Let me tell you about how CVNL simultaneously helped two county governments provide disaster relief during one of the worst fires in California’s history.

The Offices of Emergency Services in Napa County and Marin County each have the responsibility to protect their residents when disaster strikes.

This responsibility includes managing people who spontaneously volunteer to help, which is a common occurrence that emergency officials frequently view as problematic since these people can get in the way and complicate situations that are already dangerous.

In the middle of the night on October 10, 2017, fires started blazing in Napa and Sonoma Counties. Thousands of Napa County residents fled their homes and many ended up at the evacuation center and shelter at Napa Valley College. About thirty miles away, thousands of Sonoma County residents escaped from the fires by driving south to the nearest safe location, which for many was Marin County. Local emergency officials in Napa focused on fighting the fires and safely evacuating residents, while officials in Marin concentrated on sheltering and caring for 700 people for an indefinite period of time.

While evacuees sought solace in emergency shelters, an innumerable number of volunteers spontaneously showed up, wanting to lend a hand in the response efforts. These people ranged from those who heard of the fires and felt a strong compulsion to help, to people who evacuated their homes with only their clothes and their cars. They lined up at the shelter doors and anxiously tried to find ways to contribute.

CVNL staff are trained experts in managing spontaneous volunteers, including vetting them and placing them in positions that will do the most good. In Napa and Marin, CVNL stepped in and concurrently led two Emergency Volunteer Centers that registered 14,000 spontaneous volunteers and deployed 3000 of them to provide direct support to thousands of evacuees. Volunteers served directly in the evacuation centers and shelters without incident. In Napa the volunteers went the extra mile by helping a couple celebrate their 68th wedding anniversary with a party and cake. In Marin the volunteers brought in educational providers like the local children’s museum, prompting one child to say she was so happy that she wanted to stay as long as possible.  

After the fires were eventually put out, CVNL was recognized for the exceptional way that it managed Emergency Volunteer Centers in two locations at once.

CVNL knows what effectively disaster volunteering looks like, and how valuable spontaneous volunteers can be when they are coordinated professionally.

We are committed to helping local government leaders engage volunteers at all times, even when disaster strikes.


Special thanks to Elaine Tokolahi, Director of Volunteer Services, for sharing her story.