Despite all we know about disasters, we tend to think of them as something that affects someone else—somewhere off in a distant place—not something close to home that can strike your family and community. But disasters are many and frequent.

In 2015, the world recorded nearly 350 natural disasters, slightly below the ten-year average. These events killed nearly 23,000 people and affected nearly 100 million people. The economic damage totaled over $66 billion in U.S. dollars.

What can you do to prepare for disasters? And how can you most effectively help others when they’re hit by disasters? Here are the essentials worth knowing.

1.  Know your risks

Not all risks apply equally to all parts of the country, however. Find out what type of hazardous weather is most likely to affect where you live and work. Then look into ways you can prepare. What plans can you and your family make to handle a situation after a severe weather event? Who can you turn to if you need help?

2. Know where to give back

Now that you’ve done some preparation for you and your family, lets focus on helping others who have been affected by natural disasters. Americans are amazingly generous when it comes to helping after disaster strikes. Year after year, contributions total in the hundreds of millions of dollars. But are your contributions going to the right place? And are they making a difference?

We suggest taking these simple steps before you make a contribution:

Start by identifying your priorities and values when it comes to natural disasters. What matters to you? Children? Temporary housing? Long-term recovery?

Look for organizations that support your values and priorities by reviewing them on sites like or Look for organizations with long-time experience and expertise in the affected areas. Brand new organizations may be good, but they are also riskier.

It’s okay if you don’t give right away after disaster strikes. It’s likely that it will take a long time for a community to recover and your contribution may be even more valuable a month or even a year after the disaster.

3.  Know how to give back

In their eagerness to help survivors, Americans immediately begin taking action after disaster strikes. For some that means offering to volunteer; others donate products. Unfortunately this “can-do attitude” often results in causing more confusion than assistance. If you want to volunteer, try working through existing organizations like the American Red Cross or a faith-based organization. They are equipped to provide meaningful work to volunteers and usually have resources to provide lodging and meals.

The same rule applies to donating products. Try working through organizations that deal with donated products, such as Good 360. They know what is needed and have the storage capacity and transportation skills to get the right products to the right organizations.

As disasters become more frequent and grow in intensity, sooner or later we’ll all be involved in one. Start today to help you and your family prepare for disasters in your community. And when disaster strikes, be a generous but well-informed donor in order to make sure your gifts really makes a difference.