Photo: United Nations Development Programme

If you want to help in the aftermath of a disaster, getting some formal disaster training could be of use.

Earlier this week, a Matador member wrote to say:

“I’ve been finding myself wanting to fly out & lend a hand for the tsunami, Katrina & now this, but I just don’t have the experience & feel I would only be in the way. I was wondering what you might suggest for getting the training I might need to be able to do the work I want to do to help.”

If you’ve been wondering how to get disaster training, here are a few resources that will prepare you to help:

1. American Red Cross Disaster Training

If you want to get started with your disaster training right away, the American Red Cross has a comprehensive introductory course online— and it’s free.

The course consists of three modules, which familiarize you with the Red Cross and its role in disaster response; the specific skills and actions required of disaster response volunteers; and the opportunities for volunteering with your local Red Cross chapter.

While in-person disaster training courses provide better opportunities for question and answer, as well as interaction with other learners and seasoned disaster response experts, the ARC online course seems like a solid way to begin learning some basic disaster relief principles.

If you do prefer in-person training, many Red Cross chapters offer classes at their local offices.

2. FEMA Emergency Management Training

Though many Americans are likely to argue that FEMA–the Federal Emergency Management Agency– could benefit from some training itself in light of its poor response to Hurricane Katrina, the agency offers independent study courses that cover a range of disasters, including earthquakes.

Specialized topics include how to respond to emergencies involving animals, hazardous materials, and pandemics.

The courses are self-paced, delivered online, and are free. You can even earn college credit for your coursework.

3. Salvation Army Emergency Disaster Services Training Program

“Trained volunteers are effective volunteers,” says the Salvation Army, which has been providing disaster response and relief services for more than 100 years.

Like FEMA, the Salvation Army offers courses focusing on specific aspects of disaster, such as “Psychological First Aid” and “Emotional and Spiritual Care in Disaster Operations.” They also offer an “Intro to Disaster Services” class for new volunteers.

These classes take place at Salvation Army locations around the United States. Check the schedule of trainings to see if there’s a location near you.

4. The National Center for Disaster Preparedness

Students pay thousands of dollars a year to attend Columbia University, but you can access the university’s National Center for Disaster Preparedness courses–offered through its highly respected Mailman School of Public Health– for free.

Online webinars offered by the NCDP go far beyond your basic disaster preparedness and response curricula offered by the other organizations… these topics are high-tech: “Geospatial Intelligence, Social Data, and the Future of Public Health Preparedness and Response.” Having organized Matador’s social media response to the Haiti earthquake, I’m all about this course: “Learning Networks of People & Places from Mobile Data.”

Seriously, dig into this website. Columbia’s offering some highly specialized knowledge delivered by world-renowned scholars.

5. Centers for Disease Control

Need to deepen your knowledge and skills about bioterrorism attacks, bombings, or other chemically-related emergencies? The CDC is your one-stop shop in these areas. Download courses for free–in English AND in Spanish– on their website.

Most of these resources are focused on learners based in the United States. If you’re from another country, what resources are available to you locally? Share them in the comments!

Community Connection:

Learn more about disasters and disaster relief in these articles from our archives:

Disaster Aid: Killing with Kindness?

How to Survive Travel Disasters: Lessons from Hurricane Katrina