Client Personal Data Collection Policy

Crisis Cleanup stores primarily property information, rather than personal information. Participating organizations should collect only the minimum amount of personal information necessary to contact the client or prioritize the work order. Needs Assessment forms should be short, for the simple reason that volunteers do not tend to complete long forms.

Assessment Forms may be modified and customized at any time by request. Crisis Cleanup is designed to assist voluntary organizations that directly interact with survivors and perform property cleanup or rebuilding. Consequently, the litmus test for adding new questions to the form is, "Does the new question help a team leader or field worker prioritize, prepare for, or execute a work order?"

In contrast, the following reasons are insufficient (alone) to justify collecting additional data:

  • Gathering statistics for future study
  • Comparing against or combining with data from another database
  • Statistical analysis
  • Tracking or correlating survivor benefits


The following examples illustrate information that should or shouldn't be collected using Crisis Cleanup.

Example Appropriate Explanation
Basic Contact Information OK Basic contact information like phone number, address, and email address are necessary for a worker or team leader to contact the survivor and arrange a time to work.
"Elderly" or "Over 60" OK Many voluntary organizations prioritize the elderly. Asking this question is relevant to prioritize limited resources.
Date or Year of Birth NO In contrast to "Over 60," a date or year of birth is too much information, and irrelevant to a worker on the ground.
Immigration Status NO Immigration status is irrelevant to a property damage or needs assessment, and should NEVER be collected.
Social Security Number NO Never, ever, ever collect a social security number (SSN). Period. SSNs are a massive data protection liability, and impossible to protect within an open system like Crisis Cleanup. Further, an SSN does not assist a worker or team leader to prioritize, prepare for, or execute a work order.
Monthly Rent NO While a person's monthly rent may be very relevant for long term recovery and case management, it is irrelevant to muck out and clean up.
Medical Conditions/ Medication NO Medical information is irrelevant unless the ailment is directly relevant to cleanup work. For example, "Jane is hard of hearing, so she may not hear you the first time you knock at the door. Keep trying."
Insurance OK Whether a person has insurance may help a team leader prioritize the work order. But the amount of insurance, deductibles, etc. is too much information.
Financially Independent OK Whether a person has financial means may help a team leader prioritize the work order.
"Annual Income" or "Insurance Amount" NO While a person's ability to help themselves may help a leader prioritize a work order, their actual income or precise insurance figures are too much information.
Race/Ethnicity NO Race or ethnicity have no place in the Crisis Cleanup database, as they are unacceptable criteria against which to prioritize a work order.
Religion NO While membership in an organization may be relevant to prioritization, religion is not.
First Responder OK Some organizations prioritize first responders, who are often busy helping others instead of their own families.
Profession NO In contrast to "First Responder," asking for a person's profession is likely to collect too much irrelevant information.

Occasionally Asked Questions

Q: What controls does Crisis Cleanup have to protect client data?
A: We take client privacy VERY seriously, and we have a range of policies to keep client data safe. These include:

  • We don't want personal information. As described above, we minimize personal data to the maximum extent possible. Crisis Cleanup is about property, not people. We don't want personal data; if we don't have it, we can't breach it.
  • We carefully control access to data. In our policy, Requirements for Participation, we assign roles to organizations that limit the information to which they can access. For example, government cannot download personal information.
  • Nobody can download the entire list. While relief organizations can access contact information on the map, all personal and contact information is hidden when downloaded in a CSV file. Exceptions: Organizations that have a relationship with the client, and Long-Term Recovery Groups for cases within their county can download personal and contact data. And remember, the personal information that is available is extremely limited to begin with.
  • We investigate and vet every single organization. As of May 2023, we have approved 59.6% of requests, and rejected a substantial 40.4% of applications. Reasons for rejecting applications include: Duplicate application (24.2%), Work is Out of Scope or No Capacity (5.8%), Unresponsive (2.7%), Spam or Not Reputable (2.7%), Contractors (2.3%), Survivor or Individual Volunteer (1.9%), and Withdrawn (0.6%). We conduct a phone interview, review websites, seek references (e.g. from the local VOAD), and are not shy about saying "no" if we have any concerns. We will remove an organization if they no longer meet our Requirements for Participation.
  • Nobody can buy access to our data. We're not data brokers. We don't sell data, but we will happily share it for free with reputable relief organizations who will help survivors. We help volunteers help more people. Someday we might collapse in a heap in the corner, and some other organization will need to take over Crisis Cleanup. But until that time, nobody can buy special or expanded access to client data. Crisis Cleanup requires a large amount of trust from relief organizations. Even if we lost all of our scruples and decided to sell data to, say the insurance industry (which we definitely would never do), it would destroy our trust and spell the end of Crisis Cleanup. Our mission success requires us to be good stewards of client data.

Q: Can survivors enter their data directly on the website?
A: No. We have learned through painful experience that online web forms are terrible for collecting actionable data after a disaster for several reasons below. We often end up inheriting Google Form data from well-meaning organizations who later realize they can't do anything with it, and have to clean up giant messes.

  1. They can't understand the form. The survivor is experiencing a stress event, which causes their pre-frontal cortex to be impaired. No matter how long or short we make the intake form, or how much we explain what we want, they are physiologically incapable of understanding it. Consequently, they don't answer the questions correctly.
  2. What's important to them is less relevant to volunteers. The details survivors add to forms is relevant to their emotional state, but often does not help volunteers assess their cleanup needs.
  3. Duplication. Many think that entering the request 2, 3, or 25 times will get them help faster. Instead, it just creates a giant headache.
  4. Misspelling and Incomplete Information. Until you have worked with user-generated data, you would never guess that there are at least 15 different ways to spell "Oak Street." We have spent months of our lives deduplicating, normalizing, researching, fixing, and guessing about what users actually meant. And when someone sends you a message that says nothing more than "Need help with debris," with no other contact or location information, it can take hours or days to track that person down.
  5. Can't Authenticate Survivors. It is unfair to require survivors to create a username and password while they are recovering from a disaster. And we don't have the staff to offer technical support to 25,000 people after Hurricane Ian.
  6. Survivors Can't Deduplicate. Deduplication requires us to expose the entire database to users so they can compare their address (or name, or phone number) against existing addresses in the database. It would be irresponsible of us to allow the public to search against data in our database, which is why we only allow reputable organizations to access the data set.
  7. Not actionable. The result is that volunteers just can't do much with a lot of user-generated data from a Google form. It's just not complete enough to act upon.

Q: If survivors can't enter their own case, how do they do it?
A: Most often we open a hotline for the public to ask for help. This provides survivors for someone to listen to them, guide them through the form, and ask relevant questions. Alternatively, any organization with access to Crisis Cleanup can add a request. In any case, the survivor interacts with a live person. The survivor has a much better experience, and the information is not duplicated

Q: Can survivors update their case?
A: Yes. As of mid-2022, we text or email a private link to each survivor. They can update their case, add notes, confirm their location, add photos, and close their case. To our surprise, we have had 97% engagement, and more than 40% update or close their own case. This radically helps keep the data and map fresh for volunteers who are trying to help as many people.

Q: Can survivors request to delete their data?
A: Yes. Survivors can enter a helpdesk ticket. But we have found that survivors are generally more concerned that we share their information with as many organizations as possible, to ensure they get help faster. In 10+ years, less than 0.002% have even inquired about removing data.

Q: Has Crisis Cleanup had any data breaches?
A: As of May 4, 2023, no, we are not aware of any data breaches.


Policy Effective: November 10, 2013. Last Updated: November 10, 2013 (Created Policy). May 4, 2023 (Updated Occasionally-Asked Questions)

Have more questions? Submit a request


Please sign in to leave a comment.
Powered by Zendesk