Sarah 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?
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!
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.