tpi

Disasters can cause stress for any organization.

A fire or tornado can disable an entire area, forcing first responders to take care of residents in an initial response. But who takes care of the first responders and who helps organize donations and volunteers who respond to help? Tallapoosa-Coosa Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster (VOAD) is reorganizing to fill the void between the first responders and volunteers.

“In Tallapoosa and Coosa counties, VOAD was last activated in 2011 and 2012 when tornadoes struck the area,” Tallapoosa-Coosa VOAD president Stacey Jeffcoat said. “While many people think response is only needed for weather, it could be a lot of things – a shooting, a spill on 280. Just over a week ago we helped with the missing lady (Judy Kennebrew of Tallassee) in southern Tallapoosa County.”

It is an organization Tallapoosa County EMA director Jason Moran is happy to see reorganizing.

“The EMA has only two people on staff to help mitigate a problem,” Moran said. “Organizing volunteer efforts would take away from helping take care of the initial response to a situation.”

To help reorganize VOAD in the area, United Way of Lee County director Becky Benton will speak to those interested in joining the efforts of VOAD at 5 p.m. Feb. 4 at the Lake Martin Area United Way Conference Room on Main Street. Benton was part of the response to serve those affected by the March 2019 tornados in Lee County leaving 23 dead and path of destruction almost 70 miles long and up to a 1-mile wide.

Moran said VOAD efforts helped tremendously in the Lee County response.

“They stepped up and made a contribution,” Moran said. “They were a huge asset to the EMA there. Without the assistance of VOAD, the outcome could have been different.”

Jeffcoat and Moran said VOAD helps coordinate planning efforts so during a response to a disaster, services can be matched to the needs. The organization will coordinate volunteers and donations post disaster and during the recovery. VOAD also helps with meal coordination and other support services for first responders and local law enforcement on the front line in a disaster response.

VOAD will help identify spaces to be used in disasters to house donated supplies or serve as a feeding center if need be. Moran said VOAD is for all types of volunteers.

“It’s not off limits to anybody,” Moran said. “If you are very organized you could help with names in a volunteer center. Someone might be more physical and could help with offloading donations and supplies and stocking in a warehouse location.”

VOAD’s role in a disaster goes beyond managing donations as it also helps organize volunteer efforts. It is connected with the traditional service agencies like Red Cross and the Salvation Army but will help manage other volunteers who may simply be good samaritans through a processing center. Volunteers’ skills of volunteers will be assessed so to better match the recovery needs and avoid duplicating services in a disaster. VOAD will also be responsible for making sure those volunteers are accounted for at the end of the day.

Those interested in attending next week’s organizational meeting are asked to email tallapoosacoosa.voad@gmail.com where more information is also available.

Moran believes next week’s meeting will create a better, more timely response if disaster strikes the area.

“It allows everyone to become familiar with each other,” Moran said. “We can figure out needs and come up with plans to help meet those needs. With VOAD, we would be in a much better position when disaster strikes.”

Jeffcoat doesn’t think anyone’s efforts will be wasted with VOAD.

“It’s not if a disaster strikes, but when,” Jeffcoat said. “It’s only a matter of time.”

Cliff Williams is a staff writer for Tallapoosa Publishers.