Supporting Vulnerable Populations: Your Role in Disaster Response

Kat Sukawa

Before you hop in your car to go support relief efforts, please consider the following dos and don’ts.

As climate change continues to increase the likelihood of extreme weather events, our exposure to disasters once considered rare or “one in a lifetime” is increasing at a rapid pace. This year alone, we’ve already seen extreme weather events. Currently, the Midwest is being hit hard, but flooding has become a very real risk to many parts of the country. What’s so dangerous about water events is that they pose risks to all kinds of infrastructure and can cause a logistical nightmare, such as:

  • Evacuation routes are flooded and impassable, so moving at-risk populations out of harm’s way becomes a logistical nightmare.
  • Damaged healthcare facilities make it difficult for those impacted to seek immediate care.
  • Downed power lines make communication for those impacted and first responders very difficult.

When disaster strikes, we all want to help. But before you hop in your car to go support relief efforts, please consider the following dos and don’ts:

  • Do donate to relief organizations you know and trust: Contributing to efforts that are already underway is a great place to start but do your homework. If you’re not comfortable with the organization’s mission and work, save your funds until you find an organization that resonates with you.
  • Money can be more impactful than things in disaster relief: Donating money enables organizations to direct funds where they see fit and support the highest priority relief efforts. If you send things such as supplies, clothing, or other items, those coordinating relief efforts now need to store these products and distribute them, causing an additional logistical effort.
  • Don’t “self-deploy”: Joining a self-deployed group looks like the heroic action that engaged citizens should take, but individually self-deploying to a disaster zone poses a huge risk to not only yourself, but also to those leading response efforts. You must be mindful of how your attempts to help can impact the overall disaster response in the big picture, especially if something goes wrong. For instance, if you drive to a disaster zone and become stranded or in danger, you now need to be rescued, and first responders must now focus on helping you, in addition to the countless others impacted.
  • When the news fade, keep supporting: One of the tragedies of disaster recovery is that we move on as soon as the news coverage fades, so communities don’t receive the continued support they need after the cameras leave. Victims are most vulnerable in the aftermath of a disaster. As news coverage fades and response efforts wind down, many people are left to grapple with the destruction for years to come. Did you know it takes years to fully recover from a disaster? So those impacted will need long-term assistance and not just support in the immediate aftermath.

When all else fails following a disaster, keep these three things in mind:

  • Donate money to credible relief organizations.
  • Be aware of your own risk and don’t self-deploy.
  • Keep supporting after the news cameras leave.
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