Volunteer Management

Volunteer Management

A. Staff

Within search operations, “staff” are considered to be any person (usually volunteers) directly involved in the operations aspect of the search. Generally, staff do not go out on search teams except in special cases, although some staff may start off as a searcher and then move into a staff position.

There are two primary methods by which you will acquire staff; the first is by doing pre-planning for any future search. In this scenario, staff are identified and trained prior to a search, and form an on-call ‘go team’ that is ready to respond when needed. A great way to to do this is through local community groups or organizations. This is one of our perfered methids and if your organization would like training please contact us and let us know.

The second, and more common, method is to acquire staff from the group of people that show up to volunteer, usually in response to appeals for help. At the start of a search operation, this may involve asking the first 6-10 people if they would be willing to help at the search center rather than go out looking. Because some training is needed for staff positions, it’s a good idea to confirm that these individuals can be available for at least several hours or longer so you do not have to constantly train new staff. Our experience has been that 60-65% of trained staff stay for extended periods and return multiple times. Getting and keeping staff volunteers often comes down to getting to know them quickly, giving them a complete explanation of what they would be doing, and reinforcing why it’s a vital part of the goal of finding the missing person.

In previous Search Center sections, the identified areas tied into the staff functions. As with everything in this manual, how many or how much you depends on the size of your search, but the basic method of acquiring and utilizing volunteers remain the same. Consequently, this remainder of this discussion focuses on the tasks, functions, and tools used to accomplish each staff role.

B. Volunteer Registration

This is a core function of any search effort. One of the primary reasons for a coordinated search center operation is to maintain records of who did what, when, and where. This provides a clear record of the entire operation and provides information that may be vital to Law Enforcement. (See Records Keeping and Law Enforcement).

As part of our system, we do require several pieces of information from every volunteer. Currently, these are Name, Address, (Volunteer) Type, Date of Birth and ID#. We also require a cell phone number for anyone that will be assigned as a search team leader. An optional email field can be used to send updates on the current search or future call-outs. Some additional details are created and captured automatically by the web system such as time created, which user made an entry, and a change history for each.


In the DSP system there are two methods to complete the registration process; Direct Entry and Custom Form.  You can use whichever you prefer or makes the best sense, depending on your situation.   The data collected is the same.

Direct Entry

For direct entry, you need to be on the Volunteers table and have the Registration Verify / Briefing view selected. To enter data, scroll to the empty row at the bottom of the table in the upper section or select any entry and use the keyboard combination “Shift+Enter” to create a new row.

Once you have a blank row simply work across the line filling it out. You will not need to enter anything into the first field as it will populate based on other entries as you proceed. Some fields, such as the “Type” field, provide a drop-down list of choices. For example, the “Type” field offers Staff, Communications, Special, Team Leader, or Team Member. In most cases, a volunteer will begin as a Team Member and this can always be updated later as needed. In a larger search, you may use other types such as Communications, Media Relations, LE Liaison, etc.

The Volunteer ID# must be verified by a Staff Member to confirm that it matches the record entry. You do not have to worry about the Briefed, Check Out, Teams, or Assigned Fields at this point.

Registration Entry

Volunteer Registration Form

Before we begin this section it is important to note that though the form is very user-friendly, a Staff Member must verify all information by entering it in the database manually or checking it. To use the form, first select the Volunteer Registration Form view. Do not fill in the form yet. Click on the Share Form button. Once you have the link it can be shared to allow volunteers to complete the forms themselves using on-site computers or cell phones. You will not want to publish the link outside of the search center as you only want persons actually on scene ready to assist to register.


For efficiency & speed, you can have the volunteers register themselves or multiple staff registering and one staff verify ID’s. Once the volunteer information has been entered then a Staff Member must verify the information and ID# once that is done the staff member can check the box labeled ID Verified which will move the entry from that section automatically. You do not need to worry about the lower grouping with ID Checked off as it will be used in Briefing.

Check In / Out

It’s important to keep track of the current status of volunteers. Knowing who is available, assigned, or has left saves time and encourages efficient resource utilization. In order to assist with this goal, it is best to require that all volunteers “check out” when they leave. There is a Check / Out table which has a grouping based on In / Out status. This is created as a separate table to allow volunteers to check in and out multiple times throughout an incident over many days if needed. You can expand of close any grouping in any view by clicking on it.

Check In ViewWhen a volunteer registers or checks in you will create a new entry by using the “Check in” view on the Check In/Out table. You will only need to select the volunteer by searching name, and then input the time by clicking in the “Check In” field and selecting “Today”

Check In

If necessary, you can adjust the time to the correct entry as needed. We discuss how to use the Assigned field is created in another section, this field should automatically show “Assigned” or “Returned” based on team status for any team they have been assigned. Note that if someone has been entered into the system for a long period of time and not recently marked as assigned you may want to try and determine if they have left. There are several ways to do this, such as calling them, contacting the last team leader for their assigned team, and more. Some of these will be covered later in Advanced Tips.

When checking out a volunteer you will use the “Checked In / Check Out” view and look for the correct volunteer. you then only need to enter the “Checked Out” field

The Check In / Out station also may check in teams when they return from a search. More details of that are in the Debriefing section.  You should notice that the table also computes the volunteers total time. This is also connected directly to the volunteer record and will track over all periods checked in.

Volunteer Holding

Though this area does not require staff, you may have someone assigned to it in a larger search operation. If a search grows to be quite large you often will get donations of snacks, water, and supplies that may be in this area. It’s nice to try and assign a staff member to manage these. It’s also good to check on the volunteers to make sure they’re okay and answer any questions they may have.