Things to Consider


As a first-time volunteer out of my area for hurricane Florence, there were very clear lessons that may help you be more prepared. As a Florida resident having survived several hurricanes over the last 50 years, helping with the rescue and recovery efforts of Florence seemed like a logical civil service. Deploying to a disaster zone is very different than working from your home, being gone for the day and then returning to a clean bed at night. What I learned was that I needed to be better prepared, and there is a huge need to coordinate the army of volunteers ready to jump in and do what they can. The bravery, sacrifice and general hard work demonstrated by the search and rescue teams, government and civilians are noteworthy. You cannot appreciate what they do until you get to the field and see the conditions. These people head into the storm while others head away – the definition of a hero in my book.

If you are considering volunteering for a disaster rescue or recovery operation, prepare yourself mentally and physically, improve your rescue skills and assemble and prepare all types of equipment. Match these things with the types of disasters you want to respond to and do not be afraid to say “I’m not ready for this event.” The Aftermath Data public safety mobile app is intended to help volunteers and government personnel know where, when and how to deploy these resources. Be part of the solution, contribute information to the community, and go where your skills make you the most effective. Having good information makes you more efficient and effective.


Thoughts…in no particular order


  • A tent doesn’t work in heavy rain and wind. Find a building or bring a camper or be prepared to sleep in your vehicle after a hard day and being hot and sweaty. Understand the risk of a tornado, falling trees or flooding when not staying in a building. A camper is nice so you can move to where the action is but it is a risk of high winds.
  • Taking an enclosed trailer means you can leave it at camp and use your vehicle to get around. If everything is in your vehicle you cannot give others a ride.
  • Bring knee-high boots and waders for all water events. It helps to have dry feet around camp. Water turns to mud when water drains and rubber boots are helpful. Waders are good if you hope to stay dry. In the summer, you might as well not wear them and stay cool.
  • Bring a few lifejackets. One per volunteer but also for the people you will rescue. Be sure it fits well and consider a kayakers lifejacket because they offer good mobility. You may even want to bring a life vest for animals.
  • You cannot plan on there being restrooms if you cannot identify a volunteer shelter to stay in. Showers are unlikely.
  • Install the Zello app. It is used by SAR groups to communicate quickly to lots of people at once. Join a search and rescue (SAR) channel and keep quiet unless you are involved in a rescue.
  • Don’t get there too quickly, stage outside the area, and come in behind the pro’s. You won’t miss the action and you may avoid being a casualty.
  • Bring backup batteries for phones and computers. A solar charger or generator to recharge is a good idea.
  • Bring gloves that work when wet. Leather may not be the best choice.
  • Bring a neon and reflective safety jacket. Check Harbor Freight.
  • Bring a throw rope for boat work.
  • A flat-bottomed boat, canoe or kayak are the only real option. V-hulls have far fewer applications. Being able to carry the boat is also helpful in launching in very shallow water. A rubber boat, like a Zodiac, is ideal and why professional SAR teams use them.
  • Bring water sandals or dive booties for work in the water. The sandals may go over the booties if they don’t have a sole to protect your feet.
  • Plan to cook with a propane stove and cooking gear.
  • A popup rain fly or party type tent is a good idea to get out of the rain and rest in the evenings.
  • Finding fuel is a problem and volunteers are second to last on the priority list. Bring lots of spare gas, outboard fuel oil, and diesel to run boats, vehicles and generators.
  • Food, water, ice will be 100% your responsibility.
  • Form a team and designate a leader. Coordinate with others in the area to learn where you can be helpful. Check the Aftermath Data mobile app for help requests or read sitreps (Situation Reports) for info on where resources are needed or available for distribution.
  • Share details via SitReps on directions and for GPS location.
  • Consider a kayaker splash jacket, eye protection and helmet for safety gear.
  • Figure out how to communicate when the cell phones aren’t working. Radios and chargers of some type are needed. Marine radios which are waterproof and float are a good consideration.
  • You may be planning to do boat rescues but bring a chainsaw. You may need to clear the road so you can launch your boat.
  • Bring a tow rope or strap to move cars, trees and things.


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