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Disaster education expert offers ways people can help

The best way Cornellians can help victims of Hurricane Sandy that walloped the Northeast this week is by donating cash that would go directly to meet specific needs in flooded areas, a Cornell disaster education specialist says.

"Cash is best," said Keith Tidball, Cornell Cooperative Extension disaster education program director ( "It is better to donate cash instead of goods because local responders can more readily convert that into what's needed."

Tidball, who works with the disaster-aid relief group National Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster (VOAD), said people wanting to help can donate cash through the group's website. Donations will go toward specific needs in affected areas.

The Cornell Disaster Relief and Outreach website also has links to organizations where donations can be made. The site also offers updates from Cornell's campuses and other disaster relief news.

Donations such as clothing and household items can become difficult for disaster responders to handle and might not be needed in some areas. Tidball suggested that individuals and organizations with goods they want to donate might be more effective if they sell those items at a garage sale and donate the money raised.

"It is best to know the need," he said. "For example, if you have a sister city or faith-based organization in the affected area, see what they need and confirm that need."

Tidball, who also serves as a senior extension associate in the Department of Natural Resources, said that those who want to help should get involved by becoming an affiliated volunteer.

"Don't go to affected areas without aligning yourself with a recognized organization that has the means and the ability," he said. VOAD has a list of affiliated members as well as partners online.

"It may be too late for this disaster to get affiliated, but use this one to prepare for the next one," said Tidball, who helped to coordinate volunteers in the aftermath of Hurricanes Irene and Lee last year. "I know from experience that managing a massive influx of volunteers can overload the local system."

Other volunteers who are professionally or more directly connected to disaster response should start with their state emergency management agency. In New York, that is the New York Department of Homeland Security.

He also stressed that people who want to help should be prepared themselves. "If you do volunteer, have a disaster supplies kit so that you aren't one of the victims you are trying to help," Tidball said. "And, again, affiliate with an organization that has experience."


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