Disaster Relief Volunteering

Making the world a better place was always an admirable goal, and now with blockchain technologies becoming more widespread, it is easier than ever to help those in need. However, there are other ways you can use your time and resources to benefit others as well. One of these opportunities is disaster relief volunteering which saves lives around the globe every day while allowing people from all backgrounds to come together for good causes.

Disaster Relief Volunteering is a way for people to help out in the aftermath of natural disasters. There are many organizations that offer this service, and it’s important to look into the ones that best match your interests. Some organizations will only provide volunteers with certain skillsets, while others may require you to travel to the disaster area.

Homes wrecked and destroyed by tornado and men working to fix it.

Note from the editor: This is a guest post by Jeff More.

How many of us have seen video of recent catastrophes and wished we could drop everything, pack our belongings, and go down to Joplin/Haiti/Japan/Turkey to assist with the recovery efforts?

Then it hits you: this isn’t going to work. You have no idea how to get there, where you’ll stay, or what you’ll do once you get there. So you remain at home, the days pass, and the burning need to do anything fades. After all, what else could you have done?

But it’s not such a far-fetched concept. If you’re weary of explaining your urge to help in any manner, the good news is that disaster relief initiatives are extremely doable for us average people. It merely needs some forethought.

Look for an organization.

The most important thing to figure out is how to work with an organization that is a good match for you. This, far more than finding the time and money to attend, is, in my view, the most difficult component.

What are the best places to look? I would start by asking around whether you are participating in a philanthropic or religious group. You almost certainly know someone who knows someone. In my instance, I’ve been a reservist with Hope Force International for four years and first learned about them during a training session hosted by my old roommate’s church. Inquire of acquaintances who have worked as missionaries or non-profit workers in underdeveloped nations, since these individuals may have come into contact with relief groups.

If you are not religious, don’t worry; there are secular disaster response groups, such as Doctors Without Borders, that are frequently made up of specialists in certain disciplines. Another is Team Rubicon, which was founded after its creator, Jake Wood, a USMC combat veteran, announced on his Facebook page following the 2010 Haiti earthquake that he was putting together a team to go down there. I highly urge you to contact them if you are a veteran. If you come across a faith-based group that piques your interest, give them a call. Some faith-based organizations do not need you to subscribe to their views in order to join.

When the video is shown on your television, disaster aid groups get a torrent of calls, but dialing them in the heat of the moment doesn’t ensure you’ll be dispatched right away. Many organizations ask you to attend a training session or at least many sessions before you leave to ensure that everyone is on the same page. Do your homework now, while the sun is shining, and get your ducks in a row.

In a disaster zone, it’s important to have the right skills.

Sometimes there are only a limited number of seats available right after a tragedy until a logistical footing can be created and non-profits can bring in the equally committed but less trained volunteers. Hotels will be filled with newly homeless citizens and mission-critical government officials in the immediate aftermath of a natural catastrophe. To put it clearly, you should be able to justify your use of limited resources by offering something.


Consider the abilities you’d want to have, or, as Steve Kamb of Nerd Fitness phrased it in his excellent piece, How to Level Up in the Game of Life: Determine Your Level 50, and take intermediate steps to develop them.

If there are few seats, medical professionals like nurses are frequently first on the list to deploy, so I signed up for a Wilderness First Aid (WFA) training via the National Outdoor Leadership School early this year to level up my healer skill tree. I’d want to get Wilderness First Responder (WFR) certification in the future, but WFA is a good first step.

Take up backpacking if you have never spent a night away from the luxury of a comfortable, warm bed and have little or no experience with the outdoors. It’s a terrific approach to acquire self-reliance in a fun and relaxed environment. Begin putting together a bug-out bag. How can you assist someone else if you can’t take care of yourself? Before helping others, put your oxygen mask on first.

Bryan Black of ITS Tactical has an excellent essay and podcast on the Top Ten Tactical Skill-Sets for the Common Man, with several of them being very valuable in disaster zones. These abilities require time to develop, but as the Japanese saying says, “Practice until it gets dull, then practice until it becomes beautiful.”

Having said that, don’t dismiss yourself if you lack any sweet abilities. My goal isn’t to go into the “everyone gets a trophy for playing” region, but you could have a card up your sleeve that will come in helpful in disaster situations, where unforeseen needs are common. For example, your expertise working in a mall clothes shop can come in helpful while sifting through the influx of clothing donations.

Awesome man-skills are nice to have, but I’d argue that being compassionate is more vital. Disaster response job is probably not for you if you’re going to lecture someone about how stupid they are for living in a flood/wildfire/earthquake/tsunami-prone location in the first place. Don’t act as though the locals owe you anything since you went out of your way to assist them. They are appreciative, but they may not be able to express it since they have too much on their plates right now.

Be adaptable and fluid, and don’t take it personally if someone yells at you or says something that irritates you while they’re stressed. It may seem little, and you may believe you are above such petty behavior, but believe me when I say that once you are on the field, things change.

Even if you’re terrible at the first skills that come to mind for this type of work, such as construction (I’m terrible at it and have only ever done demolition work…apparently I’m better at destroying than creating), the most important thing is to be willing to work hard, collaborate well, be adaptable, and most importantly, show up. I’d rather have a heartless novice on my squad than a badass with no empathy. They’ll have both The Heart and the Fist in the best case scenario (shameless plug for my favorite book of 2010).


Working Around Time and Money Restraints

Then there’s the huge concerns of time and money, which aren’t necessarily the impediments we think they are. Don’t simply look at your bank account and vacation days stored up and decide you don’t have enough and say no without giving it a fair chance first. Being resourceful will help you get an advantage.


I was a recent college graduate working part-time during Hurricane Katrina, which meant I only earned vacation hours at a quarter of the pace my full-time peers did. When word got out that I was traveling to New Orleans shortly, my employees volunteered to give their vacation hours to me without asking, despite the fact that I had not requested it. People are more caring and kind than you would believe—all you have to do is ask, but they may give before you can!

Be truthful to yourself. No one will blame you if you have the vacation hours but don’t want to utilize them because you have your heart set on that Alaskan cruise or yearly fishing trip with your mates. We’re all at various points in our lives.

While you may fantasize about flying to locations like Haiti or Japan, most of the relief effort is done in the United States. There are many additional logistical challenges when working globally, such as the language barrier and waiting for foreign governments to approve international assistance workers. Even the less well-publicized missions (remember the floods in Vermont and Tennessee in 2011? ), need capable and committed volunteers.

While you won’t be receiving any new stamps in your passport (you do, don’t you? ), domestic relief operations are much more flexible; my two climbing pals and I made our third journey to New Orleans during the work week of a three-day weekend. That’s just four vacation days in New Orleans for a total of nine days.


If money is an issue, consider enlisting help. When it comes to spreading the message, social media comes in useful. People may be ready to contribute money directly to your flight or petrol instead of texting $10 to a big name group where they have no idea what their money is being used for, given the rising cynicism and mistrust of major organizations.

You may begin by writing a letter to a potential donor, similar to what Christian missionaries do. If you’re a talented musician, have a living room performance and inform your audience that the proceeds will go toward funding your trip. Mileage from airline rewards programs has been contributed to my teams. Perhaps you know someone who works for a hotel company and can get you a deal. In order to avoid hiring a car, a friend in Tennessee provided his daughter’s pickup truck to my crew to drive to Alabama. At the absolute least, you may set a goal in your savings account to automatically contribute a little amount each time you are paid.


You’ll probably never go far if you wait for the planets to align. Be original, work hard, and put yourself out there. People desire to be a part of worthwhile causes and are generally eager to help. People often react to the energy you give out, so ideally you’re already a generous person.

What to Do While Waiting for Your Callout

Hopefully, you’ll be signed up as a reservist with an organization with which you feel comfortable deploying in a few months. What are you going to do in the meantime? Serve in your immediate area.

Some of the people I know keep their construction abilities up to date by taking home-building excursions over the Mexican border. Food banks will provide you with experience feeding the masses in a volunteer-run kitchen—you may not see them on the news, but food service is an important element of what volunteers do in disaster zones. Any opportunity to polish your skills for your next disaster relief deployment while also helping the less fortunate in your community is a win-win in my book.

If you work for or have worked for a disaster relief group, please share your experiences with us so that we can assist others in their quest. I’d want to hear about your experiences as well.

If you work for or have worked for a disaster relief group, please share your experiences with us so that we can assist others in their quest. I’d want to hear about your experiences as well.

Mudslides, earthquakes, riots, and wildfires are the four seasons of Los Angeles, where Jeff More works and lives. He is an ardent shooter of both weapons and cameras, and he plays the 5-string banjo to honor his American roots. Visit www.skunkabilly.com to learn more about him.



The “disaster relief volunteer training” is a course that teaches students how to help in the event of a disaster. The course includes topics such as first aid, fire safety and emergency response.

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