How do I get a job in the field of disaster relief?
July 9, 2009 2:39 PM   Subscribe

How do I get a job in the field of disaster relief?

I have felt a lifelong drive to help those people in the greatest need. I would really like to work in the area of disaster relief, perhaps internationally. Currently I am a scientist (wildlife biologist) and a volunteer firefighter/EMT, so some of my skills are tangentially relevant. What can I do to make myself marketable in this field? I am looking at this as a five-year transition, so I would appreciate any advice about schooling, volunteer organizations, and job direction. Thanks!
posted by tr0ubley to Work & Money (7 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Go to your local Red Cross and take a few classes which will put you in position to volunteer.

This will give you a taste for it. You will do many different jobs, and perhaps be sent out of state for any large-scale disasters that happen.

From there, a path will become more apparent for you.

Good luck, and thanks!
posted by Danf at 2:52 PM on July 9, 2009

For international aid work, its very desirable to have a second language. Also, having traveled in third world contexts is an asset. Doctors Without Borders has a good bit of information about how to work for them. You would probably be looking as going as logistician or administrator rather than medical personnel.
posted by kimdog at 3:01 PM on July 9, 2009

Apply to FEMA.
posted by Ironmouth at 3:19 PM on July 9, 2009

I know someone who works with the Red Cross, travelling to disaster areas as need arises. Definitely speak to them.
posted by Billegible at 3:34 PM on July 9, 2009

Also check out (International Rescue Committee).
posted by getmetoSF at 5:02 PM on July 9, 2009

Best answer: Great question, good on ya. You might be keen to see my somewhat similar one from a couple years back - I got some excellent and very spot-on responses.

I work for World Vision International now - we are one of the biggest first-responders to large-scale disasters (we worked on emergency relief in 60 countries in 2008, distributing approximately 550,000 metric tonnes of food to 8,500,000 people). Gaza, Pakistan, Myanmar, Eastern DR Congo, Sudan, you name it. We have a Global Pre-positioning Resource Network (GPRN) and a Global Rapid Response Team (GRRT) that help towards these ends.

I'm obviously biased towards my org, and they do great work, but there are a dearth of orgs out there that do similar work, both public and private, many of which have been mentioned above already - particularly Red Cross, DWB, and The IRC, when it comes to in-field medical work. Doctors Without Borders is known a bit more commonly in the field as "Médecins Sans Frontières," fwiw. A few more names I'll add to the list that you might want to check into:

- American Refugee Committee
- Catholic Relief Services
- Disaster Relief International
- International Medical Corps
- Mercy Corps
- Merlin (UK)
- Samaritan's Purse

That's the first few that come to mind but there's tons of smaller orgs doing emergency relief work. Drop me a memail if you'd like to know more about WVI or have any specific questions for me.
posted by allkindsoftime at 11:54 PM on July 9, 2009 [1 favorite]

Watch "Superman" as a preliminary guide. You need the special skills to be sure - but you also need to have a Clark Kent life which allows you to drop everything at a moment's notice to go and save the planet.

For example I know somebody who works for the RNLI Rapid Response Unit in the UK. They have the job or taking lifeboats to wherever in the world there may be serious floods. There are three teams of 20 who shift through states of immediate readiness, standby and reserve status. Lots of people are attracted by the apparent glamour of this but the hardest aspect they have in recruitment is finding people who are able to drop everything at a few hours notice and then get caught up in a rescue operation which may take a number of days. If you have an employer, partner or family they must all be very understanding.

People have mentioned a number of specialist charities - but don't neglect large government organisations. For example the US National Park service includes people who are willing to go and fight wildfires at short notice I believe. Also the military are often heavily involved in this.
posted by rongorongo at 2:35 AM on July 10, 2009

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