Tag Archives: Morgan O’Neill

The Accidental Volunteer and Donations Management Coordinators

Post by: Kim Stephens

Photo via masslive.com

Caitria O’Neill received a degree in European Studies from Harvard, studied in Paris and Moscow and is proficient in four languages. Her sister, Morgan O’Neill, is pursuing a doctorate at MIT in Atmospheric Physics, but is also an EMT-B and volunteers for a local ambulance service.  Neither of them has a background in emergency management, yet,  these woman became the defacto volunteer and donations management coordinators for Monson, Massachusetts in June 2011 after an F3 tornado struck their hometown and a string of communities in the south west of the state.

In the aftermath of the disaster, they found their way to a local Church that became the community relief center. Caitria told me that they learned early on about the challenges they would face.  It was June and hot, so any ice they had was melting. Her sister was  interviewed by a local reporter who asked what they needed and she blurted out “freezers!” About 20 donated freezers later, Caitria realized that when you ask for items after a disaster there is a strong likelihood that you will get them–in duplicate. They needed a way to match needs with people’s desire to give, as well as a way to let people know needs had been met, and they needed it immediately. As you might imagine these two young woman are quite resourceful, so with no prior knowledge of VOADs, ESFs or spontaneous volunteer management, they built a technical solution they now call recovers.org. Recovers has turned into a full-fledged business venture for these women along with an equally impressive group of MIT and Harvard grads rounding out their team.

Their solution

One of their goals is to provide software and support to recovering areas immediately after an event. Speed is an important element because they have found that donations for small local disasters, especially those that do not get national press attention, dry up after a very short period of time. For most of us in the emergency management community often our biggest concern is the thought of unsolicited donations or volunteers, but donations are vital to recovery. As an example of how interest declines,  Forney, Texas recently used this software after the April 3, 2012 tornado. The site was up and running immediately and received 19,000 page view in 4 days, with $30,000 in online donations. After day 4, however,  there was a precipitous decline in online searches for opportunities to donate and subsequently, in site visits. As an important side note: 100% of all resources collected on the site go to the community. 

One of the items that they felt important to include, based on their experience in Monson, was the ability for volunteers to log their service hours through the software portal, which can also be done on the mobile phone and tablet application. Other handy features:

  • Volunteer remote sign-up
  • Donation item remote sign-up
  • Social media content aggregation
  • Easily searchable resource databases
  • Aid matching
  • Detailed record keeping

I don’t often blog about specific products, even though I am asked to do that on a regular basis. This tool, however, struck me as something interesting since it also demonstrates the resilient nature of our communities as well as the profound brilliance and creativity of young people to solve thorny, complex problems….if we let them! I like this statement on their website:

“There are simple tech solutions to the problems common to every recovery effort. By addressing the systemic problems in current organization with smart technology solutions, we can achieve maximum impact at minimum cost.”

 Indeed we can.

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