In honour of National Volunteer Week, Volunteering Australia has released a report providing evidence that volunteers are essential to Australia’s crisis resilience.
Volunteers: Australia’s backbone in times of crisis
With flooding, fires and the ongoing impacts of the pandemic, the past few years have undoubtably been tough for all Australians. Holding us up in these times of crisis are over one million volunteers supporting Australia’s crisis resilience, of which more than 400,000 work directly in emergency response and relief. Our nation’s volunteers are the country’s backbone during crisis and emergency.
A new report reveals volunteers are essential to Australia’s crisis resilience. The Volunteering Australia research examines the volume and breadth of volunteers playing crucial roles in communities during natural disasters and COVID-19 outbreaks. This resilient and skilled workforce includes over 200,000 volunteers in fire services organisations and around 25,000 volunteers in State and Territory Emergency Service.
A further 200,000 volunteers are engaged in over 1,000 registered emergency and relief charities. On top of this, many thousands of often ‘invisible’ volunteers help informally and spontaneously to support communities before and after crises.
Mental health and suicide prevention services are especially critical during major emergencies, including the COVID-19 pandemic. For example, Lifeline engages 10,000 volunteers across Australia. In 2018, these volunteers answered 739,481 calls and initiated 5,840 emergency interventions for Australians in need of crisis support.
The volunteer hours that have supported Lifeline’s crisis helpline increased from just under 20,000 per month in 2019 to around 24,000 per month in 2021, peaking at 25,682 in August 2021. These numbers illustrate the crucial role volunteers have played in supporting the mental health of Australians during the pandemic.
This report aims to highlight the breadth and diversity of volunteering activity that contributes to ‘crisis resilience’ in Australia.
The term ‘crisis resilience’ refers to the capacity of communities to undertake prevention, preparedness, response and recovery activities in relation to any major crisis, such as natural disasters, public health crises and environmental emergencies.
– Volunteering is a fundamental component of Australia’s crisis resilience, facilitating social connections, contributing to the development of social capital, and improving access to local supports and services.
– Volunteers support crisis resilience by contributing to prevention, preparedness, response, and recovery activities. These contributions include:
- Response and recovery during natural disasters.
- Essential service provision, including food relief, the delivery of essential goods, and social connection.
- Supporting the response to public health crises (for example, assisting at vaccination clinics during the COVID-19 pandemic).
- Mental health support.
- Suicide prevention and crisis intervention.
- Environment and wildlife protection.
– Available data indicates that Australia’s crisis resilience is supported by well over one million volunteers.
– Volunteers support crisis management across local and state/territory government services, through major charities and not-for-profits, and directly through informal community groups or online platforms. However, support and planning for volunteer involvement is not consistently included in national crisis management frameworks.