Disaster Relief: Phases of Disaster Relief

Disaster Relief: Phases of Disaster Relief

Disaster relief involves four distinct phases. Needs persist long after the headlines fade. Funding beyond the initial phase is a huge opportunity for philanthropists to make a larger impact.


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The first response to a disaster often includes search and rescue operations, as well as the provision of immediate relief for those affected in the form of medical care, food and water, and temporary shelter. Depending on the kind and location of the disaster, the organizations that can effectively provide initial help may be a mix of global and local: Large, international organizations bring supplies and trained personnel from around the world with specialized skills from work in previous disasters. Local, often smaller, agencies bring community knowledge and networks and are often more trusted by those affected.


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After the immediate relief and short-term needs have been stabilized, disasters can become a catalyst for building back better. For example, after the devastating 2010 earthquake in Haiti, Root Capital provided loans to coffee farmers to help them rebuild their businesses, while Partners in Health provided the healthcare infrastructure necessary to allow operations in Port-au-Prince, later transitioning ongoing management of clinics there to a Haitian team.

Risk Mitigation

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Resilience, risk reduction, and mitigation help communities prevent or reduce the negative effects of disasters in general. Examples include constructing earthquake-resistant buildings, raising the height of bridges or water pumps in flood areas, or supporting marshlands to decrease flooding. To prevent man-made crises, communities may even engage in peace-building and conflict resolution efforts. While such measures require an upfront investment, returns can be enormous: A study on flood protection in the Philippines found that for every dollar invested, approximately $30 was saved in reduced flood losses.


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Preparedness involves actions taken before an emergency to ensure a more effective response and steps to minimize the damage caused by a disaster. Stockpiling necessary supplies, developing disaster response protocols, performing regular disaster drills, and setting up pooled insurance mechanisms are all examples of activities that increase preparedness and lessen the human and economic cost of disasters.

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More Guidance

Media coverage of disasters often includes the names and contact information of organizations that are responding.