How You Can Help in a Disaster Situation

How can UCSF faculty, staff and students be prepared for the next disaster and assist those recovering from disasters? The Global Disaster Assistance Committee has compiled a number of options. In particular, we encourage you to be personally prepared for disasters, which can strike at any time.

Be Prepared

Have a disaster plan for your home and family. Be prepared to be self-sufficient for up to 72 hours before relief arrives. Details for how to be prepared, including what supplies to have on hand, can be found at:

Review and understand the disaster plan at work. More information is available from the UCSF Office of Emergency Management

Make a Donation to a Relief Organization

Non-profit relief organizations, such as the American Red Cross, need money to respond to crises, and money provides much greater flexibility for them to do their work than supplies or other durable goods. A list of these organizations can be found at the National Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster website.

Additionally, the California Office of the Attorney General’s Registry of Charitable Trusts has additional information and easy-to-use tips on avoiding charity scams following a disaster.

Organizations Active in Sudan

Organizations Active in Turkey and Syria Related to the 2023 Earthquake

Become a Volunteer

You can volunteer for a number of local, state and federal programs that assist people in disasters and receive training on how to respond in a disaster.

1) Become a Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) member:

CERT is a Federal Emergency Management Administration (FEMA)/Citizen Corps-sponsored program that is designed to help U.S. communities prepare for effective disaster response through training and planning. With training and information, UCSF staff, faculty, and students can be prepared to serve as a crucial resource capable of performing many of the emergency functions needed in the immediate post-disaster period. During this 20-hour course students learn: Disaster Preparedness, Fire Safety, Disaster Medical Operations and Triage, Light Search and Rescue, Team Organization, Disaster Psychology, Terrorism & the Incident Command System. CERT volunteers can assist others at UCSF and in their own communities following a disaster when professional responders are not immediately available to help. CERT volunteers are also encouraged to support the UCSF Emergency Preparedness Program by taking an active role in emergency preparedness projects or by joining our local UCSF CERT team.

2) Join a Neighborhood Emergency Response Team (NERT):

You can also volunteer to help your neighborhood by joining a NERT. In San Francisco, these teams are sponsored by the Fire Department. More information can be found on the San Francisco Fire Department website.

3) Become a Disaster Healthcare Volunteer for California:

Sign up at the Disaster Healthcare Volunteers website.You can either register as an individual (Medical Reserve Corps, MRC) or be part of team (California Medical Assistance Team, CAL-MAT).

MRCs are community-based and may provide additional training and exercise participation opportunities. The MRC is a national network of volunteers organized locally to improve the health and safety of their communities. MRC volunteers include medical and public health professionals and other community members. MRC units engage these volunteers to strengthen public health, improve emergency response capabilities and build community resiliency. They prepare for and respond to natural disasters such as wildfires, hurricanes, tornados, blizzards, and floods, as well as other emergencies affecting public health.

There are two CAL-MATs in California: one in Northern California and one in Southern California. CAL-MAT members train, exercise and deploy more frequently than individual volunteers and have more opportunities to practice their disaster care skills. In the past, opportunities have existed for physicians, nurses, paramedics, pharmacists, dentists and mental health specialists, but the CAL-MAT system has been largely inactive in recent years.

The Disaster Healthcare Volunteer program is also where licensed healthcare practitioners can register for disaster relief through Advanced Registration of Volunteer Health Professionals. This is a centralized service for providing and updating your credentials before you go into the field.

Both MRC and CAL-MATs are used primarily for disasters within California, although there is a possibility of being deployed in other states with which California cooperates through the Emergency Medical Assistance Compact.

4) Be trained and join a National Urban Search and Rescue Response System task force: 

Urban search and rescue (US&R) teams are organized by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and deploy involves the location, rescue (extrication), and initial medical stabilization of individuals trapped in confined spaces. There are 28 FEMA US&R Task Forces spread throughout the continental United States trained and equipped by FEMA; eight are in California and two (in Menlo Park and Oakland) are in the Bay Area. Urban search and rescue is considered a "multi-hazard" discipline, as it may be needed for a variety of emergencies or disasters, including earthquakes, hurricanes, typhoons, storms, tornadoes, floods, dam failures, technological accidents, terrorist activities and hazardous materials releases. The events may be slow in developing, as in the case of hurricanes, or sudden, as in the case of earthquakes. US&R teams typically deploy within the first 24 hours of a disaster. More information on how to join and how to get trained can be found through the California Office of Emergency Services.

5) Become a federal medical disaster volunteer:

National Disaster Medical Teams (NDMS) are composed of volunteers that train and can be activated for disasters by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. Membership in these teams in open to medical, fatality management, veterinary professionals and para-professionals who serve as excepted–service federal employees and are activated on an episodic intermittent basis under official orders. This is similar to the military reserve system. Volunteers become federal employees for the duration of their deployments and receive commensurate federal salaries.

NDMS teams are primarily formed into Disaster Medical Assistance Teams (DMAT). Our local NDMS team is DMAT-CA-6. These teams are composed of physicians, nurse practitioners, physician assistant, nurse, paramedics, Emergency Medical Technicians, pharmacists, pharmacy technicians, respiratory therapist and a variety of other allied health and logistical personnel. DMATs typically have 120–150 members, from which the team leader chooses up to 50 members to deploy on missions requiring a full team. Smaller strike teams or other modular units can also be activated and deployed when less than full-scale deployments are needed.

6) Volunteer with a voluntary service agency:

A large number of voluntary service agencies – both faith-based and non-faith-based – are seeking volunteers with experience in health care. Please see National Voluntary Organizations Active in Disasterfor more information and to sign up for volunteer opportunities.

Two organizations, which are of particular note are:

Nurse Response Network (RNRN), a program of National Nurses United, sends direct-care registered nurses to disaster-stricken areas when they are needed.

International Medical Corps, one of several voluntary service agencies that deploys healthcare professionals for disaster relief. The International Medical Corps fields emergency response teams to minimize the loss of life and alleviate the suffering of disaster-affected populations across the globe. The teams focus on the provision of life-saving emergency health services, primary health care, public health, and emergency nutrition. They seek highly trained medical staff to add to its emergency response roster, which requires that volunteers be willing to deploy rapidly – usually within 72 hours – and for a duration of 2–8 weeks (preference is given to those able to deploy for longer durations). In most instances, volunteers will be required to pay for their own flights, but will receive a food allowance for each day spent in the field, shared housing, and emergency medical evacuation insurance.

Some of the other voluntary relief agencies that are seeking volunteer healthcare workers are:


School of Medicine and School of Nursing faculty members who wish to volunteer individually for disaster assistance may do so under the terms and conditions of the Health Sciences Compensation Plan.

If you will be volunteering to perform clinical work and you will not be receiving compensation for the work and you will not be using any University supplies or equipment (UCSF or UCSF Health), you should provide the following notification to ensure that you have general and professional liability coverage:

  • Contact Risk Management (415.353.1842) to inform the office of your plans to ensure professional liability (malpractice) coverage.
  • Register your trip with UC Away, to ensure coverage under the University’s travel accident policy (for questions, contact Risk Management and Insurance Services).

If you are planning to receive any compensation for the volunteer clinical work or will be providing any equipment or supplies from UCSF or UCSF Health, you must execute a Professional Services Agreement between The Regents on behalf of you and your department and the outside entity for which you will be working or providing supplies. The PSA must be approved by the respective Dean’s Office before initiating travel.

  • School of Medicine faculty members, please contact Karla Goodbody for questions ([email protected] or 415-476-1978)
  • School of Nursing faculty members, please contact Penny Lorenzo for questions ([email protected] or 415-514-8868)