Silhouette of rescue workers in front of a fire

How You Can Help Victims of California Fires For now, out-of-area people should stay put and offer financial donations if they're able, say faculty who study disaster recovery.

Faculty who study the best practices of disaster relief and assistance offer insights into the best ways to help fire victims.

The fires keep coming, along with heartbreaking images of lives, homes and communities destroyed. So it’s understandable that well-meaning people want to launch a clothing drive, collect shoes or dash to the communities to lend a hand.

But don’t do it.

At least not yet, say Chapman University faculty who teach and study the best practices of disaster relief and assistance. Relief organizations and government agencies typically have their hands full with immediate health and safety issues, says Chris Hutchison, Ph.D., assistant dean of students, who along with Justin Koppelman, Ph.D., associate director of civic engagement initiatives, teaches the course Leadership in the Eye of the Storm.

“It takes a tremendous amount of energy from those agencies to prepare volunteers. If we overwhelm them with volunteers … that’s going to take time and money away from that they need to do,” Hutchison says.

For Now, Donate

In the short term, donate money to well-vetted emergency relief agencies that have the expertise, equipment and trained volunteers ready to go, says  Koppelman. Research your charities of choice at Charity Navigator.

Here are some options to consider:

Hands-On Help Comes Later

Soon enough the call for hands-on help will come – and probably keep coming. For example, the rebuilding of New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina continues, Koppelman says. Each spring a long list of tasks awaits the Chapman community service teams that collaborate with Rebuilding Together New Orleans.

People who work on such efforts also need to be ready to shift their energies, because needs change as recovery work moves from short-term to ongoing concerns, he says. He points to New Orleans as a complex case study still in progress.

“So many people ended up being dispersed by Katrina,” he says. “Now people are making decisions about the rebuilding of New Orleans. In the longer term it’s important to work to make sure their voices, their interests and their needs are reflected.”

Dawn Bonker