Disaster Relief: How to Get Hands-On and Volunteer

by A Manly Guest Contributor on February 1, 2012 · 40 comments

in Uncategorized

Editor’s note: This is a guest post from Jeff More.

How many of us have watched the footage of recent disasters unfolding, wishing we could drop everything, pack our bags, and head down to Joplin/Haiti/Japan/Turkey to spend some time helping out with the recovery efforts?

Then reality sets in. You don’t know how to get there, where you would stay, and what you would do once you arrived. So you stay home, days pass, and that gnawing feeling of wanting to do something subsides. Besides, what could you have done anyway?

But it’s really not so outlandish an idea. If you’re tired of rationalizing away the desire to pitch in somehow, the good news is that it is very possible for us regular guys to get involved in disaster relief efforts. It simply requires some advance planning.

Find an Organization

The key thing to sort out is finding an organization to work with that would be a good fit for you. In my opinion, this is the toughest part, much more so than finding the time and money to go.

Where to look? If you are involved in some charitable or religious organization, I would start by asking around there. Chances are you know someone who knows someone. In my case, I have been a reservist for Hope Force International for four years and found out about them when my former roommate’s church was hosting a training session. Ask your friends who have served as missionaries or non-profit workers in developing countries, as these folks sometimes cross paths with relief organizations.

If you are not the religious type, fear not, as there are secular organizations involved in disaster response, oftentimes made up of professionals in certain fields, such as Doctors Without Borders, for example. Another is Team Rubicon, formed when its founder, Jake Wood, a USMC combat veteran, posted on his Facebook wall after the 2010 Haiti quake that he was assembling a team to head down there. If you are a veteran, I strongly encourage you to contact them. And if you find a faith-based organization that piques your interest, give them a call as some do not require you to be an adherent of their beliefs to be a member.

Disaster relief organizations are flooded with calls when the footage is piped into your television, but simply calling them up in the heat of the moment doesn’t mean you’ll get sent just like that. Before you go, many require you to go through a training session or at least several meetings to get everyone on the same sheet of music, as it were. Do your homework now during peacetime and get your ducks in a row.

Relevant Skills in a Disaster Zone

Sometimes there are only so many slots available immediately post-disaster until a logistical foothold of sorts can be established and the non-profits can bring in the just-as-motivated but lesser-skilled volunteers. Immediately following a natural disaster, hotels will be packed with newly-homeless residents and mission critical government personnel. To put it bluntly, you should be able to offer something to justify your consumption of limited resources.

Think ahead about the skills you wish you could have, or as Steve Kamb of Nerd Fitness put it in his fantastic article, How to Level Up in the Game of Life: Determine your Level 50, and take intermediate steps to build those skills.

For example, medical professionals such as nurses are often towards the top of the list to deploy if there are limited seats, so earlier this year I signed up for a Wilderness First Aid (WFA) course through the National Outdoor Leadership School to level up my healer skill tree. I would like to become Wilderness First Responder (WFR) certified eventually, but WFA is a respectable intermediate step.

If you have not spent a night away from the comfort of a soft, warm bed and have little/no outdoor skills to speak of, take up backpacking. It is a great way to learn self-reliance in a relaxed and recreational setting. Start building a bug-out-bag. If you can’t take care of yourself, how are you going to help someone else? Put your oxygen mask on first before assisting others.

Bryan Black of ITS Tactical has a great article and accompanying podcast on the Top Ten Tactical Skill-Sets for the Common Man, some of which are particularly useful in disaster areas. These skills take practice, but as the Japanese proverb goes, “Practice until it becomes boring, then practice until it becomes beautiful.”

All this said, don’t write yourself off if you don’t have any sweet skills. My intention is not to tread into “everyone gets a trophy for playing” territory, but you might have a card up your sleeve that will come in handy since unexpected needs have a tendency to arise in disaster areas. For example, your experience working in a clothing store at the mall will be very handy in sorting the flood of incoming clothing donations.

Awesome man-skills are great to have, but I would venture to say it is more important to be empathetic. If you are going to lecture someone that they are fools for living in a flood/wildfire/earthquake/tsunami-prone area in the first place, disaster response work probably isn’t for you. Don’t strut around thinking that that locals owe you anything because you came all the way to help them. They are grateful, but they might have too much on their plate at the moment to communicate it.

Be flexible and fluid, and don’t take things personally if someone snaps at you or says something that rubs you the wrong way while they’re under stress. It sounds like a small thing, and you may think you’d be above such pettiness, but trust me, it is different once you are in the field.

Even if you suck at the first skills that come to mind for this kind of work, such as construction (I am terrible at it and have only really done demolition work…apparently I am better at destroying than creating) the important thing is to be willing to work hard, work well with others, be adaptable, and most importantly, show up. I would rather have a noob with a heart on my team than a badass who has not a shred of empathy. Best case scenario, they will have both The Heart and the Fist (shameless plug for my favorite book of 2010).

Working Around the Roadblocks of Time and Money

Then there are the big issues of time and money, but they are not always the barriers we make them out to be. Don’t just glance at your checking account and vacation days saved up, think you don’t have enough, and tell yourself no without giving it an honest shot first. Being resourceful will tilt things in your favor.

Time

During Hurricane Katrina, I was a recent-ish college graduate and worked part-time which meant I only accrued vacation hours at a fraction of the rate my full-time coworkers did. Word got around of me soon going to New Orleans, and my coworkers, with no solicitation on my part, offered to donate their vacation hours to me in the event I did not have enough. People are more compassionate and generous than you might think—the important thing is to ask, but sometimes they will offer before you can!

Be honest with yourself. If you have the vacation hours but don’t want to give them up because you had your heart set on that Alaskan cruise or annual fishing trip with your buddies, no one is going to fault you for it. We are all in different places and life stages.

While you may imagine yourself jetting off to places like Haiti and Japan, much of relief work is domestic. There are many more logistical hurdles going internationally, such as the language barrier and waiting for foreign governments to give international aid workers the green light to operate. The less publicized (flooding in Vermont and Tennessee in 2011, hello?) operations still require able and willing volunteers.

So while you may not be getting any new stamps in your passport (you have one, don’t you?), domestic relief operations have the upside of being considerably more flexible; my two climbing buddies and I made our third trip to New Orleans the work week of a three day weekend. That’s just four vacation days spent for nine days in New Orleans.

Money

If money is a problem, try raising support. Social media is handy for getting the word out. With growing skepticism and distrust of large organizations, folks might be willing to donate money personally towards your airfare or gas, instead of texting $10 to a big name organization where they have no visibility of what their cash is being used for.

You could start simply by sending a letter soliciting financial support, similar to what Christian missionaries do. If you’re a gifted musician, put on a living room concert and tell folks the admission will be used to fund your trip. I have had airline rewards mileage donated to my teams. Maybe you know someone who works for a hotel chain that can hook you up with a discount. A friend of mine in Tennessee offered my team his daughter’s pickup truck to use to drive to Alabama in order to save us from renting a vehicle. At the very least, you could make a savings goal in your savings account to automatically chip in a little bit at a time every time you get a paycheck.

If you’re waiting for the planets to align, chances are you’ll never get anywhere. Be creative, hustle, and put yourself out there. Folks want to be involved in good causes and are often willing to support you. Hint: people generally respond with the vibe you give out, so hopefully you are a charitable person to begin with.

What to Do Until Your Callout

Hopefully in a few months you will be all signed on as a reservist with an organization you feel confident deploying with. What to do in the meantime? Serve locally.

Some folks I know stay up with their construction skills by going on home-building trips across the Mexican border. Food banks will give you experience serving the masses in a volunteer-run kitchen—you might not see them on the news, but food service is a sizeable part of what volunteers do in disaster areas. Any way to hone your skill-sets for your next disaster relief deployment and serve the less fortunate around you at the same time is a win-win as far as I’m concerned.

If you serve or have served with an organization that conducts disaster relief, please let us know your experiences as to help others with their search. I would personally love to hear your stories as well.

_________________________________

Jeff More works and resides in Los Angeles, where the four seasons are mudslides, earthquakes, riots, and wildfires. He is an avid shooter of both firearms and camera, and celebrates his American heritage by playing the 5-string banjo. Check out his website at www.skunkabilly.com.

{ 40 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Bill Gepford February 1, 2012 at 7:44 pm

Loved the post – and its pretty much spot on. I ran a few disaster relief posts through College, and I currently work coordinating disaster relief trips out of Dallas, so I love seeing other people get involved – especially manly brethren who have the passion and skill to really get things done. Try disaster or poverty relief out – it will change your life.

2 Ryan February 1, 2012 at 8:27 pm

I went to Mexico and New Orleans as part of a church group. That was in 2006 when I was 15. That was a real eye opener for someone my age and I’m glad I got to experience those things.

3 Jake February 1, 2012 at 8:55 pm

If you’re interested in helping out closer to home, look into volunteering with your area’s Citizen Emergency Response Team (CERT, but the name will vary in some areas). They’ll provide valuable training, and you’ll be able to participate in a myriad of drills to keep up your skills. The link will take you to where you can locate your area’s organization.
http://www.citizencorps.gov/cert/

4 Erik Isakson February 1, 2012 at 9:18 pm

Please, please, please do not volunteer at a disaster. Volunteers are extremely burdensome to the professionals trying to provide relief to those in need. Think about it, if you go to Haiti, what food will you eat? Where will you sleep? If there is food, the Haitians will be eating it. If there is a place to sleep, the Haitians will be sleeping there. There is no food, water, transportation, or housing available for volunteers, and by arriving “ready to help” you are taking resources away from the people that need it. I’m sure Jeff meant well in writing this post, but please, please do not try to go volunteer at a disaster unless you are a trained disaster relief professional working for a credible organization. Read more here: http://goodintents.org/in-kind-donations/dont-go-to-haiti

5 Matt Parrish February 1, 2012 at 9:38 pm

I will second Jake’s endorsement of CERT. I’ve been a member for going on 8 years, and trainer certified for about 5. When Katrina hit, CERT gave me the opportunity to run a relief warehouse on the local base. It was one of the most rewarding experiences of my life, and the leadership training through CERT has helped in all areas of my life.

6 Doug February 1, 2012 at 11:10 pm

I’m currently going to school for Emergency Management, which deals directly with these types of incidents and the response efforts. Especially for those who can’t afford to travel but still want to help, try looking into a Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) or the Civil Air Patrol. Even the Coast Guard Auxiliary will let you help with incident response. Keep your training fresh and make sure that you have yourself and your family covered first though – A first responder is great, but a dead first responder is no help.

7 Doug February 1, 2012 at 11:11 pm

Also, go onto http://www.fema.gov and you can sign up for email updates to let you in on certain events

8 Jeff More February 1, 2012 at 11:19 pm

Doug, Jake and Mr Parrish:

Glad to hear so many of you mentioned CERT! Big oversight on my part leaving it out of the article, but being as so many of you have mentioned them, glad the word is out there.

Ryan,
Heck of an experience isn’t it? Glad to hear you were a part of those efforts at a young age.

9 Doug Metz February 1, 2012 at 11:46 pm

A +1 for Jake’s CERT comment. I’m 3 weeks into the training and it’s amazing what’s covered and considering that it’s free training I’m even more impressed.
Another organization to look into is ShelterBox (www.shelterboxusa.org) – ((there are many international affiliates as well)). Reading the article above speaks to exactly why I volunteer for them.

10 Ben Holeton February 2, 2012 at 2:10 am

Definitely, definitely, definitely get training. And don’t go unless you know where you are going and what you are going to do. I spent 3 months in Haiti after the earthquake, but I already had spent time working with a ministry down there prior. I was able to arrange a place to stay and knew the people I was going to be helping. There’s no way it would have worked if I would have just packed up and left. I would have been in the way.

The flip side of that is this: it awakened a passion for missions. I am moving into full time missions this year. I work with a group out of Nashville called Conduit Mission (www.conduitmission.org) and will be traveling to Togo, Africa to build a school in May and back to Haiti to build more houses in September. If you do go, exact your life to be changed for the better!

11 Louis February 2, 2012 at 3:35 am

Wow, this reminded me when I wanted to volunteer to go to Japan during the nuclear disaster.

Now, I have a better idea of what to prepare for, if the next disaster strike while I have time. Thanks!

12 Chris Miller February 2, 2012 at 5:51 am

I live in Christchurch, New Zealand, and we’ve been having earthquakes for the last 18 months, with nearly 200 deaths as a direct result (ie from injuries in the quakes themselves) and many countless more from related factors. After the worst one last February, for example, huge numbers of elderly people were evacuated from the city – and one third of them died from complications from the move. In March I went to volunteer at the Red Cross and somehow got shanghaied into paid work in the grants department where I worked for nine months. Huge areas of the eastern city (I live in the south east and we’re pretty lucky, but we’ve still lost a lot of local services and are pretty used to spontaneous pot holes and inexplicable puddles of water leaking out from under the road) are still utterly devastated.

I cannot second enough the comment regarding *not volunteering*. Obviously some volunteers are needed – people with training and people who can offer something. If you have a big van and you can fill it with food and water, know where to take it and can deliver it to people on dangerous roads, great! If you don’t have a clue what you’re doing and don’t know any of the local organisations, you’re just another mouth to feed, another bucket of crap that will sit around being a health hazard, another person taking up bed space and clean water. If you think you’ll want to do something like this, RESEARCH FIRST. Get an emergency kit together, learn how to use it, look at gory pictures a lot until they don’t bother you anymore, get used to the smell of decomposing flesh and human waste, research aid organisations so you at least have an idea of who’s operating in an area and how to find them, train for endurance and for the love of god learn how to deal with traumatised people. I was put on the phones at work with no training. Even living in the city I had no idea what to expect. I learned very, very quickly that any reaction you can possibly think of, someone will have, and all of them are completely legitimate. Best of all, I was dealing with all of that while trying to manage my own trauma myself.

Speaking of, don’t think that it’s going to be an exciting trip you can tell all your friends about. I mean, it will be. The job I did was incredibly satisfying and I have some fantastic stories. But there’s no way I can actually convey what it’s like to anyone who hasn’t lived through it. When we first got power back and turned on the tv to watch the news, I vividly remember that one of the first ads I saw was for McCafe, and it claimed that coffee from a cafe was a necessity. I felt like an alien. We were still weeks away from having running water, let alone sewerage. The last thing I was thinking about was going to a cafe and for a few minutes I literally couldn’t comprehend what I was seeing and hearing on the television. That feeling still hits me very frequently, but I can’t really explain exactly how surreal it is, I just don’t have the words and even if I did I don’t think most people would be able to understand.

And bear in mind that if you do come, and you do work through the ongoing effects, as terrible as it will be? It will never be the same as living through the whole thing. Part of that means living there before the disaster. It’s one thing to see the damage afterwards, but knowing intimately what it looked like beforehand adds a whole new, horrible, dimension to it. If you start going on about it like you know all there is to know about it, the locals will hate you.

13 Jason February 2, 2012 at 6:16 am

Hey, care to talk about volunteer safety in New Orleans? I desperately want to volunteer for Habitat for Humanity in New Orleans, but i fear my family would have a heart attack if I did because of all they’ve heard about murders in the still-unfinished Ninth Ward. Any experiences anyone can recount (dangerous or safe, be honest either way!) would be great.

14 Jim McFarland February 2, 2012 at 7:24 am

I agree! We all need to get more interested in helping others around the world, and if we can get into action too, all the better…it’s a hallmark of being a man.

I’ve helped in multiple car accidents, war relief and other traumatic events, and to know you’re really contributing helps us feel more connected with all of humanity. It’s easy to dismiss some flickers and sound bites on a T.V. screen, but so much harder to ignore real pain from disasters when you’re there.

Here’s a great resource that helped me give…http://www.greencross.org

15 Erin February 2, 2012 at 9:23 am

“Put your oxygen mask on first before assisting others.” Love it.

Great article, thank you.

16 Peter February 2, 2012 at 10:04 am

Excellent post!
I second all the folks encouraging training ahead of time. To that end I just wanted to give a shout out to Shelterbox.org – they are a volunteer organisation, loosely affiliated with Rotary. They have an application process, and if you make it through that, they put you through training. The cool thing is that you then become part of a ready-roster. Essentially, you have to be prepared to roll out at 24 hrs notice, if a natural disaster strikes. They only do immediate short term response, filling the gap between disaster, and coordinated large scale response.

17 Scott Preston February 2, 2012 at 12:20 pm

Volunteers at a disaster are NOT the problem. Untrained, unaffiliated (free-lance) volunteers are. Volunteers who are part of a pre-vetted/authorized group that come in as part of an organized effort and who work within a command structure are a huge asset to professional emergency responders.

18 Richard February 2, 2012 at 1:02 pm

Let us not forget the psychological trauma that the disaster has on the victims, and workers, both volunteers and professional. Have been a volunteer firefighter I have vivid memories and feeling of several disasters, the first a family of four all perished the day after Christmas in a house fire caused by burning candles, an incident where a friend and volunteer FF was exposed to hazardous materials, went into cardiac arrest requiring CPR. I remember them well and have flashbacks of the scenes. All volunteers need to be prepared for this.

In 2011 the storms during the April to June period cut numerous paths of destruction through our corner of the world with deaths of 78+ people. We lost our roof and electricity for many days, but this all was minor. After the storms picking up the pieces of others lives was difficult; from those less fortunate was heartbreaking, wallpaper from a nursery, receipts from business, copies of tax returns, photographs and Christmas cards. Prepare yourself for the trauma if you volunteer.
I did a lesson learned on the experience from the first round of storms, you can read it at
http://6sproductivitycomcom.fatcow.com/?p=328

19 Ross February 2, 2012 at 1:19 pm

Great article. For the past 5 years Ive worked in disaster areas all over the US and in Haiti after the earthquake. To me the biggest thing I realized thru experience is that you can’t do everything and you can’t help everyone. To be successful, pick what you are good at and do that.

I also agree with Richard, you need to be mentally prepared to be in these areas. Its one thing to see it on tv but when you are standing in the middle of a neighborhood and every single house is completely gone along with the folks who lived in them it takes a toll on you. Its sometimes hard to experience the guilt once you leave that area and return to your “normal” life.

20 Joe Bassett February 2, 2012 at 3:07 pm

Don’t overlook amateur radio and the Amateur Radio Emergency Service. It’s not just old, fat guys on CBs anymore.

21 TJ February 2, 2012 at 5:56 pm

I am by no means trying to downplay the disasters in the areas mentioned but Tuscaloosa needs help as well.

22 Chris February 2, 2012 at 7:19 pm

For those who want to volunteer their time and IT skills during disaster check out the ITDRC. We provide technology assistance to communities following disasters both on-site as well as remotely. Our services are offered up free of charge to those in need, and in the past year we’ve responded to the tornadoes across the South in Hackleburg, Alabama and Joplin, Missouri, as well as Texas wildfires and Hurricane Irene which plagued the East coast with rain. Just last week we had a team working in Center Point, Alabama.

We are always looking for bright, innovative, technology enthusiasts who have a passion to help those in need. If you want to help out and you love technology, this is the relief organization for you!

23 Duke February 2, 2012 at 9:25 pm

Hi all.

I am a pharmacist by trade and am part of a Disaster Medical Assistance Team (DMAT). DMAT is part of the National Disaster Medical System (NDMS) under Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). Suffice it to say, we like acronyms. ;) I have been deployed during Katrina relief and was in Port Au Prince 3 days following the earthquake of Jan 2010. I also spend a week of my personal time and money each year to participate in a medical mission in an extremely poor region of the Dominican Republic.

Another consideration, if you decide to leave at moment’s notice to help others: Is your family prepared for you to leave for an extended period? I make sure my wife has knowledge of all the workings of the house (water, gas shut offs, etc.). I have an emergency cash fund on hand for her, just in case. Also, letting my extended family and close friends know I will be gone. They are always willing to pick up a kid or make a meal in a pinch. Remember, life at home in rural Kentucky doesn’t shut down because of an emergency in Mississippi or North Dakota.

Take care of your own before you leave to help someone else.

Do good work.

Duke

24 Daniel February 3, 2012 at 3:04 am

Thanks for a great post. Exactly what I am interested in.

If all goes well I should be an RN in 3 months! And I’m already a part of the Red Cross!

25 Jackson February 3, 2012 at 8:27 am

Thank you for an excellent post urging people to go out and help others.

I would like to plug UMCOR, the United Methodist Committee on Relief, as one avenue of doing smart relief work: http://new.gbgm-umc.org/umcor/. They have a trained staff of responders and organizers, and draw volunteers from local UM churches, so their efforts are well-coordinated and conscientious. They also aren’t, on the whole, so dogmatic about beliefs or anything; anyone who wants can work with them regardless of belief. It really depends on the local church, but this has been my experience.

I took part in Katrina relief through UMCOR in the two years after the hurricane. I have seldom been more proud of my church. We had teams going down once a month for two years to Biloxi and D’Iberville, MS and surrounding areas. Those teams worked ten hour days and came back after supper many times to finish their work.

26 Matt February 3, 2012 at 9:29 am

Another great disaster relief organization is All Hands Volunteers. I had the privilege of working with them for 6 months in Haiti. They currently have a project open in Cagayan de Oro, Philippines. Anyone who’s interested can check out hands.org for more information.

27 James Petzke February 4, 2012 at 9:55 pm

Some of the best experiences of my life have come from things like this. For instance, I went on a mission trip to Texas one summer to help with hurricane relief.

28 Eric_G February 5, 2012 at 12:56 pm

Another +1 for ham radio emergency communications. One often overlooked aspect of emcomm is that the people in the disaster zone need to be able to contact and coordinate with people outside the disaster zone. So you can help out without ever leaving your home. The amateur radio community gets a lot of attention for their coordination efforts through the Red Cross and Salvation Army, but often helps out with “heath and welfare traffic,” that is messages sent to loved ones outside the disaster area to let them know what is happening. While maybe not as important as getting doctors to aid stations, it keeps what little infrastructure may be remaining freed up for use by first responders, and again is something that doesn’t require one to pack up and leave on a moment’s notice.

29 Nicholas February 6, 2012 at 1:46 pm

Having been in Manhattan on 9/11 and the months following, and in New Orleans during Katrina and the year after, life has put me in situations where I have had incredible opportunities to help.

And even for Haiti, while I couldn’t be there, I organized online a group of 1000 translators that were able to translate essential messages from Haitians to emergency workers on the ground, all from their homes across the world.

So there really is no limit to what you can do; it just takes some ingenuity, drive, perseverance and commitment.

30 Will A February 8, 2012 at 12:33 am

Im 18 and all i have to offer is time and youth. im looking for a volunteer program to ship me off somewhere, but cant find one! I thought the willingness to help would be enough, but everything costs thousands of dollars! School starts in September and i wanted to help in that time but it looks its not happening.

31 Kade February 9, 2012 at 4:20 pm

As a Joplin MO native, I just wanted to say thank you for mentioning us specifically, and thank you for the suggestions. I had the distinct pleasure of assisting with several home moves immediately following the disaster. The article is most excellent. I started getting involved with the Red Cross, and I am still considering joining the National Guard if I can find the freedom in my work life. Thanks again!

32 Seth February 9, 2012 at 10:19 pm

I was doing my engineer officer course at Ft. Leonard Wood when the tornado went through Joplin. A bunch of us from our class spent some of our weekends down there helping with some of the recovery efforts, and the article is right: find an aid organization to fall in with. I ended up with Americorps, as they seemed to do the best job of rapidly turning on the spot volunteers around to get them to the field. Also: being a member of the National Guard is an excellent way to help find your “level 50″ and be relevent in a disaster, whether you’re activated for it or not – your skill set will be better for it.

Joplin was real bad.

33 Seth February 9, 2012 at 10:21 pm

Will A: can I suggest getting in with an organization like “Habitat for Humanity”? They do good work for needy people, no need to wait for a disaster.

There are many opportunities to serve others.

34 Andy February 10, 2012 at 8:00 am

I’d like to also recommend the American Red Cross. They maintain both local and national Disaster assistance teams, and provide training in many of the less glamorous skills including; feeding, shelter operations, disaster assessment (to help government and insurance understand the damage), case management (working with individuals to help them take advantage of available benefits), and other skills. They also offer a Wilderness First Aid course, which, while not is good as NOLS, is MUCH cheaper and more accessible. Lastly, the Red Cross has volunteers responding to “small scale” disasters everyday. In my county, the RC goes out Everytime there is a house fire to provide support for the victims and the fire fighters.
While I do have some concerns about the national Red Cross organization, in my experience the local chapters are a great resource. Go to redcross.org to find your local chapter and contact them about volunteering.

35 Jon February 12, 2012 at 6:05 am

I’m a little surprised no one mentioned the Salvation Army or the Southern Baptist Disaster Relief Services. I know they are religious affiliated, but they don’t go around proselytizing when they are out doing their thing. They also have chainsaw crews, Shelterbox crews, recovery groups, and volunteer around the world. SBDS and the Salvation Army are most often the two who do the work FEMA and Red Cross won’t touch or don’t have enough funding or people to deal with and they and CERT do support services for the National Guard when they are called up as well. To show the kind of effort and work they do and what scale, this is only a small example: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4dolhipQHlY as covered on the History Channel.

36 Paul H. February 13, 2012 at 3:37 pm

This is great fun to do, been on a few volunteer trips myself and would recommend to anyone with the time and money. There are a lot of small organizations too, so see if you can do it through them (I recommend and suggest). I did it through the college I attended, they had a group. The bigger groups might have more restrictions.

37 Sudsy February 17, 2012 at 10:20 pm

I saw CERT mentioned a lot! Wonderful to see, I took that course with my states State Defense Force http://dmva.alaska.gov/asdf/ (or in some states its State Guard which is the USC Title 32 DoD recognized State Militia). Great skills, along with my state level first responder registration (in AK that is Emergency Trauma Technician). I was able to also volunteer with my local fire department and start putting those skills to use right away. For many of us in AK, we end up responding to the massive forest fires on an annual basis, and obtaining a National Wild Fire Coordination Group Red Card is also a great nationally recognized certification that allows you to respond to a variety of emergencies (not just wildfires) as well.

I’d also encourage folks to really look up with their state National Guard if they have a State Guard or State Defense Force to volunteer for as well. Its not common, often times its overlooked, but a fantastic opportunity for veterans unable to serve in the National Guard or Reserves to continue serving the country through a State military force. Our State Guard Association of the United States (www.sgaus.org) maintains a list of the real State Militias (not the erroneously self proclaimed anti-government armed mobs) as well as the Military Emergency Management Specialist curriculum that consists of FEMA Emergency Management Institute course material (IS 100, IS 200, IS 700, and IS 800 are also required by many Fire, Police, EMS, and local government jobs). While incredibly boring and dull, knocking out these courses on your own before jumping in will save you paper work later (that, and go good on an application for joining a volunteer fire department).

38 Josh February 18, 2012 at 7:42 pm

This is hit or miss. As a national guardsmen while in college, it can a large burden when trying to restore order and organize individuals who fall under no ones authority. I understand the good intentions, however in execution it can be burdensome. My only advice is to wait out that initial blow as a civillian when things are going out of control. Finally, for god sakes leave your guns at home. This was a big issue in Katrina.

39 Betty October 11, 2012 at 9:29 am

Hi, one of your female lurkers here.
Because of this article and the comment by Jake, I signed up for Chicago CERT. I trained at the Chicago Police Academy and meet some wonderful people with a strong sense of community. So far I’ve done crowd control at the Air and Water Show and this past weekend was part of the Runner Transport system assisting the medical unit at the Chicago Marathon. Though not disasters, it’s still good training on human behavior and communication skills. CERT has continuous free training like CPR, Search and Rescue, First Aid, Logistics, Command Center, etc, all of which I want to train on to be better prepared.
Thank you again for showing me another opportunity to be a better person.

40 randy January 28, 2014 at 5:39 pm

jeff more, would love to pick your brain on hopeforce

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