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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!

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