Deployment Basics for Volunteers

Deployment Basics for Volunteers

This course provides basic training for volunteers deployed
to disaster areas.

Upon completion of the course you will be able to do the following:

  • Describe the basic concepts of emergency management.
  • Perform pre-deployment preparations.
  • Follow check-in procedures for volunteers.
  • Demonstrate cultural sensitivity when communicating with people of other cultures.
  • Perform all personal responsibilities required of volunteers.

Medical crew assist resident in need of medical attention



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About Us

Who we serve

During an incident, we service and assist a wide variety of groups and individuals. These groups include:

  • The American public
  • Disaster survivors
  • State, tribal, territorial, and local governments.
  • Community and volunteer organizations.

Understanding Emergency Management

National Incident Management System (NIMS)

NIMS is a comprehensive approach to incident management that provides a national framework for all levels of government, the private sector, and nongovernmental organizations to work together to respond to any type of incident.

Incident Command System (ICS)

ICS is a standardized approach to handling an emergency response, where multiple agencies understand the necessary roles as well as speak the same "emergency response" language.

It consists of a standardized organizational structure, designed to enable effective and efficient domestic incident management.


ICS chart


ICS is designed for efficiency

Remember, ICS is a management system that consists of an organized structure, and is designed to enable effective and efficient domestic incident management. 

Following these ICS Principles will ensure you help the response succeed.

  • Take direction from your immediate supervisor only.
  • Do not self-deploy.
  • Respect the chain of command.
  • Report all critical information.
  • Stay aware of potential hazards.
  • Submit all required reports on time.
  • Expect changes in supervisors.
  • Ask for help when needed.

Federal response role

When an incident occurs that exceeds or is anticipated to exceed State, tribal, or local resources, the Federal Government may provide resources and capabilities to support the State response.  The Federal Government maintains a wide array of capabilities and resources that can be made available upon request of the Governor.

Federal response has a number of specific goals when activated for an emergency, including:

  • Save lives
  • Ensure basic human needs are met
  • Public health and safety
  • Temporary shelter
  • Critical resources (food, water, ice, etc.)
  • Restore critical infrastructure
  • Utilities, telecommunications, transportation
  • Protect property and the environment

Emergency Support Functions (ESFs)

list of Emergency Support Functions

ESFs are a best practice used by the Federal Government and many States as the primary method to organize groups, agencies, and even private sector partners to provide assistance.

ESFs are organized groups of government and private-sector entities that provide personnel, supplies, facilities, and equipment.

Some state governors have added additional functions, which may include:

  • Military Support
  • Public Information
  • Volunteer Donations
  • Law Enforcement and Security
  • Animal Protection and Agriculture

When the Federal Government Gets Involved

Major Disaster Declaration Process

There is a four-step process for an emergency to be declared a major disaster. Once a Presidential Declaration has been issued, the federal government begins its involvement in the response.

Knowledge Check: Which of the following is true about emergency management in the U.S.? Select all that apply.

  • The Incident Command System (ISC) is a standardized approach to emergency management in which multiple agencies work together with assigned roles and speak a common emergency response language.
  • The Federal Government immediately gets involved in any disaster response without the need for local or state officials to request assistance.
  • In addition to saving lives, protecting public safety, and ensuring basic human need are met, the Federal Government response also rebuilds homes and businesses, rescues pets, and provides some comforts.
  • Emergency Support Functions (ESFs) are made up of organized groups, agencies, and private sector partners that provide personnel, supplies, facilities, and equipment during a disaster response.

Pre-Deployment Information

Know before you go

During the initial deployment call

Find out all of the following:

  • The job assignment
  • Length of deployment
  • Information about the destination: address, contact person, essential phone numbers, reporting time, and directions
  • Travel, lodging, and transportation arrangements made through your agency travel office
  • Attire required at the site, as well as clothing appropriate for the season and climate
  • What meals, if any, are provided
  • Costs you may incur and reimbursements,
    if any

Educate Yourself

Avoid unpleasant surprises

Find out as much as you can about the site before leaving:

  • Search the web for maps and directions.
  • Consult the weather forecast for area.
  • Review news reports.
  • Request an online situational report from the agency contact.

Go Prepared

Red Cross Ready to Go bag

Prepare a Personal Go-Kit

If you're going to be deployed for any length of time, especially in a major disaster, you'll need some basic supplies. The Volunteer Deployment Packet you will be issued contains a complete list of items you might need.

Here are some of the basics:

  • Cash or traveler's checks. Lack of power and other services can make it difficult or impossible to process credit card transactions. Take small denominations because making change for large bills might be difficult.
  • Food and water for 72 hours. Uncontaminated food and water may not be readily available.
  • First aid kit. Be prepared for minor injuries.
  • Medications you take. Take enough for the duration of deployment. You might not be able to get prescriptions refilled.
  • Clothing. Make sure it is appropriate for the site, conditions, and weather.
  • Personal hygiene products. Have a supply of your daily use items.
  • Sleeping bag and pillow. Comfortable lodging or bedding may not be available.
  • A comfort item. Take something to help you relieve stress during deployment, like your favorite book, a photo, or anything else that will help you take your mind off things.
  • Other necessary items. During the information gathering process, find out what site- or situation-specific items you will need.


Never assume you'll find these items at your destination

Knowledge Check: Which of the following types of information should you gather before deployment? Select all that apply.

  • After-hours entertainment options for volunteers
  • How long you will deployed
  • Location of restaurants near the site
  • The specific location of your work site
  • The date and time you should report
  • Type of clothing you should wear
  • Weather forecast for the area you will work
  • What your job assignment will be
  • Whether electricity is available in the area

Knowledge Check: Which of the following items should a go-kit contain? Select all that apply.

  • Clothes
  • First aid kit
  • Food and water
  • Laptop
  • Portable TV
  • Toothbrush


The Check-in Process

Check in upon arrival

The following steps must be completed on arrival, and should be completed in the order listed. Download the checklist below and use it to follow check-in procedures at the site. 

Volunteer Check in Procedure

Communicating Across Cultures

Important tips for cross-cultural communication

  • Avoid metaphorsSpeak in clear, simple language.
  • Avoid over-simplification of termsIt could appear insulting.
  • Do not repeat yourself louder or slower
    Reword your thoughts if someone does not understand.
  • Ask the listener to repeat instructions in their own words. This way you can be sure they understand.
  • Show concern. Acknowledge cultural differences without bias and try again.
  • Be careful with gestures and behaviors. 
    Some could be considered offensive or inappropriate.
  • Do not tell jokes about cultural groups, age, or gender.

Knowledge Check: Place the following check-in steps in the order in which they should be completed. Click on and drag each item to change its place in the list.

  • Check in with the Human Resources Unit Deployment Support Staff.
  • Check in with your disaster supervisor for orientation.
  • Complete check-in procedures at your duty station to obtain additional information.
  • Complete appropriate Federal waiver forms.
  • Report to the Logistics help desk to obtain requisition for accountable property and network access.
  • Obtain authorization for accountable property from your supervisor.
  • Locate your assigned work space.

Knowledge Check: Which of the following scenarios demonstrate proper intercultural communication? You may select one or both.

  • While working in the disaster area, Roberto encounters some Vietnamese immigrants who speak very little English. When they don’t understand his questions, Roberto tries to help them understand by slowing his speech, pronouncing each word syllable by syllable.
  • Mary is a nurse deployed to a disaster scene. Many of the people she is treating have limited English proficiency. After instructing them on caring for their wounds, she asks each person to repeat the instructions to her to make sure they understand.

Personal Responsibilities

Your Emotional Health

What you could see

While on deployment, you may encounter loss of life, serious injuries, separated families, and destruction of whole areas. This stress can be harmful to your emotional health.

What you could feel

Typical reactions can include:

  • Profound sadness, grief, and anger
  • Not wanting to leave the scene until the work is finished
  • Overriding stress and fatigue with dedication and commitment
  • Denying need for rest and recovery time

Take steps to relieve stress for yourself and your fellow volunteers

For yourself

  • Schedule frequent breaks.
  • Maintain hygiene, drink plenty of fluids, and eat good food.
  • Prepare yourself for what you will see and do.
  • Don't feel guilty about distancing yourself mentally from the suffering of individuals.
  • Participate in a critical event debriefing with trained people from your supporting unit ministry and/or behavioral health/combat stress control team.
  • Consult the Incident Stress Management Team for help coping.

For your team

  • Keep humor alive.
  • Have your team get together for mutual support and encouragement.
  • Help buddies or subordinates in distress by being a good listener.


Be accountable for all your actions

Accountability is important to protect lives and safeguard taxpayer dollars. Be sure to do all of the following:

  • Comply with travel rules
  • Communicate information
  • Write reports

Recording time and attendance

Throughout your deployment you should:

  • Keep track of your hours.
  • Obtain authorization in advance of any overtime.
  • Report your hours as per your agency policy.

Retain expenditure receipts

Retain receipts for the following:

  • Transportation to the deployment area
  • Card services fees from ATMs
  • Lodging
  • Rental car

Communicating information

Communicating information during a deployment is critical. Effective communication flow helps improve incident safety and allow effective, consistent, and timely decisions.

Badge Security

Displaying and safeguard badges

Badges restrict incident scenes and response recovery facilities to authorized individuals and teams. Follow these procedures to protect your badge:

  • Wear your badge above your waist at all times.
  • Remove or cover your badge when you leave.
  • Report all lost of missing badges to Security.

Protecting Personal Information

Protect your own information

As in any work location, you should take precautions while deployed to protect your personal information. Safeguard your information by taking the following steps:

  • Never leave valuables out the in open.
  • Report any missing property.
  • Report strangers or personnel who are acting suspiciously in your work space.

Protect the confidentiality of others

Applicants for disaster assistance are protected by the Freedom of Information Act and the Privacy Act.

You may NOT:

  • Provide the names of applicants to reporters who are seeking to interview disaster survivors.
  • Verify that a specific individual has applied for assistance.
  • Discuss the status of a specific individual's application.
  • Discuss any information about fellow employees.

Knowledge Check: Which of the following statements about emotional health during deployment are true? Select all that apply.

  • Many volunteers insist on remaining at the scene until work is completed, even if that means working while fatigued.
  • Seeing destruction in an area with which they are not familiar or have no connections does not have a great impact on the emotional health of volunteers.
  • Volunteers should focus only on their individual emotional health in order to maintain the emotional health of the team.
  • When stress begins to affect your team, it is important to use humor to help relieve stress and ease emotional pain.

Knowledge Check: Which of the following personal responsibilities are volunteers obligated to fulfill? Select all that apply.

  • Assist anyone who needs to speak with disaster assistance applicants in finding them.
  • Keep receipts for all deployment-related expenditures, like travel, lodging, and meals.
  • Leave all communication to those assigned to those tasked with communication duties.
  • Maintain a record of all hours worked and report them according to your agency’s policy.
  • Report any strangers or suspicious actions in your work area.
  • Wear your badge at all times, whether during your work shift or after hours.


Check-Out Process

Download the Demobilization Checklist below to make sure you follow all the steps in the demobilization process.

Your Volunteer Deployment Packet contains additional information about demobilization.

Demobilization Procedure

Knowledge Check: Which of the following are part of the demobilization process? Select all that apply.

  • Complete unfinished business and reports.
  • Make your return travel arrangements only after completing all work at the scene..
  • Notify the Incident Commander or designated representative prior to leaving the scene.
  • Turn over all unfinished reports to your replacement before leaving the scene.
  • Notify your home unit that you have returned upon your arrival home.