Next time, be ready. Train to be a disaster volunteer.

Volunteer hurricane clean up

We are smack in the middle of hurricane season in Texas, and as Harvey in 2017 and Imelda in 2019 have shown us, their reach has been wider and more damaging. But we don’t have to sit around helpless. There are things we can do now to prepare to help our neighbors when the next disaster hits.

Disaster relief is not for amateurs or the untrained. In fact, running into a disaster without the proper experience and training can make you a victim of the disaster, too. Whether you want to power up your boat and go into help flood victims, staff a shelter and hand out basic needs, or join a long-term recovery team, there are plenty of opportunities to get involved. But first, a few things to note:

  1. Whether or not you have gone through the proper training with one of these organizations, they ask that you do not “self-deploy.” Again, you do not want to add to the burden of first responders trying to reach victims.
  2. Second, most of these organizations will also tell you to be patient. Everyone wants to be among the first ones in, but relief and recovery from a disaster can take years. You will be needed, if not in the next wave of volunteers, then most likely another one down the road.
  3. In many cases, these organizations ask that you live within a couple of hours of the disaster. That’s because they want to make sure you can activate when they are ready to deploy you.
  4. For the most part, volunteers must be 13 years or older, and in general prefer you to be older than 18. Many of them have a “youth” component, with training and opportunities to pitch in for teens, but the bigger deployments are meant for adults.
  5. Bi-lingual volunteers are desperately needed, every single time. In any language, really. Minorities are encouraged to volunteer because in a time of crisis, it’s important for victims to connect with someone who understands their culture. If you’re a minority and would like to volunteer, sign up and bring a friend.

VOAD – Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster –A great place to start: If you’re looking for a full list of organizations in Texas that train and deploy post-disaster volunteers, the Central Texas VOAD is the place to start. The full list includes a number of faith-based organizations as well as secular organizations. That being said, almost all of the faith-based organizations are open to volunteers outside their particular faith. If their mission aligns with your interest, you should consider pursuing it.

Austin Disaster Relief Network – ADRN has been instrumental in deploying materials and food to those in shelters and Harvey-affected areas. While there are lot of ways to volunteer at the Austin Disaster Relief Network or in the Hope Thrift Store, if you want to be deployed to serve or clean-up after a disaster, you must go through a background check and training. There’s a basic three-hour training in what ADRN does but there’s also a more advanced “Community Emergency Response Team training, FEMA-backed, that prepared you in the essential with disaster medical operations, terrorism and disaster simulations and others.

Central Texas Red Cross Just about anyone in a volunteer leadership role has taken a Red Cross safety or first-aid training. The Red Cross can help you prepare for large-scale disasters or in-home disasters, and it’s worth taking a look at the array of classes and trainings it offers. To volunteer after a disaster, you must be 18 years old and commit to at least 10, 10-hour days of serving food or working in a shelter or disaster zone.

Habitat for Humanity – Habitat will be instrumental in the rebuilding efforts of these communities. Right now they’re organizing their efforts, but you can sign up for the volunteer registry to be notified of upcoming trainings and deployments.

Texas Search and Rescue – This all-volunteer search and rescue team trains member-volunteers from across the state to deploy at the request of state and local governments and agencies. Training is significant in classrooms and in the field, and you do not have to have experience to become a member, but membership is $165, which covers your training and help support the infrastructure of the organization.

The Salvation Army – Among the first volunteers on the scene, The Salvation Army volunteers provide food service, basic needs services and long-term disaster recovery support. Many of the initial trainings can be done online.

Samaritan’s Purse – A national organization that mobilizes volunteers to provide aid to victims of natural disasters. Its volunteers often stay behind long after first-responders are gone and basic needs are met. Right now they’re volunteering along the Texas Coast, cleaning out homes struck by floods.

Team Rubicon – Deploys military veterans and trained first-responders to disaster situations, and offers disaster-response and management courses to help volunteers take on more responsibility within the organization. Team Rubicon volunteers are widely hailed for their disaster clean-up abilities.

Be ready for the next disaster and sign up for training now. Bring a friend!


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1 Comment on Next time, be ready. Train to be a disaster volunteer.

  1. I had no idea that disaster relief volunteers can be 13 years or older. I thought everyone had to be 18 years or older. I’m glad that the younger generation is getting the chance to help out people who have been affected by natural disasters.

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