How to help in Oklahoma City (and how not to)

I realize that most readers of this blog are quite some distance from Oklahoma City, but my emergency management training nonetheless prompts me to write this. I want to help Moore and Oklahoma City recover from yesterday’s tragic and devastating tornado. You probably do, too. But unless you are part of a coordinated response, you’ll do more harm than good if you travel to the disaster area or send donated items there. That’s true no matter what special skills you have.

Emergency managers have a term for what happens when uncoordinated people or goods show up: “the second disaster.” Dealing with the second disaster can draw resources away from people in need. In some cases, so many uncoordinated goods (clothing, etc.) have arrived at disaster scenes that officials had no choice but to throw them in piles until they could be dumped in landfills. Uncoordinated volunteers likewise have gotten in the way, unintentionally interfering with recovery efforts and in many cases finding themselves with nothing helpful to do.

So what can you do? Here are my suggestions:

  1. Pray. If you, like me, are Christian, ask the Lord for protection for victims and responders and for a speedy recovery, according to His perfect will.
  2. Send money. No amount of donated goods is as valuable in a disaster as the cash to buy exactly what victims need, when they need it. Donate money to your favorite national response organization. Money doesn’t require trucks that need fuel and can clog roadways in the disaster area. If all you can donate is used clothing or household items, sell them at a garage sale and then donate the proceeds. Not sure where to send the money? If you don’t already have a favorite national response organization, choose a member of National Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster (NVOAD).
  3. Volunteer with a coordinated organization. NVOAD helps prevent second disasters by coordinating the responses of national organizations like the Red Cross, Salvation Army, national faith-based organizations like denominations and Church World Service, etc. If you want to give time, contact an NVOAD member and offer your services. Even if the organization can’t use you in Oklahoma City, it can offer training and preparation, so it can send you to a future disaster.

Do any of the three things above and you can have a positive impact on the victims of the Oklahoma tornado, without contributing to a second disaster.