By Shaun Koopman, Protective Services Coordinator – Strathcona Regional District email@example.com. Shaun Koopman is a Protective Services Coordinator for the Strathcona Regional District. Shaun is also the Editorial Assistant for HazNet.
Quadra Island is the largest and most populous of the Discovery Islands, with 2700 year round residents. It is located between Vancouver Island and the mainland coast of British Columbia. Throughout August 2016, I conducted 8 face-to-face interviews with senior Quadra Emergency Program (QEP) volunteers. This process was complemented by a similar electronic questionnaire with 8 other QEP volunteers. The questions focused on (1) volunteer recruitment strategies, (2) if the participants felt their community was resilient and, (3) what inspired them to join the QEP.
Back in 2007, Quadra Island had no emergency program, no trained volunteers, and not one designated reception centre. Fast forward to October 2016. QEP now has over 100 Emergency Support Services volunteers, 14 Amateur Radio Operators, and an emerging – but flourishing, Neighborhood Emergency Program. From 2007 to 2016 the QEP averaged 2,200 volunteer hours per annum. In less than a decade a “black hole” of emergency preparedness emerged into a resilient community. What happened in between? What inspired this community to become resilient?
The QEP began in 2007 when Eileen McKay took an ESS Reception Centre course through the Justice Institute of British Columbia. She immediately recognized there was an urgent need for an emergency program on Quadra Island given the island’s rural and isolated nature. Eileen recognized the recruiting talent that her good friend Judy Hagen possessed and Eileen laid down a challenge to Judy: to recruit 100 volunteers for the QEP. For the first year, Eileen targeted volunteers with specific talents and Judy became an ESS instructor in order to teach the new recruits their Level 1 and Level 2 courses.
Volunteer Recruitment Strategies
Quadra’s volunteer recruitment strategy consists of two components. The first is the Welcome Wagon. When newcomers move to the island they receive a $150 gift basket that includes information about the Quadra Emergency Program as well as emergency information relevant to Quadra Island. 25% of QEP’s volunteer base was recruited from the Welcome Wagon. “We moved to this new community and the information provided by the Welcome Wagon allowed us to connect with a group and meet new people in our new home” stated Neighborhood Program Coordinator Karen Bailey. This initiative was started by QEP’s Emergency Support Services Director Judy Hagen in conjunction with the Quadra Island Chamber of Commerce. The Welcome Wagon plays a huge role in recruiting people to the emergency program.
The second component is targeted volunteer recruitment. 60% of the QEP’s volunteers were specifically targeted by either Eileen McKay or Judy Hagen. “In a small community you can target people because you know their backgrounds” Eileen explained. Very rarely does the QEP host an open house style volunteer information session. 13 out of the 16 volunteers that were interviewed listed either Judy or Eileen as the key influence that inspired them to become part of QEP. During Eileen’s interview she reiterated the importance of Judy Hagen’s unique abilities as a recruiter, “Judy has the rare ability to identify the right person for the job and is not threatened by that person’s education, abilities, skills, knowledge, possibly being greater than her own.”
A Resilient Community?
All sixteen QEP volunteers expressed that they felt their community was resilient. The sense was that Quadra Island attracts a pool of self-reliant individuals who can act in an emergency without needing the additional resources and infrastructure that is available in an urban setting. These people tend to be caring and possess a sense of responsibility towards others. This community spirit is common in rural communities.
Why the Program is Successful with Volunteer Recruitment and Retention
Many of the volunteers attributed the grassroots bottom-up management style as the key attribute that is responsible for QEP’s success with recruiting and retaining volunteers. Amateur Radio Operator Frank Wallace feels that the QEP leaders are “Willing to delegate and listen to suggestions. There are quite a few strong characters in the core group who would be unlikely to stay if they had not found a niche that they could run without interference.”
Conclusion: Lessons Learned
In small communities, volunteer program leaders are in a better position to target and recruit volunteers that possess the skills and abilities that the program requires. However, every program needs a leader “with the gift of gab” to help promote the program. A handful of passionate, motivated individuals can play an incredible role in increasing their community’s level of resilience and preparedness. The key lesson for the Emergency Coordinators that support these programs is to find these potential champions, give them your support – and most importantly, trust in them by providing them both the freedom and flexibility they require to run the program. On Quadra Island this philosophy inspired the community to become more resilient.