Disclaimer: the author speaks from his experience both responding to national disasters with the American Red Cross post-9/11 pre-Katrina and as a volunteer Incident Handler. His opinions are his own, and not those of the American Red Cross or SANS.
First Rule of Disaster Response
The first rule of responding to a disaster situation is: “Don’t become a victim.” You’re not helping the situation if you rent a truck, fill it full of donations and drive into a scene that isn’t ready to receive you. You’ll likely run out of fuel, have no shelter, and may have to eat those canned goods that you were hoping to distribute. Not-becoming-a-victim also applies to being aware and wary of donation-scams that will come at you from a number of channels (see other recent diary entries for current examples.)
Anyone that promises to pass on 100% of your donation to the “Victims of X-event” is not telling you the truth. Either they’re consciously lying to you, or they don’t understand what they’re doing. In either case, it’s not a good idea to give them your money.
Why Earmarking is Bad
When you make a donation to an organization, resist the urge to check that “apply these funds to X-event” box. The organization receiving your money has already invested many thousands of dollars prepping for the next disaster, and those batteries, and cell phones, bottles of water, blankets, etc. that are now being distributed wasn’t paid for out of the X-event fund. After X-event is over, they’re going to need to replenish the supplies and gear to prepare for the next disaster.
What’s the Good News?
I certainly don’t want to scare anyone away from reaching out to help, in fact I’d like to encourage you to donate if you can, and volunteer if you can. There is a lot that dedicated individuals and small groups can accomplish when they're organized.
Who do You Trust?
When donating in response to a disaster in another country, it’s best to stick with well-established organizations and ideally those that already have an operating presence in the stricken area. If you don’t know where to start I’d like to humbly suggest one of the following:
Jan 15th 2010
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Jan 15th 2010
1 decade ago