DEBORAH AMOS, host:

As we've been reporting this morning, emergency food, medical supplies and personnel are being rushed to Haiti from around the world. Relief organizations say they're struggling to find the best way to get help to those who need it most. NPR's Pam Fessler reports on those challenges.

PAM FESSLER: The humanitarian group AmeriCares started moving out almost 10 tons of medical supplies from its warehouses in Stamford, Connecticut and Amsterdam shortly after the earthquake hit. The group's president, Curt Welling, said yesterday they were still trying to figure out the best way to get those supplies into Haiti, but he had no doubt they were urgently needed.

Mr. CURT WELLING (AmeriCares): So the nature of our response is to get that kind of thing there as quickly as possible, when it really does save lives and prolong lives and then to get people on the ground so we can begin to make an informed decision about where the gaps are and where the most urgent needs are.

FESSLER: And that's the big challenge for relief groups, which are hampered by a lack of information from within Haiti. While food, water, shelter and medical supplies are clearly in need, logistics are a challenge. Tracy Reines, director of international disaster response for the American Red Cross, says her group sent a helicopter over the damaged country yesterday to figure out which roads were passable. They're trying to bring in emergency response teams and supplies from the Dominican Republic.

Ms. TRACY REINES (American Red Cross): The initial needs right now are certainly search and rescue and health and hospitals. So that's the first piece going in. The second piece is going to be working with people who are injured and unfortunately who have lost their lives.

FESSLER: But exactly what comes next, she says, will be determined by what Red Cross personnel find when they get there.

Ms. REINES: We have to balance the instincts to put people on planes and go in to help with really targeting what is going to be most effective and efficient.

FESSLER: And that could take a few days. Emergency relief experts say after a big disaster, everyone wants to help immediately. But sometimes that means duplicating efforts, while missing some of those who are most in need.

In this case, the relief effort has been further complicated by the fact that aid groups already in Haiti � including the United Nations � were directly affected by the earthquake, suffering losses in personnel and facilities. Kip Scheidler, who handles global disaster response for Habitat for Humanity, says the needs will also change day to day.

Mr. KIP SCHEIDLER (Habitat for Humanity): Within a very short amount of time, a matter of days, the families will be returning to the site of their home, and they'll begin clean up. Our response more than likely will include helping those families in the clean up of their sites and the reconstruction of their homes.

FESSLER: Habitat has sent in a team of experts to try to link up with the group's 50 staffers already in the country. His group, like other nonprofits, say if people want to help the relief effort, they should send money. Many organizations already have links on their Web sites for Haitian relief. Even the U.S. State Department is encouraging people to contribute $10 to the Red Cross by sending a text message. But Bennett Weiner of the Better Business Bureau Wise Giving Alliance warns donors to be careful.

Mr. BENNETT WEINER (Better Business Bureau Wise Giving Alliance): Because unfortunately there are some in the wake of such tragedies that will seek to take advantage of the emotion of the moment and perhaps send out questionable or fraudulent appeals.

FESSLER: He advises giving only to well-known relief groups and then to give directly, avoiding potential online scams. Relief agencies also say, while food and clothing drives might be well-intentioned, they're seldom the best way to help.

Pam Fessler, NPR News, Washington.

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