Disaster management - How individual physical therapists can contribute

Physical therapists can contribute to disaster management in many ways, not only before, but also during and after a disaster. They can:

  • Contribute to policy development and local disaster planning;
  • Work with their member organisation to support the organisation’s disaster management planning;
  • Learn about risks and prevention strategies and prepare to react to disasters in their own homes, places of work, locality, region and further afield;
  • Donate to relief efforts or raise funds for NGOs involved in disaster management;
  • Support disaster relief organisations and raise awareness of the need for linkages between disaster relief, rehabilitation and development;
  • Advocate for vulnerable groups, such as the elderly or persons with disabilities, raising awareness of their needs at times of disaster.
  • Actively engage in relief efforts, usually by volunteering to provide rehabilitation to survivors.

Contributing to local disaster planning and preparation

Physical therapists can contribute to disaster planning in their own area. Regional and local governments, cities and individual businesses and organisations all plan for emergency situations.

Physical therapists should ask themselves:

  • Is there a disaster management plan for my practice environment and region?
  • Can I contribute to planning for emergencies in my place of practice?
  • If there is no local plan, how can I contribute to the development of one, making sure there is adequate consideration of the needs of people with disabilities and for those who acquire disabilities as a result of the disaster?

Donating money or supplies

Donation of money to established non-governmental agencies is the most efficient way of responding to disasters. Financial contributions allow professional relief organisations to purchase exactly what is most urgently needed and pay for the transportation necessary to distribute these supplies. The supplies can often be purchased locally, reducing transport and storage costs, stimulating local economies, providing employment and ensuring that supplies arrive as quickly as possible.

Donating equipment and supplies can be more complicated. Before organising collections of physical therapy equipment and assistive devices, it is important to confirm with the relief agencies that there is a need for the items. It is important to have an accurate analysis of need in the disaster-stricken area before determining the response.

Many groups raise money for disaster relief. Many are reputable, but some may not be. Whenever you make a donation it is prudent to take steps to ensure the money you are giving will be used for the intended purpose.

Supporting disaster relief organisations

You do not have to move from home to assist those affected by disasters. Volunteering at the local office of relief organisations may provide them with much needed support. You may be able to help with campaigning or awareness-raising work and disaster preparedness activities. Note that organisations are unlikely to want new volunteers at the time of a disaster when all their energies are on the relief effort.


If you wish to be actively involved in a disaster area, it is important that you do this through an established group, rather than going it alone. Numerous individuals and small organisations getting involved can be more problematic than supportive. Governments and their administrations and major aid agencies already working to capacity to bring relief in as short a time as possible are unable to deal with numerous individual efforts, however well intentioned. A list of organisations involved in volunteer relief programmes can be found on the disaster management - volunteering section of this website.

Volunteer programmes organised by non-government and charitable organisations aim to bring health personnel and resources to areas where local resources are insufficient to meet needs in the disaster area. These organisations recruit individuals to provide health services free of charge. Although some organisations assemble teams to serve in the country for a few weeks, others establish clinics staffed by volunteers serving for months or years. Volunteers on short-term missions do not aim to rectify local shortage of health personnel but to meet existing need until the local system develops to take over.

Most agencies require professional practice experience and some internationalexperience before recruiting people for disaster relief. Volunteers without prior experience are generally not selected for relief assignments. It is not unusual to ask that volunteers make a commitment to spend at least three months, and often more, working on a particular disaster.