When we see images on TV of families with roofless houses or damaged walls, a check doesn't seem like enough. We want to drive down to the disaster area with a dozen buddies, sturdy boots and a box of tools, and get to work.
But that might not be the best course of action. In Joplin, Mo., thousands of volunteers descended on the town, brimming with good intentions, but clueless about the complicated work of disaster cleanup and recovery. In response, the neighboring Indiana Department of Homeland Security had to release the following message:
"Well-meaning individuals who simply show up to help without prior contact or coordination with disaster management personnel in Missouri can further complicate or even hinder response and recovery operations already underway."
Here are some other reasons not to just show up: Disaster areas are often low on food and lodging. Do you know where you would stay? Diseases like malaria and cholera spread quickly during these times, particularly in developing countries, and the last thing anyone needs is another ill person. Finally, consider the tasks at hand: Do you have special skills or training that would be useful in a disaster situation? If not, leave it to the professionals [source: Idealist].
If you want to donate your time and energy to disaster recovery -- a noble and necessary effort -- the best thing to do is affiliate with a national organization dedicated to disaster response. The Web site of the National Volunteer Organizations Active in Disaster has a list of relief organizations that offer training in advance of disasters so they're ready to mobilize when the need arises. And you will be too.