How to Help: Higher education and disaster recovery

August 28, 2017

As Hurricane Harvey takes its toll, many are looking on and wondering how to help. Iowa’s higher education institutions have a long tradition of supporting disaster response and recovery from stepping up in situations like the floods that hit Cedar Rapids and other areas in 2008 to traveling to help in communities hit by Hurricane Katrina every year for 10 years following the event.

There is little doubt this disaster will provide another example of the ways college students and institutions of higher education can make an impact. Already, campuses are considering whether to send students to Houston for alternative spring break trips next March and finding other ways to get involved more immediately.

Here are some tips and resources to help make that support as effective as possible:

Give Money, Not “Stuff”

While it can seem helpful to send donated goods to a disaster area, this type of support can actually be a hindrance with truckloads of water and used clothing and nowhere to store it. Unless responding to a direct request for goods, sending monetary financial support is always a better bet.

Work Through Organizations

In the same way that it can be difficult to manage “stuff” it can also be difficult in a disaster to manage people. If you are looking to volunteer, particularly during the response phase, don’t just show up! Make sure you are working through organizations with disaster expertise (see below) so you can stay safe and not get in the way.

Think Long-Term

Disasters go in cycles, beginning with response and rescue and moving into recovery. Response gets the most news coverage, but recovery has the greatest needs. Communities hit by disasters need help long after the cameras have left and public attention has dissipated, so think about how you can step up in the months and years to come.

As with all community engagement, make sure what you are doing is in line with locally-identified needs in order to meet gaps and add assistance that will make the greatest difference. Below are some organizations and resources to consider. If you are planning a fundraiser or trip to help, please let us know so we can help coordinate efforts and amplify your work!

Selected resources related to higher education involvement in disaster preparedness, response, and recovery:

Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) Directory of Community Emergency Response Team Programs by State.

The Extension Disaster Education Network (EDEN) links Extension educators from across the U.S. and various disciplines, enabling them to use and share resources to reduce the impact of disasters.

National Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster (VOAD) is a nonprofit, nonpartisan, membership based organization that serves as the forum where organizations share knowledge and resources throughout the disaster cycle—preparation, response and recovery —to help disaster survivors and their communities.

Disaster Volunteer Organizations

Disaster Recovery Course Models

Rebuilding Vermont; Community Engagement in Disaster Preparedness and Relief
University of Vermont
Learn how the University of Vermont created a service-learning class (in less than a week) to support recovery from Hurricane Irene in 2011.

Ready Campus
By: Pennsylvania Campus Compact
Prepare your campus to respond to disasters by utilizing this resource. The manual covers topics such as emergency management, community partnerships, and service-learning.