Areas around the U.S. are recovering after Hurricane Harvey made landfall in Texas in late August. In the wake of the storm, many of Johns Hopkins’ own physicians and staff answered the call to help with their expertise in disaster response, emergency medicine, emergency medical services and more. Staff members in the departments of emergency medicine and pediatric emergency medicine, Johns Hopkins Lifeline and the Johns Hopkins Office of Critical Event Preparedness and Response (CEPAR) heeded requests from reputable response agencies to meet emergency medical needs in regions affected by the storm.
“It’s human nature to want to help, especially after a hurricane of this magnitude,” says Gabe Kelen, director of CEPAR and the Department of Emergency Medicine “However, ‘helping’ may not always be helpful and could even be dangerous if you aren’t on a specific mission.” If you are a well-meaning provider or individual hoping to help, CEPAR recommends that you do not travel to an impacted area without a formal request by a trustworthy relief or response organization. “Disaster zones are typically unsafe, and individuals who decide to travel to these locations could put themselves at risk,” Kelen says. “Most importantly, these volunteers could strain already scarce resources since volunteers need to be housed and fed.” By registering with an organization, your skills can be called upon at the right time, and you can be given meaningful assignments that will have real impact on those affected.
When it comes to donations, it’s important to also be cautious. Unless specifically requested by a reliable relief organization, CEPAR recommends not sending clothing or supplies to a disaster area through local drives. “These items often don’t meet the needs of people in the affected area—there may be too much of one item and not enough of another—and they require volunteers onsite to sort through them, potentially displacing the volunteers from another much-needed effort,” Kelen says.
Many reputable nonprofit disaster response and relief organizations prefer monetary donations after a disaster. This way officials will be able to use the donation in the most appropriate manner for what the area specifically needs. It’s best to check the organization’s website before sending these items. Also, while there are many trustworthy organizations, be aware of potential scams. “Bogus charities tend to surface after disasters,” Kelen says. If you would like to make a monetary donation to help the people of Houston and the Gulf Coast, donations can be made to a reputable nonprofit disaster response organization.