By Ali Asgary, Associate Professor, Disaster & Emergency Management, York University (

During major disaster and emergency events significant number of individuals known as Spontaneous Volunteers (SVs) offer or provide labor in an unplanned fashion. The pool of the SVs has been expanded in recent years to include not only the traditional SVs but also the digital SVs who provide their time remotely through the cyberspace. SVs play a critical role in responding to major disasters, particularly when the emergency managemnet agencies are overwhelmed. For example, SVs played a significant role during the 2013 flooding in Calgary and Southern Alberta, 2014 shootings in Moncton and Ottawa, and 2016 wildfire in Fort McMurray. However, optimum use of these great resources has been a significant challenge that exist in Canada and other countries. Reviews conducted after some of the recent Canadian cases reveals that in most cases tracking, coordinating, and directing SVs are challenging which may limit the effective use of these potential resources. The current COVID-19 pandemic once again brought the spontaneous volunteers into the spotlight. 

To study, address and find effective solutions for these challenges and opportunities, Dr. Ali Asgary and Professor Ken McBey from the Disaster & Emergency Management (York University) in partnership with the NGO Alliance of Ontario (Steve Elliot) and the City of Brampton’s Office of Emergency Management (Alain Normand) are working on a Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC) funded project titled “Spontaneous Volunteers Management during major emergencies in Ontario communities”. The main aim of this project is to study spontaneous volunteers during major emergencies to develop a spontaneous volunteer management system and application that can be used by Ontario communities and relevant agencies. 

As part of this project a questionnaire survey has been designed and approved by York University’s office of research ethics. We invite all emergency managers in Ontario to participate in this very important and timely study by completing this questionnaire. As a professional emergency manager, your insights, experiences, and opinion about how to use an integrate spontaneous volunteers in existing emergency management structures are very important. We very much hope to incorporate your collective knowledge into the development of a ‘spontaneous volunteer management system’.

To participate in this study please go to this link that is hosted in York University’s ArcGIS Online organizational account.

The findings of this study will be published in OAEM websites.

Thank you all for your hard work during this demanding pandemic situation and for your attention to this study.

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