VOADs – Answering the recovery call when disasters strike

NC Emergency Management hosted a meeting and recognition of the Volunteer Organizations Active in Disaster at the Joint Forces Headquarters in Raleigh this summer.
Friday, September 20, 2019 - 3:14pm

North Carolina’s Volunteer Organizations Active in Disaster (VOAD) bring a variety of skills as well as resources and come from all over to help rebuild communities. A VOAD is a volunteer agency that responds to disasters as part of their overall mission.

NC Emergency Management Director Mike Sprayberry notes that North Carolina’s VOAD program plays a key role in disaster response and recovery.

“Many survivors were still recovering from the effects of Hurricane Matthew when Florence hit the state bringing record-breaking rainfall and more than two weeks of flooding. Then Michael came a month after that leaving many North Carolina residents wondering how they would recover,” Sprayberry said. “Most recently Dorian came to our shores, devastating Ocracoke Island and damaging many other areas in the state. Through it all, we’ve been fortunate in North Carolina to have volunteer recovery groups that continue to help after these disasters.”

Caroline Farmer, executive director of the Governor's Commission on Volunteerism and Community Service, says that during a disaster, VOADs see the need and step in. Sometimes, they are asked to help with mass care, shelter, mental health, donation centers, tarping, debris removal, mucking out homes and much more. The VOAD system brings together a network of skills and capabilities to help people in need.

“During Hurricane Florence, we got adult diapers from one VOAD, got another entity to get them to the airport, got another VOAD to fly them somewhere and got a local civic club member with a truck to take them to a local VOAD for distribution to those older adults who needed them,” Farmer explained. “It takes a village to respond.”

Farmer points out that some VOAD groups spend the weeks immediately after a disaster trying to prevent further home damage, while others ensure that people are fed, have medication and even counseling services through organizations such as Hope 4 NC. A number of unique organizations comprise NC VOAD, including Crisis Cleanup, tracking individual home needs VOADs can access; the Eastern NC Equine Emergency Assistance, helping abandoned animals; and Veterans Corps, who are military and first responder veterans providing high water vehicle delivery of water. Operation Air Drop, a nonprofit organization based in Texas that organizes volunteers with private aircraft to deliver essential supply in the wake of natural disasters, provided air support to areas of the state that were under water without road access during Florence.

“North Carolina Emergency Management is amazing when it comes to lifesaving and infrastructure response and recovery. No one does it better,” Farmer adds. “However, it’s the people and how they live post-storm that the VOADs are helping.”

Ann Huffman agrees with Farmer’s assessment on the importance of VOADs. Huffman, who is currently the Disaster Readiness Coordinator with the NC Conference of the United Methodist Church (UMC), points to the volunteer organizations, faith groups and other VOAD members -- along with NCEM and FEMA -- as vital to successful disaster recovery. Through her NC VOAD connections she’s been able to develop a vast resource list of services that the UMC Disaster Call Center shares with disaster survivors who contact their center seeking help.

 “We need a strong VOAD structure so that when a disaster hits, a local organization who cares about their community can reach out with the resources the affected community may need and a determination to get them help.” Farmer said.

At the Triangle Nonprofit and Volunteer Leadership Center this past spring, Huffman, who is also the past president of the NC VOAD, received two awards for her service in the Hurricane Matthew and Florence response and recovery. The Key Volunteer Award was given to Huffman from the Triangle Nonprofit and Volunteer Leadership Center and she also received the Governor’s Volunteer Service Award for her concern and compassion during these crises.

“I am truly honored by these awards and am especially grateful that they recognize NC VOAD,” Huffman said. “Volunteering enriches my life beyond measure and has taught me the meaning of really being human.”

Farmer believes that many agree with Huffman’s sentiments. That is why NC VOAD permits any interested organization to join in a non-voting capacity. Non-voting members can be a local, state, or federal government agency that supports or facilitates the work of voluntary agencies active in disasters or whose mission is disaster relief. Organizations and businesses whose normal routine and mission  is not volunteering, but whose employees serve as volunteers in disaster situations or volunteer in support of VOAD member organizations are also eligible to be non-voting members.

Organizations considered as “voting” members of the NC VOAD can by local or regional, but must be qualified as a nonprofit under section 501 (c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code, and must have voluntary membership and constituencies. Additionally, member organizations must support the purpose and objectives of NC VOAD, and participate in related activities.

While organizations are not required to be part of the program, Farmer says, to participate, most organizations during the response and recovery should be connected to VOAD so they can know where resources are and who is working where.

Those interested in learning more about volunteer opportunities should visit: https://www.nc.gov/volunteer/volunteer-opportunities.

Brian R. Haines