Clean-up volunteers should partner with organizations to help Harvey victims

HOUSTON -- Keep up the volunteering, Houston! It has been awesome to see the efforts from around the country, and even from within our own community, pitching in to help those affected by Hurricane Harvey, and the flood that followed.

But before you go out on your own again to volunteer, a hammer in one hand and work-boots in the other, there`s something you might need to think about.

“There`s a lot of volunteers out there, I`ve seen them myself this past week with my boy scouts, we have a lot of effort here, but what people should do is to focus on working with an organization that`s a non-profit or a government organization,” says Matthew Festa, professor at The South Texas College of Law Houston.

You lone wolves out there, armed with an overabundance of good intentions, might actually be putting yourselves at risk.

“Volunteers might be surprised that traditional law does not offer protections to volunteers but both Texas and the federal government have passed some laws that do protect volunteers if and only if they`re working with an actual organization,” Festa says. “…if you go out on your own, and by no means, no one wants to discourage anyone from helping a neighbor that has need right now, but if you go out on your own, you could be liable for damage that you cause. Just like in any other scenario, it`s hard to imagine with the hurricane that that`s not the case, but it is the case. Generally if you go out and be a do-gooder, you`re responsible for what you do.”

The heart of Houston is amazing, and no one wants to discourage it. But team up! There are organizations, churches, and other non-profits organizing volunteer assistance for those with damage in this crisis. Some are even training volunteers so that they don`t go to work without knowing their responsibilities and their limits.

A little protection can really avoid cloudy skies down the road.