Disaster Support: Know Before You Donate

Mike Shekari/Correspondent

So far, the 2017 Atlantic hurricane season has already wreaked havoc across the Southeastern United States and islands in the Caribbean, including Puerto Rico. Hurricane Harvey decimated large areas of coastal Texas and has displaced thousands of individuals for the foreseeable future. Meanwhile, Hurricane Irma, the largest recorded in Atlantic hurricane history, plowed across the entirety of Florida causing power losses for approximately seven million residents and massive amounts of damage throughout the Florida Keys and southwestern portions of the state. Western portions of Volusia County remain under flood warnings from the St. Johns River as of the writing of this publication.

However, Puerto Rico was affected by Hurricane Irma and then hit directly by Hurricane Maria, which has induced a humanitarian disaster of unprecedented proportions on the island. Power will not be completely restored on the island for up to six months, according to Puerto Rican officials.

There has been an outpouring of support for the people of Puerto Rico, including requests for donations of batteries, diapers, first aid supplies and non-perishable food items. As good as the intentions of those who donate material support to emergency response efforts are, they can actually cause more issues with their donations than the amount of help they provide.

The reasoning behind this statement revolves around logistics issues experienced by emergency management personnel while providing disaster services. When donations are collected in boxes like the ones currently on campus, they are often sent to humanitarian relief organization without proper sorting or in too small of quantities from one source to make an appreciable difference.

This creates a need for additional manpower to sort and prepare these donations for distribution, in addition to a staging area to store the donations while they are being sorted. Manpower and staging areas are usually both in short supply in disaster-affected areas, which can cause response efforts to be bogged down by donations or the donations to be pushed out of the way until they can be sorted later. There is also a possibility that the donation might not even make it to the disaster zone or it could be stolen and resold to those whom it was meant to help.

Instead of buying items and sending them to a donation drop-off, individuals can take the money that they would have spent on relief items and donate it directly to a reputable humanitarian organization responding to the disaster in Puerto Rico, such as the Salvation Army and American Red Cross. These organizations can take financial contributions and order the supplies that they need for the response in an organized manner through already existing logistics networks and in bulk quantities, which allows for a far more efficient use of resources.

We have a duty to help the people of Puerto Rico. However, we must ensure that the donations we provide will be more of a help than a burden. You can donate to the relief efforts from the Salvation Army or American Red Cross for Puerto Rico online.