Postgraduate Dissertation

Spontaneous Volunteers: Can their informal participation be managed to support and official UK emergency response?


People arriving at a disaster informally, often in large numbers, who are willing to help are known as spontaneous volunteers. They are often first to assist the affected community and can be a vital resource to the emergency responders. Spontaneous volunteers are not part of the UKs emergency response framework and their inclusion has not been given the recognition it deserves. Competencies, accountability, coordination and ‘not needed’ are cited as barriers to their participation. This research investigates impacts spontaneous volunteers can have in an emergency response with focus on the perspective of the emergency responders. It compares the frameworks of the USA’s Federal Emergency Management Agency as they actively include spontaneous volunteers and the UKs framework that does not. The research found that spontaneous volunteers were not a significant problem to the emergency responders as it was the invited third sector organisations who were tasked to manage them, even though they have found this can be a problem. However, as disasters change in scope, size and nature it is important research to find a system for more resources to be utilised and included in emergency planning. Spontaneous volunteers are one of these resources. This research took place during COVID-19 where spontaneous volunteers wrote themselves into history particularly for their invaluable support of the NHS in administering the vaccine program. It is hopeful the government will now consider spontaneous volunteers’ inclusion as a resource when updating their policies in emergency preparedness. Building on this knowledge the research offers mobile data apps as a possible solution to help the ERs manage spontaneous volunteer participation remotely and remove the burden from the third sector organisations. Primary research was conducted through a questionnaire which prompted a quality response from participants in the USA and UK actively engaged in emergency planning and practises.

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Walsh, Susan


Rights Holders: Walsh, Susan
Supervisors: Piquard, Brigitte

Oxford Brookes departments

School of Architecture

Degree programme

MA Development and Emergency Practice



© Walsh, Susan
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