graphic celebrating humanity road fifth year anniversary

Volunteer Spotlight – Alice McGowen

Alice McGowen
Alice McGowen is living proof that everyone can give back in their own way. She’s housebound, but works hard online to fight disasters around the world. She runs our DAFN Team – Disability, Accessibility, Functional Needs. They help uniquely vulnerable people, like homeless or the elderly, to prepare for and escape disasters. She was our Disaster Responder of the Year in 2014, helping with 96 events.

First, tell us about yourself, and about your day-to-day role at HR.

I live in a small town in Illinois. And I have volunteered in different ways most of my teen and adult life. My main day-to-day work with HR is monitoring for disasters that might be happening around the world. I am also the Team Leader of the DAFN team. I am always looking for ways to help educate the population to be prepared for before, during and after disasters. I also help when needed with the animal teams of HR.

How and why did you first volunteer with HR?

Since I could not get out and volunteer anymore due to health problems, I started learning about computers. One day I was surfing the web, and I ran across a post from Robin (S. Smith, another volunteer) that there was this group called Humanity Road. It was a great group that was looking for more volunteers, and all you needed was a working knowledge of a computer, and you could work from home. And that sounded just like something I might be able to do!

So I got ahold of Cat(herine Graham), and she started teaching me about Twitter and Facebook. And this turned out just right for me. It helped me to feel like I was worth something again to society, and like I had something to offer. Plus, I now have a wonderful extended family from all around the world!


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

Gosh; since I joined, we have had a lot of big long activations! I think I will remember the Nepal Earthquake the most. Just the magnitude of destruction, and how long it took for so many to get any help. And then looking for the needs of the DAFN population – there was a leper town that needed so much help, but no one wanted to go and assist. It really showed me there is a need for what we do, and that we need to get the word out about these especially vulnerable populations.

Tell us more about DAFN. What would you like people to know about your work? What do people need to know about DAFN populations in the event of a crisis?

When I first joined HR, I joined as a member of the [Animals in Disaster] Team, because I love animals. But the more I was involved in disasters, the more I saw an information void for the disabled and other populations: kids, pregnant women, homeless, etc. So I talked to Cat about my concern. I started the whole DAFN idea, and we came up with the #DAFN hashtag, so that these people would know how to find info during a disaster.

And since I have a Service Dog, I also try hard to include tips and information about Service Dogs. They need to stay with their owners in shelters; they must not be separated.

Lately, I have observed that the elderly/disabled need to evacuate immediately, before the official notice if possible. This would’ve helped in the CA fires.

I have seen that people who lack transportation to evac should be registered ahead of time, so officials will know about them and be able to help them.

The shelters themselves must be accessible for those with mobility problems. They need to be stocked with oxygen, extra wheelchairs, and other emergency items that people might be unable to take with them. This is another place having a registry would really help.

Finally, service dogs must be allowed in shelter with their partner/owner; this is a federal law which is overlooked most of the time. So people who have service dogs end up staying outside, or not evacuating at all. This neglect leads to unnecessary loss of life.

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

I guess one reason I enjoy doing this type of work is that all through my life I have had to be on the side of the ‘taker’. So I love to give back when I can. I have never had riches, so I can’t donate money. So I give of my time. Now that I am house-bound, I have nothing but time, and it comes from my heart.

I try to live by a saying of Mother Teresa: “I can do no great things – only small things with great love.” The first time I got to help someone on the other side of the world, it was the best feeling I ever had.

I have sometimes been asked why I put in so many hours. All I can say is that I hope that if I was ever in need of help, that no day or night, weekend or holiday, there would be someone out there that would see my post. So how can I turn my back on someone else?

Anything else you want to mention about your work with HR which we haven’t already covered?

Just that if anyone is looking for a place to do some volunteering, that Humanity Road is the best group I have ever been with. It is made up of the most compassionate and caring people I have ever met. And there is a place for everyone here, and all types of jobs to do. And that the Administration handles their share of the workload. It is one big family, all different but working for one thing: that everyone has a chance to be prepared and rescued in times of disasters.

Awesome. You’ve actually answered the final question I had planned already, so I think that’s it for today.

Thank you so much Josh!

Thanks for your time!


Alice helps safely evacuate those who might otherwise be left behind. Between that and her day-to-day assistance with urgent events we’re monitoring, I’d say Alice has used her home rest well.
Until next time, and our next volunteer’s story!

graphic celebrating humanity road fifth year anniversary

Volunteer Spotlight: Sarah Hunn

Sarah HunnSarah Hunn is a Humanity Road road worker, so to speak. She develops disaster-response exercises. She writes and sends sitreps full of much-needed info to aid organizations on the ground in major disasters. And she gleans lessons from previous disaster responses, so we can respond to future disasters more efficiently. She was our project lead for CAUSEIII, a cross-border disaster-response information-sharing exercise with our hockey-loving northern neighbors.



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

I live in beautiful Victoria, British Columbia. My educational background is Emergency Management; I’ve got my fingers in a few pies, trying to get enough experience to make it a career. I do a lot of behind-the scenes-work at Humanity Road. You won’t always see me in the disaster-response Skype windows, but I’m working on Disaster Desk Procedures, After Action Reports, and some other small projects. I’ve lead a couple exercise design teams – those are probably my favourite. It allows volunteers to be creative, so they end up having a lot of fun with it!

So, how did you get started with Humanity Road?

I’m always scouring job boards to try and get my foot in the door. Last summer, I happened across a Humanity Road internship posting. After meeting Cat, Chris, Aline, and Robin, I knew this was an organization I wanted to be involved with. I didn’t end up applying for the internship, but I’ve been volunteering ever since.

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

To date, I’ve probably put the most hours into Cyclone Pam in Vanuatu. My official title for the activation was Reporting Assistant – I upload our sitreps to APAN and ReliefWeb, as well as find other useful reports on those sites. I also helped fill out and format our sitreps [which we publish daily for other aid orgs to coordinate during a major disaster.] We just published the After Action Report for Pam. I helped by putting together surveys for the volunteers, compiling data, writing recommendations, and some general formatting. I’m the go-to girl for tables of contents around here!

What’s the most interesting and/or helpful organizational insight you’ve gleaned from studying our various disaster responses?

I think it’s how fast we can respond, and how dedicated our volunteers are. We’re always the first ‘on the scene’ because we’re all virtual. For storms such as hurricanes and cyclones, we have a bit more warning to prepare and schedule volunteers. But even for the Nepal earthquake, everyone was working in Skype right away, and HR published one of the first situation reports on the disaster (if not the first). Nepal was also a good example of how well the self-directed approach works with volunteers working 24 hours a day around the globe. I could come into a Skype window at any time of day, and find people updating the sitrep or helping with the crisismapping project.

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

One of my closest friends was in Vanuatu during Cyclone Pam. The whole time I was safe at home working on the activation, I was worried about her. All of the people we are helping are someone else’s loved ones. Sometimes it’s easy to remove yourself when you’re sitting on your couch in your pajamas searching for medical aid in Twitter. Remembering there’s a real person on the other end makes it harder to give up and sign off.

True. It’s easier to help a real person than it is to keep working on an abstract humanitarian effort.

Sometimes it makes it more stressful, but the payoff is worth it. And you’re never alone. There’s always another volunteer plugging along right next to you.

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

I’m sure it’s been said many times before, but it probably can’t be said enough: Humanity Road volunteers are amazing. Our All-Hands meetings are my favourite, because you get to catch up with volunteers all over the world and find out about these interesting projects they’re working on. Everyone has their own strengths, and it’s great to see how these various passions can be applied to HR’s efforts.

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

Do it.

Even if you only have an hour to spare, it’s worth it and your contribution is useful. Because we’re self-directed, you can find whatever task interests you, and focus your efforts there. Everyone has something to offer, and you won’t find a more welcoming group.

Plus there are always fresh [imaginary] cookies in the [Skype] Café.

What makes us stand out?

Mostly because it’s organized so that everyone can contribute to his/her areas of interest/expertise, and work whenever they’re free. The atmosphere is so genuine and fresh (even though it’s mostly just in Skype windows), and there are always such positive vibes even on grim days.

And of course, it’s such a genuine place to volunteer!

Also, there are always thoughts and plans on how to make things better. Like testing tools, partnering plans, etc. So there is not a dull moment!

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

Imaginary cookies means I get to imaginary exercise 🙂

Thanks Joshua! I’ve never been interviewed before, that was fun. Much less scary than job interviews.

Awesome. Have a good day!

Thanks, you too! You’re welcome!

Joshua Nelson Every productive organization needs behind-the-scenes people, managing and tweaking their operations to get them working juuuust right. Sarah is one of ours. Between delivering quick updates to agencies on the ground and gleaning lessons from our past responses, she helps do the roadwork on our Humanity Road.

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

Joshua Nelson is a freelance copywriter from Virginia, writing pro-bono for HR. Literary champion of JUSTICE! (and stuff) by day, creative nerd by night. To learn more, visit him at his website.