How to Volunteer in Hurricane Relief Efforts: Sign Up Before You Show Up!

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Sign Up Before You Show Up!

With so much media attention to the response and recovery efforts for recent hurricanes affected areas, it is heartwarming to know that so many people are willing to drop everything and help the victims and survivors of these devastating storms.

Healthcare professionals—often more than the average person—have a strong sense of altruism that drives their actions and decisions about helping others. Although many responding volunteers are often affiliated with established programs like the American Red Cross or area Fire Departments, self-deploying spontaneous unaffiliated volunteers are often turned away in droves because they can’t be properly integrated into an official organized response. Worse yet, self-deploying volunteers (no matter how skilled and appropriate for the response) can end up getting in the way of first responders, take up precious resources (food, water, shelter, etc.) or even become victims themselves.

Healthcare professionals can help avoid adding to the chaos by remembering these four tips if they are interested in volunteering during or after a disaster or other public health emergency.


No matter how desperate the media makes the situation seem, it is never advisable to head to a disaster without being properly vetted and placed according to skill and need by the local, state or federal agency leading the response.


The Emergency System for Advance Registration of Volunteer Health Professionals (ESAR-VHP) is a federal program designed to have healthcare professionals register with a single state registry so that qualified responders can be called upon by the appropriate authorities when needed. In Maine we use Maine Responds ( to register volunteers prior to a response.


The Medical Reserve Corps (MRC) is designed to work with communities to build teams of volunteers that can support a public health emergency response. MRC units are established in each of Maine’s 8 Public Health Districts. Interested volunteers can learn more about MRC by visiting the national MRC website at where they can find info on joining their local unit.


There are numerous volunteer programs (beyond ESAR-VHP and MRC) that are designed to support disaster and emergency operations. Becoming affiliated with an organized program prior to an event is the best way to prepare.

You can learn about these and other Public Health Emergency Preparedness volunteer opportunities by emailing for more information.

Jared McCannell, CVA

Volunteer Management Coordinator


Department of Health and Human Services

Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention – Preserve  Promote  Protect

Division of Public Health Operations

District Public Health and Emergency Preparedness

Public Health Emergency Preparedness


286 Water Street, 4th Floor

11 State House Station

Augusta, ME 04333-0011


Mobile:  (207) 441-0786

Office:    (207) 287-4072