Natural Disaster 101: How to Be a Helpful Volunteer

By Rayi Noormega - May 06, 2017


East Asia regions are highly potential to be stroked by the natural disasters. More than 2,200 natural disasters struck Asia in the past 20 years, claiming close to one million lives, with the following several mega-disasters which were happening in the East Asia regions: Japan's 2011 earthquake/tsunami, the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami, Myanmar's 2008 Cyclone Nargis, China's 2008 earthquake, and recently, this December 2016, Aceh Province in Indonesia was stroked by a 6,4-magnitude earthquake.[1]

With all the natural disasters as well as the victims and the survivors, the entire citizen in East Asia should know how to confront the survivors of natural disasters, simply because everyone should able to be a volunteer. More often than not, people are willing to help, but they don’t know how and they are afraid of being troublesome instead of reducing the distress of the survivors.

People who live in East Asia should be ready for the natural disasters which can happen at any time, and one of the ways to be prepared is to learn how to be a helpful volunteer and giving some psychological help for the survivors. Here are 5 things you can do to be a helpful volunteer in case of natural disasters based on the Humanitarian Disaster Institute and the University of Florida on their Cooperative Extension Service:


1. Learn about the locations and know who to contact first.


The first thing you should do is to make sure that the local emergency services have already arrived at the location; if they haven’t been contacted yet, try your best to call or contact them immediately. Then, if you want to involve in helping the survivors, don’t forget to learn about its surroundings first. Learn about the locations as well as how the local people live there; learn the cultures, the personality of the people, and learn about the location geographically. The knowledge about its local people will help you to establish a proper interaction with the survivors in order to reduce their distress.

2. Regulate your emotions and respond properly.


Don’t panic is the key to controlling your emotions when you are involved in the disaster scenes. Panic behaviors can be contagious and it can influence other survivors. Practice assertiveness and empathy are also can improve your sensitiveness to become a helpful volunteer. Put more attention to other people’s reaction every time you interact with others; observe other people. When you are being a sensitive person, you will be used in giving the proper respond to any kind of situations, including in the disaster scenes.

3. Assesses the basic needs of the survivors.


When you are in the disaster scenes, assess the basic needs of the survivors are the most crucial thing to do. You have to observe and analyze the situations; are there any shelter, food, water supply, clothes, medicine set, and emergency restrooms for the survivors? Make sure that the basic needs of the survivors are fulfilled first, because sometimes, the distress of the survivors comes from the scarcity of the basic needs. You can help by making an inventory list of the things that the survivors have gotten or vice versa, then you can help by distributing all the stuff from one survivor to others. 

4. Do active listening.


Based on Humanitarian Disaster Institute, listening skills can help the survivors to feel heard and understood and can help them to begin the sense of control and relief.[2] So, if you want to help the survivor as a volunteer, then all you have to do is being a good listener. Then, how to do active listening? Based on the University of Adelaide [3], here are 5 key elements of active listening:

a. Pay attention. Attend the conversation directly by giving the speaker your undivided attention and acknowledge their message.

b. Show that you are listening. Be aware your body language; ensure your posture and demeanor are open and living.

c. Provide feedback. Ask related and relevant questions and seek clarification if you don’t understand their stories, but make sure that your clarification process is not annoying for them.

d. Respond appropriately. Remember that you have to avoid interrupting the speaker unnecessarily and you have to respond openly and honestly, with an appropriate tone of voice.

e. Defer judgment. Avoid making assumptions and don’t forget to be empathetic and nonjudgmental.

5. If you can’t handle the stress, leave the location immediately.


More often than not, volunteers who have not been specifically requested at a disaster site frequently just add to the existing chaos. To prevent the chaos, assessing your own condition is the crucial thing to do. Ask yourself frequently whether you are capable of handling the stress of the survivors and don’t take aside your own distress. If you feel like you can’t handle the stress and you begin to feel emotionally drained, leave the disaster scene immediately and just trust the emergency services to take care all the survivors.

It’s important to know what to do when natural disasters strike a location in East Asia. In Japan for example, the disaster management is almost dominated by the Japanese Red Cross; in which they provide the basic needs of the survivors as well as the psychological help to reduce the distress of the survivors[4]. In Indonesia, the disaster risk management is highly dominated by the law and the government in which it has already regulated by the National Disaster Management Agency known as Badan Nasional Penanggulangan Bencana (BNPB)[5]. Thus, when you are in Japan, it’s recommended if you contact the Red Cross when you have survived from a natural disaster. Meanwhile, when you’re in Indonesia, learn about the law of the disaster management, then contact the BNPB for getting more help.   


If you really want to be a volunteer in a natural disaster field, learn more about it through some training programs. Nobody wants natural disasters to happen, but it is a compulsory thing to learn about it as one of the ways to do mitigation. 

Featured image via metowe

Originally published at East Asia Studies Center (January 11, 2017)


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