TNO Workshop on Civilian-Professional Cooperation

In times of crisis civilians help themselves, each other and professionals. They are not just helpless victims. The question is how to make the best of this potential workforce of spontaneous volunteers? Dutch research organisation TNO held a workshop with representatives from Dutch Safety Regions* and Municipalities; the Netherlands Red Cross and scientific organisations to explore this topic.

People from different communities shared their past experiences and visions for the future and discussed how platforms such as COBACORE could help to unite communities in the aftermath of a crisis. Participants gathered into three groups during the workshop to discuss opportunities for civil-professional cooperation. Three themes were addressed, with some interesting conclusions.

1) Activities that civilians can perform to help crisis recovery

In everyday life, disaster preparation is not a prime concern for civilians. Still, they are more than willing to participate in small-scale activities such as a following a first-aid course or joining a neighbourhood WhatsApp group. Professionals should harness this enthusiasm to strengthen community engagement in disaster recovery among civilians.

Workshop participants also recognised that civilians often become engaged through acquaintances that are registered volunteers (e.g. Red Cross volunteers or through other networks). These networks are therefore an important source to strengthen community engagement. And professionals should capitalise on these assets by providing training to citizens to get a better view of their capacities for suitable roles.

2) The information exchange needed between civilians and professionals

Professionals should convey the message to civilians, prior to a disaster taking place, that they cannot take care of everything. They should pass information on to civilians that enables them to participate in the recovery of their own community. This message should be communicated in an appropriate manner to the sections of the community who are most receptive to it, in order to improve mutual expectations and ensure that civilians are better prepared for disasters.

3) Rules and responsibilities needed to streamline this cooperation

It seems contradictory to think in terms of rules and regulations when drawing on spontaneous civilian initiatives. Establishing a framework within which volunteers can safely and actively engage with existing recovery initiatives clearly conveys that a crisis is not only the responsibility of the professionals. If the actions of spontaneous volunteers in the aftermath of a crisis stay within clearly communicated frameworks, then professional responders do not need to waste energy instructing civilians in what they can and cannot do.

Workshop participants were inspired by listening to the experiences from colleagues in the field. The thought-provoking discussions on the day made it apparent that civilian-professional cooperation is a very complex challenge for the institutionalised Dutch Safety Regions, which rely greatly on standing operation procedures.
They urged COBACORE researchers to outline practical guidelines and concepts that are recognisable for both professionals and civilians. This will become a focal point for the remainder of the COBACORE project.
*A Safety Region is a cooperation of the public management of villages and towns, regarding crisis and disaster management within this region. There are currently 25 safety regions in the Netherlands.