Managing Volunteers

Managing Volunteers in Emergency Shelter Managing volunteers is often overwhelming. Using an online sign up system like Sign Up Genius can be a HUGE help. It allows you to send people to a website to volunteer and everyone can see which shifts are open. You can collect information (like medical license numbers) to do credentialing and send lists to Public Health as needed. You can also message groups of people easily with updates as conditions change (like a shelter is closed).

It is ideal to have someone in a location with wifi, computers and a printer communicating with volunteers via email, making sure that shifts are filled, and verifying medical licenses are active. Then each day, they print out the schedule of who is volunteering and bring it to the shelter. When volunteers arrive, the lead clinician checks photo ID to ensure that volunteers are licensed.

Sign Up!

Here is a link to a SignUp Genius template for medical staffing in an evacuation center. We would be happy to share this premade template with you, but you will need to have a Sign Up Genius account first. If you want your site to be ad free and capable of creating spreadsheets you will need to sign up for a paid subscription. After you create an account, contact us and we will send you the template.

It can also be helpful to have people join a web based chat groups such as Slack (if you have cell or wifi coverage) so you can communicate with volunteers about needs and changing conditions.

Having volunteers sign up with the Disaster Healthcare Volunteers (DHV) or Medical Reserve Corp (MRC) provides limited liability and workers compensation to volunteers and may offer access to electronic records thru the PULSE system.

When schools close due to disaster, many health care workers have no one to take care of their families. This app helps facilitate shared childcare arrangements and can dramatically increase your volunteer pool. Download App

Don't Forget about Mental Health

During disasters everyone is stressed. Don't forget to check in with other volunteers about their experience of the disaster - you just may find that they have been evacuated too. We all need Trauma Informed Care during these times so remember to Emphasize Safety, Rebuild Sense of Control, Accentuate Strengths and Resilience.

Here is a link to the 6 principles of trauma informed care. Website

Strongly encourage volunteers to download and review the Psychological First Aid App which walks them thru trauma informed care. Download App

Roles and Responsibilities

Medical Team Point Person - It is important to have a medical team point person stationed at the desk for each shift (could be a provider or nurse), ideally who has been at the shelter for at least 1 prior shift and is comfortable with the systems there. This person's role is to field questions, delegate tasks, facilitate huddles, communicate with shelter leadership, EOC, the behavioral health team, the staffing team running SignUp Genius, and orient each shift. This person should carry the designated phone for that station.

It works best if this position is held by 2-3 core people and at least one of them is present from 7am–9pm. We recommend that the medical point person attend a daily shelter site leadership meetings to increase communication and awareness of larger shelter operations and needs. You may need to initiate this meeting by talking to the shelter manager, facilities person, and any other organizations such as the county or red cross that have a stable presence in the shelter.

Nurses and Provider Roles and Stations - This staffing description is for a large shelter with a medical area in the same room. If you have a separate "clinic" and direct observation area, then the triage and intensive nursing will happen there:

  • Medications/Central Station - Have one nurse stationed at the desk in charge of dispensing medications and talking to patients who come up to the desk with questions. This nurse should become familiar with the available supplies and medications and keep record of what supplies are needed.
  • Triage - Have one nurse and one provider ready to help with triages as they come to the desk and to help with calling any needed prescriptions into pharmacies.
  • Shelter Area Teams - Divide the shelter into smaller more manageable areas (quadrants if one large room, or distinct rooms if they exist). Designate a nurse and a provider to each of these areas. Over the shift, each nurse/provider should be responsible for assessing and checking in with every person in their area. This doesn't necessarily mean checking everyone's vitals as this is not a hospital setting, but the team should get a sense of who is in their area and if anyone has medical or mental health needs arising. If there are known medical needs (ie dispensing medication, helping with blood sugar checks, etc), these should be done.


We found that it was critically important to have a thorough sign out at every change of shift, particularly because there are new volunteers every shift that need to learn the systems and this is a different environment than most are used to.

Sign Out Structure - The medical point person from the shift coming OFF should lead the orientation. Use the SignUp Genius list to check IDs of the team that is coming on as they arrive.

Gather the team of providers/ nurses/ MAs and students together. Have everyone introduce themselves, any connection they have to the area and the disaster, and how many shifts they have done at the shelter.

Orient the team to basics of the shelter (how many people are there, different areas they are located in) and overall process and structure as outlined above. Discuss expectations for each of the roles. Direct the whole team to where to find resources, materials, important contacts, emergency equipment (AED, narcan,) etc.

Rounding - Encourage people to actively talk to everyone in the shelter at least once a shift. Often the people lying on the cots with the blanket over their head are the most likely to need help.

Communication - Make sure everyone has the phone numbers for the medical team point person. (These should be on the wall for people to take photos of.)

Assignments - Designate specific areas of assignment (as outlined above) for each of the providers/ nurses and send them to the appropriate area to get sign out from the shift leaving. Use the sign out form to discuss any to-dos or people you are concerned about. Visibly point out each of the evacuees you are concerned about (because sometimes people can be difficult to locate and identify within the shelter).

Mid Shift Huddle - During the busier day shift, we suggest having a mid-shift huddle with the entire team to touch base, see if any new systems need to be developed or tasks delegated.