Volunteer Spotlight – Siobhan Champ-Blackwell

Statistics may be boring for many of us. But they’re critical to understanding and improving the effectiveness of any system. Siobhan derives useful insights from Humanity Road’s disaster response statistics.
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Thanks for taking the time to do this interview.

Glad to do it. Thanks for your time!

First, tell us about yourself, and what you do day-to-day at HR.

I’m a medical librarian at the National Library of Medicine. I work in the Disaster Information Management Research Center. We work to organize the health information needed by first responders and [healthcare professionals who treat victims] before, during and after disasters.

I log into Skype for Humanity Road a couple of times a week, and gather the numbers from the Urgent Event windows. In other words, I count the hours [our Skype Disaster Desk] is activated for a response, the number of people who responded, and how many responses there have been. Christoph [Dennenmoser] set up an Excel sheet to enter the data in.

I don’t activate during disasters, as I am busy at work myself!

The data is used by Cat and Chris in their reports for HR, to demonstrate how important and active the volunteers are.

Not a glamorous job. But I take it the numbers you gather are useful to HR?

Yes. You may have seen a post from Cat in the Cafe I think that there has been over 3000 volunteer hours on 118 events this year. That is pretty amazing, and it’s important for potential funders to see that HR is really active, and has a strong volunteer force that stays active all year long
Not glamorous, but it gives me the chance to work at my own pace and at my own hours. And at home- something very important for me! I can volunteer from the comfort of my couch.

It’s also important for the emergency response community to know they can rely on HR. Humanity Road has been asked by international agencies to write situation reports for specific events, because of the amazing work of [our] volunteers.

Someone once told me if you don’t report it, it didn’t happen 🙂 While that is not true for HR – [our] work is very visible on [our] website and Twitter page,-it still helps to have statistics to back it up.

So, how did you get started with Humanity Road?

I wanted to do something with disaster response efforts. I saw a real need in the work I do daily. I manage the @NLM_DIMRC Twitter account; doing that, I saw how vital social media is in disaster response. And I wanted something I could do from home. Humanity Road fit the type of volunteer work I wanted to do, and Cat and Chris worked with me to find a place where I could be useful despite my schedule.

What’s the biggest disaster response or other project you’ve tackled while at HR? How did you personally contribute?

I don’t participate in the response efforts. But every year, I summarize the Excel data sheet for HR. Besides just giving numbers, I try to provide a narrative, and find patterns. For example, so far this year we’ve had 8+ events where we’ve kept the Disaster Desk active for over 100 hours. I say 8+, because who knows how long the current activations will last?!

Mostly, what I do is very humbling. I see people active all night, and they get on again in the daytime. There is such a strong core of folks who are dedicated to this work. I am honored to be counted a volunteer alongside them.

What keeps you going? What’s your humanitarian philosophy?

Hmm. Good question. Every person has the right to care, to shelter, to food. Those of us who are lucky enough to have those things must do what we can to assist those who do not have their basic needs met. I feel very strongly that I am lucky to live where I do, and it’s my obligation to use the gifts I have to help others.

Anything else you’d like to mention about your work with HR that we haven’t already covered?

One thing is that it’s fun! When I get onto Skype, the first thing I do is read through the HR Cafe feed so I can catch up on the jokes, hear about the important events in people’s lives, and share community with the other volunteers. The work is important, but the community is just as important!

What would you say to anyone who’s considering volunteering for HR?

Do it! It’s important work, and you can find a way to fit it into any type of work schedule you have.

Alright, unless you have anything else to add, that should be all.

Great. Thanks Joshua!

You’re welcome. 🙂

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We get stuff done. Don’t just take our word for it; Siobhan writes it down!

Until next time, and our next volunteer’s story!

Volunteer Spotlight – Christoph Dennenmoser

Christoph Dennenmoser

Christoph Dennenmoser gets stuff done. Without further ado:
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Thanks for taking the time to do this interview.

My pleasure! You are doing a great job with the interviews!

First, tell us about yourself, and what you do day-to-day at HR.

As Team Lead for Urgent Needs, my day-to-day activities are preparation and monitoring tasks. Like nearly every volunteer, I am keeping my eyes open for possible disasters. When a disaster occurs, I am concentrating on finding and resolving urgent needs posted in social media. This can be a link or a hint for the disaster victim, pointing them to shelters or other aid resources, or sending information e.g. to rescue services.

So, how did you get started with Humanity Road?

In “real life”, I am an EMS paramedic and disaster manager with the German Red Cross. I also do some public work. When I found out about social media, I first started to check out how I could use them for PR. Then I found out about a summit in August 2010 about the use of social media in disasters, organized by the American Red Cross in DC. I followed the livestream and was amazed. Some days later, a Twitter friend invited me to join Humanity Road. After some days of consideration, I joined the team.

The position of Urgent Needs Team Lead was vacant. Because of my professional background and experience in resolving needs, I took it when I was offered it.

What’s the biggest disaster response or other project you’ve tackled while at HR? How did you personally contribute?

There were several interesting responses. My first activities started with the aftermath of the Haiti earthquake. Among other actions, we were able to organize a power generator for a tuberculosis clinic, and a helicopter transport for a severely sick boy who needed oxygen during the flight.

When Hurricane Sandy approached the US, we got a call from a village at the Dominican Republic that the water was rising to dangerous heights. We were able to refer them to the Search and Rescue there.

The next weeks were very action-filled with the aftermath of Sandy in NY/NJ.

Another awesome experience was after an earthquake struck the city of Van in Turkey. We got some hints from two locations where people were sending messages from under the debris that they couldn’t hear the machines anymore. They asked the authorities to continue their excavation efforts. Through some English-speaking students in Ankara, we reached the local authorities.
These were some very touching moments in the team work efforts.

Awesome work. And you’re rather matter-of-fact about it.

What do you mean?

Describing all this. Just being to-the-point and straightforward about it.

OK, yes. I love facts. 🙂

Just that Germanic efficiency?

Maybe it’s that. 😀

Anyhow, what’s your humanitarian philosophy? What keeps you going?

This sounds a bit weird, but I would like to save the world.

I know this is not realistic, but digital volunteerism is one good way to support it. And as I am not Superman, I am grateful for the awesome team and leadership of Humanity Road.

My grandfather had a quote hanging in his room; it influenced my life too, and can be called a motto. It is from a Catholic priest, Don Bosco. It says: “Being happy, doing good things and letting the birds whistle”. This is somehow my attitude.

Lovely. You’re still idealistic and want to try to help people, despite the devastation you deal with on a regular basis.

I don’t look at it this way. Every emergency is an opportunity to help someone. I am grateful for my job as paramedic. Before that I worked in the sales business. No achieved sales goal could ever make me happy like doing good to others, or looking in the eyes of someone whose life I made a bit better by bringing them to the hospital.

Anything else you’d like to mention about your work with HR that we haven’t already covered?

Yes – through my work with Humanity Road I met a lot of interesting and fascinating people. Many of them in person. So it is not “only digital”. In August, I had my five years anniversary, and I am looking forward to the next five (and more years). 🙂

What would you say to anyone who’s considering volunteering for HR?

Just do it! Even if you don’t know how you can contribute. You will find your area of responsibility – or it will find you.

Alright, unless you have anything else to add, that should be all.

hm, can’t think of anything else right now…

Awesome. Have a good day!

Thank YOU! Enjoy setting it together and thank you for what YOU are contributing!

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That’s Christoph.

Until next time, and our next volunteer’s story!