5 Steps to Volunteering After a Disaster

by Susan Evans

After a large-scale disaster or catastrophic event, a common question is “How can I help?”

Instead of rushing to the disaster scene or jumping to volunteer right away, wait a few days or even weeks. Organizations will be in need of your help and they will be better organized and better prepared to find a correct fit for your skills.

Listen to the local media: if they ask you to stay away from the disaster area, stay away. The scene will be staffed with first-responders, law enforcement and trained volunteer workers. Extra people will hinder rescue and recovery efforts and, despite your good intentions, you might put yourself (and others) in harm’s way.

Recovery efforts after natural disasters can take weeks, months, perhaps even years. On May 11, 2008, counties in North and Central Georgia were severely damaged by several tornadoes. One year later, the town was back to normal after months of volunteer workers clearing debris, helping displaced families and rebuilding the town.

If you want to be involved in volunteer or disaster recovery first-responder efforts, consider joining a volunteer group. Contact your local faith-based organizations, nonprofits or even the Red Cross. Many organizations have established networks and training programs specifically for disaster response.

WHN TIP — Advice from Experts: Listen to this podcast for information about the Red Cross classes.

There are also other critical ways to volunteer. Many organizations need people to make and answer phone calls, run errands or complete other administrative duties.

Ready to volunteer?

Follow these steps to make the most of your assistance:

  1. Listen to your local media. Do not head to the disaster scene.
  2. Wait at least 24 hours unless there is a request for immediate help.
  3. Contact your local Red Cross, local faith-based groups or other nonprofit groups in your area.
    • Tell them how you would like to help (donation, blood, your services, etc.).
    • If you are volunteering your time, let them know when and how long you are available (afternoons, a few days, weeks, etc.).
    • Also, let them know if you have any special skills that might be of use (computer, language, organizational, first aid or disaster training, accounting, etc.).
  4. If they do need your help, follow their instructions.
  5. If they do not need your help at the moment, ask if you should call back in a few days or weeks.

Volunteer Options and Opportunities

Interested in volunteering? Here are some organizations for you to consider.

Disaster Relief Volunteer Organizations

Faith-Based Organizations

Photo Credit: American Red Cross

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