While we are sensitive to all disasters, to have the greatest global impact, we take a systematic, highly targeted approach to the disasters we cover.

To learn from and support established global systems, the Center for Disaster Philanthropy follows the United Nations definition of disaster:

A situation or event that overwhelms local capacity, necessitating a request to the national or international community for external assistance; an unforeseen and often sudden event that causes great damage, destruction, and human suffering. Types of disasters include earthquakes, volcanoes, storms, floods, droughts, wildfires, epidemics, tsunamis, and mass movements (for example, landslides).

We classify disasters into three broad categories:

  1. Sudden-Onset Emergencies (Hurricane Sandy)
  2. Slow-Onset Emergencies (The Sahel famine)
  3. Complex Emergencies (Syrian humanitarian crisis)

In the United States, we highlight catastrophic rapid-onset natural disasters as well as person-made disasters or acts of terrorism. We use the following screens to determine if and how we should respond:

  • Significant loss of life, injury or displacement
  • Significant impact on a community’s livelihoods and capacity to respond
  • Significant impact on vulnerable populations—children, the elderly, veterans, the uninsured, and people with disabilities, for example
  • Heightened media attention
  • FEMA Declaration of a major disaster

Outside the United States, we highlight catastrophic rapid- and slow-onset natural disasters as well as complex humanitarian emergencies. To determine whether to respond, we look for:

  • Significant loss of life, injury or displacement
  • Call for national or international assistance
  • Significant impact on a community’s livelihoods and capacity to respond
  • Significant impact on vulnerable populations
  • Heightened media attention

In all things, our goal is to draw attention to the full arc of a disaster—whether that involves talking about mitigation efforts underway in typhoon-prone Philippines, or continuing to engage in conversations about what effective long-term recovery needs for Sandy-affected areas of the Northeastern United States.

Photo credit: Nancy Anthony.