VOAD: Volunteer Organizations Active In Disaster

2014-05-16_13-57-23This August marks the 45th anniversary of the devastation caused by Hurricane Camille. She was a “Cat 5,” (Category 5) storm, the strongest there is, and when it was all over, she stole 259 lives. Loss in terms of dollars by 2014 standards was in the neighborhood of 9.13 billion dollars, and what is little talked about in regard to Camille is what came to be known as “the second disaster.” Americans are famous for rolling up their sleeves, opening their wallets, or filling up their trucks with goods and heading out to help in the wake of a disaster. While we can thank God for people who both live in and will quickly mobilize to express that level of generosity, donations must be specific to the actual needs of the disaster area. Unsolicited donations and unmanaged volunteers create the “second disaster.” This is what happened with Camille. People who came to help ended up needing help themselves, because there was absolutely no infrastructure to support their presence.
Mrs. Stormy McLemore Ripley, who chairs the local chapter of VOAD, told me, “We’ve learned a lot since Camille,” and it was dealing with the far reaching effects of Camille that brought together 7 groups to form VOAD in 1970. They were: the Seventh-day Adventist Church, Southern Baptist Convention, Mennonite Disaster Service, St. Vincent de Paul Society, Christian Reformed World Relief Committee, the National Disaster Relief Office of the Roman Catholic Church, and the American Red Cross. VOAD’s reason for being is to coordinate information for those volunteering with many relief agencies, church groups, private non-profits and individuals. They are also involved in giving extensive training to volunteers in preparation for a disaster. Their mission is to see to it that efforts aren’t duplicated, and resources are distributed prudently.


Since the nationalization of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, (FEMA,) and the formation of Homeland Security after 9/11, VOAD’s role has become even more important. They see to it that the groups are “immediately included in the information loop,” said Stormy. It is not that running communications between groups, as important as that is in a time like that, is all that they do. If things are “covered,” they go out and will run a chain saw, too, if that is in their skill set.
The core principles of VOAD are what the organization refers to as the 4Cs. They are: cooperation, communication, coordination, and collaboration. These principles are the modus operandi of VOAD, and are embraced prior to an event, during what is known as the “disaster cycle,” and in preparation for the next disaster. The “disaster cycle” has four parts, preparation, response, recovery and mitigation. The first three are fairly self-explanatory. Mitigation has to do with the long term “lessening of the pain,” a huge need that is easy to miss after the trucks have gone home and the radios are finally silenced.


So, what are some practical examples of what VOAD just did in our April 28th storm? “Letting chainsaw crews know when the downed power lines on the street were no longer live,” said Stormy. She added, “Telling people that there were plenty of clothes for people 16-50, but not enough baby clothes.” As indelicate as this may sound, one of the things Stormy taught me is that while you can never have too many disposable baby diapers after a disaster, senior hygienic products are rarely thought of, and are greatly needed. Drinking water may be in abundance in one area, and it needs to be determined if the effort made to go get it and take it somewhere else is the best way to handle a problem, or if water can come from another source. “We want to make sure that there is no waste of money or time,” she said, in reference to other resources greatly expended during a disaster.


2014-05-16_13-57-43Our local VOAD is housed in the Emergency Management Agency (EMA) office at 1011 West Market Street in Athens, and although things are just starting to slow down from the April 28th tornados, VOAD is actively seeking new organizations to volunteer, and be a part of a working group that truly makes a difference. The cost to join the Limestone County VOAD is $25 annually. Some of the Limestone County VOAD members are the local chapters of the Red Cross and United Way, multiple churches, DHR and EMA, so why not yours?

1011 W. Market Athens, AL 25611
For the Limestone County Chapter, go to www.facebook.com/Limestone County.VOAD, www.alvoad.communityos.org, or www.nvoad.org
By: Ali Elizabeth Turner