When you hear about storm damage, a blizzard, avalanche, or other natural disaster, especially one near your home, your first inclination may be to run out and help. But those in the midst of the chaos will be much better off if you volunteer your services through an organization that has skills and experience in coordinated disaster relief.
Running into a disaster zone could put you at risk, and if you become a victim, you will only add to the burden on experienced disaster relief organizations and put victims at greater risk. If you don’t have the proper training and are operating outside of an organized effort, there’s potential for duplication of efforts, which can waste precious resources and time.
The best-case scenario is to join a volunteer organization before disaster strikes to learn valuable skills that are needed in times of crisis. These may include training for physical efforts like operating equipment, but more importantly, training focuses on the ability to assess a situation, plan an effective response, and manage the use of precious resources and time. Visit the Utah Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster (VOAD) through the UServeUtah website to find organizations that can provide you with training in skills needed in disaster response.
If you aren’t already a member of such an organization and still want to help when disaster strikes, head for a volunteer reception center, or VRC. This is a space devoted to receiving, interviewing and assigning spontaneous volunteers to specific, necessary roles.
Here are a few things to keep in mind when you volunteer in a disaster situation:
1- Volunteers need to be largely self-sufficient. The focus has to be on the needs of the victims. Resources devoted to volunteers’ needs are essentially taken away from the victims.
2- Volunteers who have experience in disaster relief, of course, are gold. But those skilled in assessing situations or in critical incident management in other environments are also very valuable.
3- Volunteers also have to be able to take direction and be mentally prepared for what comes next. Volunteers need to be able to to go where they’re needed (which may not be where you expect) and to deal with a lot of stress and with people who are stressed out. Victims, reacting to stress and trauma, can sometimes take out their stress on the people trying to help them.
Don’t hesitate to offer to help when disaster strikes. But also remember the many ongoing needs of people in your community. Find out where you can help throughout the year from UServeUtah.