The intense 2017 wildfire and hurricane seasons in the United States and a series of deadly earthquakes in Mexico have many people wondering about their level of preparedness. They’re  also wondering how to help their community prepare for and respond to a major disaster. Police officers, EMS staff and firefighters are often equipped and ready to go at a moment’s notice to get to work when these things happen. But what about people outside those fields who want to get involved? There are many volunteer opportunities that can give you the skills, knowledge and regular operating experience to help you be ready and help those around you be ready for major events. Here are just a few.

The Red Cross – The Red Cross is an invaluable group during severe weather season. They provide anything from basic toiletries to evacuation shelters to people experiencing any sort of disaster, whether it’s a house fire or a hurricane. Volunteers are often dealing with distressed families who have been forced out of their homes and in need of comfort or shelter. Volunteers can also travel across the country and even overseas to help respond to disasters.

Volunteer Firefighting – An especially valuable service in rural areas, volunteer firefighters are responsible for firefighting and fire safety education in their community. They can also become involved in wildland firefighting activities. Training as a volunteer firefighter can involve medical services, hazardous materials and urban search and rescue. The skills and knowledge you gain can assist you in preparing your own home and family for an emergency.

Volunteer Search and Rescue – My favorite commitment (can you guess why?) is SAR. Search and Rescue not only prepares you to save the lives of others, but also your own when things go wrong in the wilderness. A SAR person on a hike is rarely ever unprepared. Your rescue training will include land navigation, first aid, communications and planning. More advanced teams will operate in rope rescue, equestrian-based searching and K9 searching. Search and Rescue can also be called upon to assist in evacuations during major disasters.

Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) – CERT volunteers serve as a city’s volunteer support team during a disaster. Training can include first aid, light search and rescue and fire safety. Volunteers also take part in community events to help prepare their neighborhoods for emergencies.

So what’s right for you? Take a look at your lifestyle and see what kind of time you can commit and what fits your interests and current skillsets. SAR and firefighting will take a significant level of physical fitness so don’t sign right up if you’re a couch potato. Check out the Red Cross website for a chapter near you. Your local city and county website will also have resources for volunteer groups.