Should Background Checks Be Required for Emergency Volunteers?
This is a great article asking the hard question whether disaster volunteers need to have background checks before being allowed to act on behalf of the disaster relief organization. Though the article specifically questions it’s applicability to CERT (Community Emergency Response Teams) this is something that all volunteer organizations should think about because of possible vicarious liability.
Basically, vicarious liability is when one person/organization is liable for the harm caused by someone else. Right now no states require volunteer organizations to do background checks, but many have passed statutes making the background checks more available.
Though government entities can be protected by something called “governmental immunity”, it won’t necessarily prevent a lawsuit every time. More importantly is that if the volunteer organization is sued, then it could very easily bankrupt that organization and detrimental to a community.
This issue gets even harder when considering organizations rarely have time to do background checks on spontaneous volunteers. Spontaneous Volunteers are those who appear during or immediately after a disaster or emergency to help and are not part of a regular trained or certified volunteer pool.
On one hand, if you do background checks on everyone, you have a “checked” volunteer pool, but since you spent a ton of money (about $20 or more each) on background checks, you can’t pay for CPR or First Aid Training and don’t have enough money to purchase equipment. On the other hand if you have all sorts of training and equipment, but someone who didn’t have a background check does something (like steal or intentionally hurt a disaster victim) the entire organization loses credibility.
This is a really hard issue to resolve with many legal as well as public policy factors to consider.
Read Brittany Shammas’ full article here: http://www.emergencymgmt.com/disaster/Should-Background-Checks-Required-Emergency-Volunteers.html