How to Help: Higher Education and Disaster Recovery

August 30, 2017

The following was adapted from the work of Iowa Campus Compact. See their original post here.

As Hurricane Harvey takes its toll, many are looking on and wondering how to help. Minnesota’s higher education institutions have a long tradition of supporting disaster response and recovery from immediate response efforts to local extreme weather events to long-term partnerships with New Orleans communities hit by Hurricane Katrina with trips and projects every year since then.

Hurricane Harvey has created a sense of urgency for many who want to help, and a thoughtful response is key. Some attempts at assistance can actually do more harm than good. Here are select tips and resources to choose a path of action that is as effective as possible:


While it can seem helpful to send donated goods to a disaster area, this type of support can actually be a hindrance with truckloads of water and used clothing and nowhere to store it. Unless responding to a direct request for goods, sending monetary financial support is always a better bet.


In the same way that it can be difficult to manage “stuff” it can also be difficult in a disaster to manage people. If you are looking to volunteer, particularly during the response phase, don’t just show up! Make sure you are working through organizations with disaster expertise (see below) so you can stay safe and not get in the way.


Disasters go in cycles, beginning with response and rescue and moving into recovery. Response gets the most news coverage, but recovery has the greatest needs. Communities hit by disasters need help long after the cameras have left and public attention has dissipated, so think about how you can step up in the months and years to come.

As with all community engagement, make sure what you are doing is in line with locally-identified needs in order to meet gaps and add assistance that will make the greatest difference. Below are some organizations and resources to consider. If you are planning a fundraiser or trip to help, please let us know so we can help coordinate efforts and amplify your work!

Resources related to higher education involvement in disaster preparedness, response, and recovery include:

Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) Directory of Community Emergency Response Team Programs by State

The Extension Disaster Education Network (EDEN) links Extension educators from across the U.S. and various disciplines, enabling them to use and share resources to reduce the impact of disasters.

National Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster (VOAD) is a nonprofit, nonpartisan, membership based organization that serves as the forum where organizations share knowledge and resources throughout the disaster cycle—preparation, response and recovery —to help disaster survivors and their communities.

Specific resources related to Hurricane Harvey include:

Charity Navigator lists highly-rated charities providing assistance in the wake of Hurricane Harvey.

Colorlines, published by RaceForward, has created a partial list of organizations working to keep immigrant, Black, Latinx and other populations safe after Hurricane Harvey.  

Disaster recovery campus response models include:

“I don’t want people to think the work is done:” 10 Years of Solidarity with New Orleans
By: Macalester College
Learn how Macalester College has engaged long-term, reciprocal partnerships with people and organizations in New Orleans in the years after Hurricane Katrina

Rebuilding Vermont; Community Engagement in Disaster Preparedness and Relief
By: University of Vermont
Learn how the University of Vermont created a service-learning class (in less than a week) to support recovery from Hurricane Irene in 2011.

Ready Campus
By: Pennsylvania Campus Compact
Prepare your campus to respond to disasters by utilizing this resource. The manual covers topics such as emergency management, community partnerships, and service-learning.