Volunteer Spotlight – 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!