You’re watching the news. You see a disaster happening and you want to help. You have a skill you think might be useful, or you are willing to do anything at all.
Review these guidelines before you volunteer to work at a disaster site. Following them will help you...and help the disaster survivors.
Become a member of a recognized volunteer organization. You can go to the website for National Voluntary Organizations Active in Disasters to find an organization that responds to large disasters and fits you. You can affiliate with a national organization by connecting with their local chapters via VolunteerMaine. Most organizations will not accept spontaneous volunteers at a disaster site, so we recommend you join during “blue skies.” After joining, let the organization know the skills you have and the skills you want to acquire so they can provide you with the most appropriate training for disaster response and recovery services.
When you arrive at the scene, you will be expected, and trusted as a member of a relief organization.
If you are not pre-affiliated with a relief organization but still want to help after a local disaster, check out the VolunteerMaine page for instructions on registering as a disaster service volunteer and tips for volunteering. You can also check out VolunteerMaine at any time, not just when a disaster happens, to see what opportunities there are to prepare to be part of disaster relief efforts.
If you have trouble navigating the Volunteer Maine website, you can call 2-1-1 Maine (dial 2-1-1, toll free) and they will assist you.
If you arrive at a disaster scene on your own, you are a burden, not a help.
Facilities for feeding, housing, personal hygiene, and health care are usually scarce. Priority will be given to the survivors and volunteers who are part of an organizational team. See Affiliate, above.
Be patient and flexible:
Be prepared to step into any of a variety of roles, depending on the needs. Volunteers expecting to enter a response or relief effort in a certain capacity are often disappointed. Sometimes a volunteer's special talents are not immediately needed.
Know the liability situation
Check that there is coverage by liability clauses in the insurance structure of the volunteer agency organization with which you affiliate. Volunteers not registered with a disaster response organization are responsible for themselves, and have little legal protection.
Remember that the use of volunteers is a coordinated process.
Volunteers are most useful when they are able to do the right thing at the right time. That is, they are used as part of an organized recovery process. Volunteer agencies coordinate the assignment of people with abilities, skills, and training to special tasks.
Be committed to the response effort
Response and recovery work is usually dirty, monotonous, mundane, and not glamorous. There is little individual recognition. Be committed to working under such conditions.
Sometimes, the best way to help is to donate cash to the relief effort, rather than to try to offer yourself or your things.
The organizations involved in the response and recovery process after a disaster most often need cash to best serve the survivors.