Take Action: Natural Disaster Relief Efforts
Over the span of about one month, a large area of the world was hammered by natural disasters, leaving behind death and devastation. The rubble is being cleared, millions are without power, and drinkable water can be hard to find.
The 2017 wildfire season is one of the most devastating ever recorded, with dozens of lives lost and tens of thousands evacuated. As of October 10, more than 115,000 acres were ablaze in nearly a dozen separate fires in Northern California. Governor Jerry Brown has declared states of emergency in Napa, Sonoma, Yuba, Butte, Lake, Mendocino, Nevada and Orange Counties.
There are no easy fixes, not fast solutions. But you can help those affected by these natural disasters recover and rebuild by supporting the efforts of the organizations listed below.
General Relief Efforts
Wildfire Relief Funds support intermediate and long-term recovery efforts for major California wildfires, as well as preparedness efforts.
Fondo Unido México, part of the United Way network, has created an emergency fund to help the areas affected by the earthquakes as well as the recent series of hurricanes.
United Way of Miami-Dade: Donate funds and indicate where you’d like them to be distributed: South Florida/Florida Keys, Florida, Puerto Rico, Caribbean, Mexico, Texas, or whichever place needs assistance the most.
Hurricane Harvey Relief Fund: Mayor Sylvester Turner and County Judge Ed Emmett of Houston have established the Hurricane Harvey Relief Fund that will accept tax-deductible flood relief donations for victims affected by the recent floods. The fund will be housed at the Greater Houston Community Foundation, a 501(c)(3) public charity.
If you live in Texas, the City of Houston Emergency Operations Center has posted a list of places where you can take donations. In Dallas, officials have opened two donation centers. Additional details can be found here.
GoFundMe hosts individual crowdfunding campaigns for people and organizations. Those include several based outside the United States in case you would prefer to give directly to, say, The American University of Antigua, which is steering money toward Barbuda, or the Caribbean Eagles, a bikers’ group whose clubhouse was damaged in St. Martin. (GoFundMe says fraud is rare. It says it works to verify that all funds go to intended recipients, but it cannot always verify the specific claims made by individual campaigners.)
Unidos, by the Hispanic Federation: A coalition of elected officials in New York and Puerto Rico joined the Hispanic Federation, a Latino nonprofit, to launch this relief fund for Puerto Ricans affected by Maria. Proceeds will go to the community and civic organizations in Puerto Rico, the group said.
Dominica Hurricane Relief Fund: The government of Dominica is collecting donations through JustGiving, a crowdfunding website. The money will go toward temporary roofing, blankets, and non-perishable foods.
Fund for the Virgin Islands: The Community Foundation of the Virgin Islands, a nonprofit, is collecting donations for this fund, which will be used “both to support short-term relief efforts and to enhance the well-being of future generations.”
Unidos por Puerto Rico: This initiative, from Beatriz Rosselló, the first lady of Puerto Rico, enlists private sector help in providing aid to those affected by Hurricanes Irma and Maria. Donations are accepted through a variety of means, including PayPal.
Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS): The federal agency for volunteering and service has deployed AmeriCorps and Senior Corps members to areas impacted by the recent hurricanes. Following a disaster, national service acts as a force multiplier, providing key resources and significantly expanding the capacity of existing organizations on the ground. Through all its programs and initiatives, CNCS helps communities to prepare for, mitigate, respond to, and recover from disasters. Learn more about the CNCS disaster relief efforts by visiting the Hurricane Harvey and Hurricane Irma pages.
The National Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster, an association of disaster relief organizations, encourages people not to “self-deploy.” Instead, willing volunteers in Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands or Florida can register to be contacted by relief workers by signing up on the association’s website. The Red Cross is also helping to coordinate volunteers.
All Hands Volunteers: All Hands works with local volunteers and groups to respond to natural disasters. With Hurricanes Harvey and Maria, it is focusing its efforts on the U.S. Virgin Islands. “Our help is needed in the islands, so that’s where we’ll be,” said Erik Dyson, the group’s chief executive.
Share your time with organizations that work to prevent wildfires and provide disaster relief services. Volunteer with one of these organizations or search for opportunities:
Citizen Corps: Join your community’s Emergency Response Team.
Disaster News Network: Volunteer Opportunities.
National Park Service: Volunteer in our national parks.
USDA Forest Service: Work for the great outdoors.
To Help the Homeless
The National Coalition for the Homeless (NCH) developed a fact sheet on disasters and homelessness. NCH envisions a world where everyone has a safe, decent, affordable and accessible home and offers several ways to get involved and donate.
The Houston Coalition for the Homeless is facilitating shelter for homeless people in Houston, including offering up-to-date information about which shelters currently have space, who’s the best fit for each one, and how to get there safely. They’re accepting financial donations to continue their work.
To Help Kids
The Texas Diaper Bank, which is based out of San Antonio, is putting together relief kit for families with very small children who need access to clean diapers in the midst of flooding and evacuations. Diapers take up a lot of space in a delivery truck, which means that other relief organizations have to decide between bringing diapers or food to affected areas. The Texas Diaper Bank fills in that need.
The Driscoll Children’s Hospital in Corpus Christi weathered the storm well, never losing power. It’s accepting financial donations now, and if you live in the area and want to help, you can also donate blood. They serve a large area, and people from many affected parts of the coast are likely to need their services.
Save the Children believes every child deserves a future. In the U.S. and around the world, we give children a healthy start in life, the opportunity to learn and protection from harm. We do whatever it takes for children – every day and in times of crisis – transforming their lives and the future we share.
To Help Animals
To help animals affected by Hurricane Harvey, visit the Houston Humane Society or the San Antonio Humane Society. The Houston Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals has set up an animal emergency response hotline (713-861-3010) and is accepting donations on its website.
If you’re in Austin and want to work with a local org, Austin Pets Alive! is doing similar work, and has similar needs—cash, to keep operating, and volunteers to foster animals. They can also use certain pet supplies: large plastic or metal bins with lids to store food, leashes and collars, cat litter, large brooms, cat-specific beds, and liquid laundry soap. (The organization says they’re good on crates and pet food now and don’t have much space to store them.)
To help animals affected by Hurricane Irma, organizations accepting donations for the welfare of animals include the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, the Best Friends Animal Society and the South Florida Wildlife Center.
To Help People with Disabilities
European and Mediterranean Major Hazards Agreement (EUR-OPA): Guidelines
for Assisting People with Disabilities during Emergencies, Crises, and Disasters.
The Center for an Accessible Society: For the 54 million Americans with disabilities, and millions of others around the world, surviving a disaster can be the beginning of a greater struggle. Review the 7 key principles to guide disaster relief to accommodate disabled Americans.
Portlight Strategies is a 501(c)(3) organization, founded in 1997 to facilitate a variety of projects involving people with disabilities, including post-disaster relief work. With the Partnership for Inclusive Disaster Strategies, they have assisted many thousands of hurricane survivors with disabilities, older adults, their families and their communities over the past month.
American Red Cross: People with disabilities and their caregivers may benefit from the tips provided on this website about managing communications, equipment, service animals, pets, and home hazards.
To Help People with Medical Needs
Even as relief organizations work to help large numbers of people, it’s difficult sometimes for them to provide for people with special needs. Portlight, which has provided inclusive relief to people with disabilities for twenty years—including in Hurricanes Katrina and Sandy—is working to ensure that people who require medical equipment and assistive technology have what they need after they evacuate, and to make sure that those same folks are able to get to safety. They accept donations via PayPal.
Direct Relief USA offers prescription drugs and other medical supplies to those who need it in emergency situations and works with clinics and primary care doctors to ensure that people are able to get what they need when they need it. They’re accepting financial contributions.
Heart to Heart International: This group was already providing medicine, medical care and aid to victims of storms in Texas, the Florida Keys, and Haiti when it sent two teams to Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria. It also sent thousands of health and hygiene kits to St. Lucia and St. Martin last week.
International Medical Corps: The group has been working with local authorities to provide emergency care after Hurricane Irma and said it had moved medical supplies into place ahead of Hurricane Maria.
To Help Those who are Displaced
If you’re not in one of the affected areas and you have a spare room, you can host someone by listing your home on Airbnb for free, with no service fees to anyone. Right now, most of the listings are in Austin, Dallas, and San Antonio. If you’re in any of those cities—or another part of the state that’s not experiencing flooding—you might consider listing your space so displaced people have more options.
In Dallas, Trusted World is operating three shelters for evacuees. They need donations, supplies (clean clothing, non-perishable food, toiletries, diapers, and baby formula), and volunteers to help sort out the things that people have dropped off.
Global Giving is trying to raise $2 million to help those affected by the storm. As of this writing, they’ve raised $43,000, but the campaign had just launched. The organization provides food, gas, clean water, hygiene products, and shelter in the short-term, and then funnels the remaining resources to local organizations to facilitate long-term recovery.
HEB doesn’t accept donations, but it’s worth being aware that the supermarket chain provides emergency response services, mobile kitchens, and disaster-response units to affected areas. (They also announced on Sunday that they’d be collecting donations at the register for the American Red Cross, The Salvation Army, and Feeding Texas.) That’s especially important as a number of stores in affected areas (including the entire Houston area) are closed. You can learn more about which stores are closed—and which ones have reopened—here.
To Prepare of Prevent the Next Disaster
- Emergency System for Advance Registration of Volunteer Health Professionals, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services
- Medical Reserve Corps, HHS
- Community Emergency Response Team training
Use these tools from Get Ready to keep yourself, your family and your community safe:
- American Red Cross: Wildfire Safety.
- FEMA: Federal Emergency Management Agency.
- Firewise: Information on living in fire-prone areas.
- National Interagency Fire Center: Current wildland fire information.
- National Parks Service: FireNet.
- USDA Forest Service: Caring for land, serving people.
- FOR KIDS: Smokey the Bear: Only you can prevent forest fires.
- FOR KIDS: FEMA for Kids: Wildfires.
Preparedness Resources for Public Health Professionals
- Climate Nexus: Hurricane Harvey and climate change
- APHA climate change page
- Fact sheet: Extreme rainfall and drought
- Fact sheet: Warm water and flooding
- Environmental Health Playbook
- Case example on Hurricane Katrina and Superstorm Sandy
Check out this infographic on extreme weather and health
Landesman’s Public Health Management of Disasters: The Practice Guide, 4th edition
The fourth edition of “Landesman’s Public Health Management of Disasters: The Practice Guide” addresses public health’s role in emergency management, preparedness, and recovery.
Preparedness-related research from APHA’s American Journal of Public Health
AJPH has published a wealth of studies on public health and preparedness, including an August 2017 study that showed many pet owners want to evacuate with their pets during disasters. Check out more preparedness-related AJPH research.
Listen to our podcast from The Nation’s Health: How climate change drives extreme weather: What you need to know now
If there is a group missing from this list, please let us know! Email email@example.com and we will continue updating this page as possible.