communication for volunteer recruitment: understanding volunteer motivations

McDonald, Lynette M. and Creber, Melissa and Sun, Huichun and Sonn, Lindsey (2015) Developing public disaster communication for volunteer recruitment: understanding volunteer motivations. In: Volunteering and communication - Volume 2 Studies in international and intercultural contexts. Volunteering and Communication, 2. Peter Lang, New York, United States, pp. 27-47. ISBN 978-1-4331-2462-4

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Understanding spontaneous volunteers
Spontaneous volunteers who converge on disaster areas play a critical response role, often being first on the scene and typically trusted by victims (Fulmer, Portelli, Foltin, Zimmerman, Chachkes, and Goldfrank, 2007). The term 'spontaneous volunteers' refers to individuals who provide assistance immediately following a disaster (Lowe and Forthergill, 2003). The sometimes overwhelming number of spontaneous volunteers, from both within and outside the disaster-affected community, poses significant challenges for disaster relief and recovery services (Barraket, Keast, Newton, Walters, and James, 2013). Characteristically, as spontaneous volunteers are seen to hinder relief efforts, government and emergency management agencies resist harnessing this workforce (Drabek and McEntire, 2003). Yet these untrained volunteers are integral to accomplishing many disaster recovery tasks (Barsky, Trainor, Torres, and Aguirre, 2007). Indeed, most response work is carried out by community members who are present or nearby during a disaster (Lowe and Fothergill, 2003).

Designing communication that stimulates people to volunteer to assist community recovery efforts in large-scale emergencies is therefore crucial (Palttala and Vos (2011). To most effectively assist recovery efforts, this workforce needs to be instructed on how best to assist and be deployed to areas most needing assistance. In order to effectively recruit and manage this workforce, understanding spontaneous volunteers and their motivations is critical to establishing effective disaster communication plans (Lowe and Fothergill, 2003; Palttala and Vos, 2011). Since disasters often generate powerful emotions and different responses (Beyerlein and Sikkink, 2008), understanding emotions’ role in motivating behavior is important. Although emotion is intensely researched in other domains (e.g., organizational psychology, management, marketing), its influence has received little attention in volunteering and disaster research.

In parallel with volunteer convergence onto physical disaster sites, convergence behavior is now evident on-line (Hughes, Palen, Sutton, Liu, and Vieweg, 2008). In the 2011 Brisbane floods, many individuals used social media such as Facebook and Twitter not only to exchange information, but for coordinating relief efforts (Knaus, 2011). The actual and potential use of social media in disasters has generated intense interest evidenced by a small, but burgeoning body of literature (Alexander, 2013). The use of social media as a method of communication and information exchange has been studied in 2011 Brisbane flood research (e.g., Barraket et al., 2013; Cheong and Cheong, 2011), but investigation of social media used by individuals for volunteer recruitment has only recently attracted research attention (e.g., Macias, Hilyard, and Fremuth, 2009; Jones, 2013). The widespread adoption and use of social media by members of the public during disasters (Alexander, 2013) suggest that social media is increasingly critical to future disaster management and relief efforts. Further, with the increasing use of online social networks in disaster volunteering, it is important to understand how – or whether – social media affects the interpersonal bonds known to influence volunteer recruitment.

Consequently, this research investigates the factors motivating the spontaneous volunteering behavior of the 'Mud Army' following the 2011 Brisbane floods. As anecdotal evidence suggests that many volunteers used social media to co-ordinate volunteering efforts via the extended friendship network that is Facebook, the research also examines the role of social media in volunteer recruitment. This chapter concludes with implications for disaster communication.

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Item Type: Book Chapter (Commonwealth Reporting Category B)
Refereed: Yes
Item Status: Live Archive
Additional Information: No evidence of copyright restrictions preventing deposit of Author version.
Faculty/School / Institute/Centre: No Faculty
Faculty/School / Institute/Centre: No Faculty
Date Deposited: 26 Feb 2016 05:25
Last Modified: 20 Apr 2018 02:10
Uncontrolled Keywords: Brisbane floods, spontaneous volunteers, motivation, emotion
Fields of Research (2008): 15 Commerce, Management, Tourism and Services > 1503 Business and Management > 150399 Business and Management not elsewhere classified
Fields of Research (2020): 35 COMMERCE, MANAGEMENT, TOURISM AND SERVICES > 3599 Other commerce, management, tourism and services > 359999 Other commerce, management, tourism and services not elsewhere classified
Socio-Economic Objectives (2008): C Society > 92 Health > 9204 Public Health (excl. Specific Population Health) > 920407 Health Protection and/or Disaster Response
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