5 Dos and Don'ts of Helping During a Disaster

Help Out in Emergencies but in the Right Way

April 25, 2015 - A child receives treatment outside the emergency ward of Bir hospital on April 25, 2015 in Kathmandu, Nepal.. Tom Van Cakenberghe/Getty Images

Whether it is an earthquake or tsunami halfway around the world or a tornado and flood in our country, we often are called upon to help in a crisis.

But in many cases, we do just the things that don't help at all, but rather make the emergency even harder on those people and organizations working at the scene.

Keep some dos and don'ts of crisis help in mind at all times and make sure that your help is the kind that does make a difference.

  1. Do send money not things. Things pile up and take up time and space. Shipping is more expensive than buying what's needed close to the disaster.  And handling that stuff requires storage space and people to sort it.

    The sad thing is that donated items often just end up in landfills.  Relief agencies can provide the stuff if you provide the money, and they can do it in a much more cost-efficient way.
  2. Don't self-deploy as a volunteer. You could just gum up the works and get in the way. Get in touch with agencies that are working the disaster to make sure there is a need for your services.

    There is sometimes a need for very specialized help, such as trained health professionals. Relief agencies are overwhelmed with volunteers who have no applicable skills.

    So unless the disaster is right next door, and you can immediately help, don't go to the disaster site without checking to see if there is a real need
  1. Do donate to charities that are legitimate. Every disaster, unfortunately, seems to spark charity scams.  Give only to those organizations you either know personally or have checked out first.

    You can look up legit charities at Charity Navigator and the Better Business Bureau's charity arm to see what charities are doing a good job and which are involved in this particular disaster. Do not respond to phone or house-to-house solicitations.
  1. Don't restrict your donations. Don't limit your gift to only a particular disaster or a given time frame. Disaster relief is long-term, and your money may be used later or even for a different catastrophe.

    Relief organizations need the flexibility to do their jobs well. Get in the habit of giving to your favorite relief charity frequently so that it can respond on time and adequately as emergencies develop.
  2. Do continue giving after the media go away. Disasters require rebuilding, and the need lasts a long time. Don't forget about the victims once the news turns to other pressing issues. Keep donating to the charities you picked to support. 

    Better yet, become a monthly donor to a disaster relief organization that you trust. Disasters don't happen once and then go away. They have lasting repercussions that require a real commitment of aid agencies and the donors that support them. Be loyal, keep giving.

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