The Standardized Volunteer Management System For Public Health & Medical Emergency Response & Recovery

An increasing number of healthcare and other professionals are committing themselves to voluntarily assist during emergencies and disasters. This helpful behavior can help to close the critical personnel gap that prevents adequate medical and public health surge capacity and capability. It is therefore incumbent upon the professionals in charge of preparedness to have an effective system in place that can screen, process, accept, effectively deploy, and out-process the volunteers. More importantly, they must be prepared to manage and support volunteers by establishing a system that will:

  1. 1. Address their health and safety during response
  2. 2. Achieve the best possible match between incident personnel needs and qualified volunteers
  3. 3. Provide professional supervision as indicated
  4. 4. Receive volunteers and explain if they are not needed, and
  5. 5. Maintain a mechanism for recall if their services may be of assistance as the incident evolves.

Addressing the many issues associated with properly managing volunteers is a complex set of tasks that cannot be over-simplified. This is especially true for the management of spontaneous health and medical volunteers who may be placed in trust positions (1) requiring advanced credentials. At the same time, the complex tasks can be systematized to minimize personnel necessary for volunteer management, and to assure that all aspects of volunteer supervision and support are addressed.

The George Washington University Institute for Crisis, Disaster, and Risk Management (ICDRM) has developed a standardized Volunteer Management System (VMS) that clearly addresses these complexities. The products of this project incorporate the tasks of successful volunteer management and promote effective and efficient integration of public health and medical volunteers into incident response.

This model VMS is specifically designed to address the screening, processing and support of volunteers (2) who may be assigned to response and recovery positions across the range of public health and medical tasks required during an incident. The VMS may be expanded and configured as needed to meet any volunteer personnel requirements in a specific medical or public health incident. It may also be adapted and used as a tool for the management of jurisdictional employees assigned to non-traditional public health and medical tasks. Finally, it may be adapted to a generic VMS for all volunteers. In the current model, the system description and concept of operations are developed to be standardized for any type of volunteer, while it is only the tools that have been adapted to address the specifics of health and medical personnel requirements.

A companion electronic Volunteer Management System (e-VMS) is being finalized to enhance the efficiency of operating the VMS. This proof of concept project clearly demonstrates that an electronic system can be developed that closely mirrors the paper system. Its electronic processing of the volunteers’ data, the incident information, and the VMS management forms should markedly enhance the utility of the VMS during an incident. This was demonstrated during a recent beta test of the e-VMS, conducted with experienced public health and general volunteer management personnel. The e-VMS prototype will be available later this year.



 1   A trust position is defined as one in which the assigned personnel are performing high-consequence activities, especially if they are performed in a relatively independent fashion. Examples include a surgeon who is operating without direct supervision, or a public health advisor who shapes response policies or procedures.

 2   A volunteer, as used in this model, is defined as a person agreeing to provide service outside the scope of his/her employer and/or employed position, without additional or specific compensation for this voluntary commitment. This differentiates the volunteer from personnel who provide service as part of their job position in an assigned resource. An individual offering or providing this service is a volunteer even if the volunteer's time is compensated through his/her usual employer and employment rate.