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Operation Lifesaver debuts new volunteer management system

(Source: Operation Lifesaver press release, December 3, 2013)

ALEXANDRIA, Va. — Following months of technological investment, Operation Lifesaver, Inc. (OLI) has unveiled a new system to recruit and manage its volunteers, who provide rail safety and anti-trespassing education to professional drivers, schools, new drivers and other community groups around the country.

The journey to become an “Operation Lifesaver Authorized Volunteer,” or OLAV, starts online, at

“From our traditional corps of railroad employees to rail fans to businesses that employ drivers to regular citizens who want to make their communities safer, OLAV is open to everyone, and it’s open for business,” said Wende Corcoran, OLI vice president, who shepherded the program from its infancy.

After completing an online application, people who want to become OLAVs attend an online training called the “The AVE,” for Authorized Volunteer Education. It’s self-paced and available 24/7 but must be completed within 30 days. After completing The AVE, the appropriate OL state coordinator conducts an in-person or videoconference meeting with the new recruit. From there, the new authorized volunteer can conduct safety presentations, volunteer on safety trains, work at exhibit booths and volunteer in other capacities.

OLAVs will have access to an extensive digital library of OLI-approved rail safety education materials – videos, e-learning programs, flyers, posters, brochures and other media – to deliver to audiences of every demographic. These include OLI material suitable to elementary, middle and high schoolers, adults, new drivers and professional and school bus drivers.

“We’re designing new OLAV materials to be used in person with volunteers, or to be independently viewed online by anyone,” said Corcoran. “Operation Lifesaver’s core safety messages are embedded in the materials volunteers use. That means whether a volunteer is leading a safety meeting for professional truck drivers, or someone is simply viewing a brochure or fact sheet on our website, everyone gets the same consistent message about navigating rail crossings safely and the importance of staying off rail property outside of a designated crossing.”

The volunteer recruitment push comes on the heels of a challenge by OLI’s board of directors to reach more people in coming years and make it easier for people to access rail safety education.

“Through our educational programs, we’ve typically reached just shy of 3 million people annually,” said Joyce Rose, president and CEO of OLI. “Impressive for our small, but mighty group – but that’s still less than 1 percent of general population. We knew we had to leverage technology and media to reach more people. We also need more volunteers teaching rail safety, particularly among teens and young adults who are overrepresented in rail-related collisions, injuries and fatalities. Who better to get that message from than your peers?”

A recent United Way research report revealed that chief among the problems nonprofits face in managing volunteers is effectively measuring the impact of volunteers’ contributions. OLAV overcomes this challenge with a fully integrated online dashboard, through which volunteers report the hours they spend on volunteer activities, as well as the numbers and types of audiences they are reaching. Moreover, state coordinators are charged with keeping track of even social media hits that result from volunteers’ efforts. In addition, state OL programs annually recognize their volunteers, and every other year an outstanding volunteer receives the national F. Tom Roberts Memorial Volunteer Award.

“We took special care in balancing a need to recognize volunteers for all they do with not overwhelming them with bureaucratic processes,” Rose said. “Our reporting procedures for OLAVs ensure they get the credit they deserve for educating people about rail safety through a quick, easy-to-understand online interface. We know that Operation Lifesaver simply couldn’t exist without the work of our volunteers.”

Traditional OL certified presenters have until the end of 2014 to become OLAVs and get oriented to the new program. If you want to become an authorized volunteer or have questions about the OLAV program, send an email to or call 1-800-537-6224.

Wednesday, December 04, 2013

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