It is possible that this is a question that has never occured to you. In fact I’d be willing to bet that the number of people who have ever asked this question is incredibly small. That said, if you are reading my blog I would say there is a high chance you have asked that question or something quite like it.
I must accept my share of responsibility for any confusion. I am on the core team of Standby Task Force and I’m part of a group trying to get VOST adopted in the UK. Sometimes (often) I conflate the two in talks.
In an attempt to help here is my, entirely personal, view about what the differences (and smilarities) are.
The things we have in common
SBTF and VOST are not the same but there certainly are similarities. Indeed during the SBTF recent deployment to Nepal we worked closely with the VOST community and many VOST volunteers worked alongside SBTF volunteers and brought valuable skills and experience.
In both cases you have groups of people online monitoring social media in emergency situations and providing reports or maps to help responders on the ground get to the right place to help the right people.
The things that make us distinct.
SBTF is a global network of digital humanitarian volunteers. Essentially we offer to produce maps, databases or other information resources for humanitarian agencies following natural disasters. We can be activated by any humanitarian organisation and their request is tested against our activation criteria.
VOSTs are smaller and more focused teams. They typically exist to extend the capabilities of a local emergency management organisation. The organisation(s) they support will have a good understanding of the team members and will include them in training and exercising.
Though VOST team members are typically not paid for their work on VOST there is no reason why a VOST could not made up of paid team members. In fact one of the things we are exploring in the UK is the idea of training comms teams in the various organisations involved in emergency response to form VOSTs. In that model VOSTs could be formed entirely from paid staff.
There are no paid roles in SBTF and though it is possible that, one day, SBTF might employ a small support team. The strength of the SBTF is in the huge numbers of volunteers able to bring a wide range of skills and work around the clock around the globe it will always be a global volunteering endeavour.
Though each VOST is locally focused and (compared to SBTF) small, there is a global network of VOST teams. They try to follow a common framework and workflows. That makes it easy to scale the response with volunteers from other teams. The VOST(s) are always given tasks and directions for the emergency management organisation(s).
Scale of incident.
SBTF’s activation criteria starts with this statement:
SBTF typically activates in a humanitarian emergency declared under the International Charter Space & Major Disaster (disasterscharter.org), or in a political situation that may lead to a major humanitarian disaster.
SBTF will not activate for a winter flood event in Herefordshire, UK. If we had a Herefordshire (or West Mercia) VOST it almost certainly would activate for a winter flood event.
VOSTs bring local knowledge and expertise which really enhances their ability to rapidly sift information and turn it into intelligence.
SBTF volunteers are typically working around an area they have limited experience of (though one of the many great things about the SBTF network is that we almost always do have some volunteers with local knowledge).
What do you think?
As I say, these are my personal opinions. I’d really like to hear from SBTF and VOST folk about whether I’ve missed things, misconstrued things or, even, hit the nail on the head.