By the Microsoft Disaster Response Team

Following the devastation of a natural disaster, one of the first questions people ask is how can I help? The challenge is most response organizations require pre-training for disaster relief volunteers so many are unable to provide volunteer assistance during this critical response period. This happens for two main reasons. First, there are safety concerns with placing untrained volunteers in a response environment. And secondly, time and resources are limited during a disaster so response organizations need to focus all of their efforts on relief services rather than training new volunteers.

If you are interested in volunteering your skills and your time, the key is to proactively reach out to volunteer organizations before disasters occur. With hurricane season officially underway, now is a great time to engage.

Use your skills

When a disaster occurs there’s a great demand for a wide range of skills.  For example, if you have technical expertise in areas like programming, information management and data input, communication technology, and project management, then there will be organizations looking for those skills.

· For example, Random Hacks of Kindness is a volunteer community of technology innovators that develop open source solutions to social issues. One of the community’s primary focus areas is designing and building tools that help in disasters. These solutions are developed by volunteers during hack-a-thon events around the world. For more information on upcoming events and how to get involved visit: www.rhok.org/.

· Crisis Commons is another volunteer community that harnesses the power of technology for good through what it calls CrisisCamps. These events connect a global network of volunteers to develop technology tools for crisis management and response. The first step to volunteering with Crisis Commons is to complete a volunteer sign up form and the organization will match you with an opportunity in your local community or contact you when a crisis occurs.

Help a local non-profit organization.

Before, during and after disasters, response organizations rely on volunteers for everything from health care to logistics coordination, to technology support,rebuilding and construction efforts.

· If you are interested in helping, start by checking with your employer. Many corporations have existing volunteer partnerships with local non-profit organizations and this connection could offer a quick way to plug in. For example, the American Red Cross has a corporate volunteer program called Ready When the Time Comes. Volunteers from partnering companies complete a six-hour training program and are ready to mobilize in the event of a disaster. The American Red Cross also organizes Disaster Action Volunteer Teams made up of client caseworkers, disaster health specialists and public information officers to provide assistance to those impacted in the local community. Pre-training is required and offered for free. Volunteer opportunities and requirements vary so reach out to the American Red Cross in your region for complete information.

· For people who enjoy doing projects with their hands, Habitat for Humanity is another option to consider. In addition to the organization’s construction and rebuilding projects, it also has a volunteer program called Disaster Corps that focuses specifically on disaster response and preparedness in the United States. These volunteers help with a range of activities including preparedness planning, post disaster assessment, and logistics.

· Many non-profit organizations, like United Way and Salvation Army, encourage prospective volunteers to search opportunities on www.allforgood.org and www.volunteermatch.com. Both of these tools can search by location, skills set and areas of interest to help you find the right fit.

Check back here for additional posts from the Microsoft Disaster Response Team.  For more information on the Microsoft’s Disaster Response program visit our website.