Screening Tool for Disaster Volunteers

Screening Tool for Disaster Volunteers

The Disaster Relief Volunteer (DRV) Screener website

When the Sichuan earthquake struck in 2008, more than one million volunteers were reported to have flocked to the scene to offer their help. That outpouring of support, however, brought its own logistical problems and burdens, prompting Dr C. Harry Hui, Associate Professor of Psychology, to wonder what could be done about it.

"One of the concerns is that the people coming to a disaster scene may not have the ability to help. I'm a social psychologist and an organisational psychologist and we have expertise in helping organisations select employees for jobs and promotions. I thought, why don't we shift what we have learned and applied to business organisations to disaster relief work," he said.

The result was the Disaster Relief Volunteer (DRV) Screener, a questionnaire to assess the psychological suitability of users to the physical and emotional stresses and strains of disaster relief work.

"We selected a few psychological characteristics that we thought were essential for someone to cope - the ability to be resilient in a stressful situation, be flexible and adaptable," he said.

The assessment model was tested on people who had volunteered in Sichuan to determine its effectiveness in identifying appropriate candidates, while also acknowledging that the nature of their contributions and the timing of their involvement (whether they contributed to early rescue work or later relief work) could have an impact.

Once the model was shown to work, Dr Hui and his team disseminated it to a wider audience to help NGOs in Mainland China and Hong Kong screen people for this work.

With support from the KE Fund, a webpage for the DRV Screener was set up and promoted through social media sites such as Facebook and Renren. NGOs and government bodies expressed interest in the screener, as did some commercial companies and HKU's Centre of Development and Resources for Students, which used it to assess students volunteering in underdeveloped countries where they may experience difficult physical conditions.

"The irony here is that we don't want the DRV Screener to be used that often," Dr Hui said.

The Screener is in Chinese and targeted at a Chinese-speaking audience, who are presumed to be the catchment for volunteers. However, it also has wider importance because it is the first psychological screening tool of its kind developed for disaster relief work.

The website address is http://www.psychology.hku.hk/disaster/.