What is NVOAD?

BY SUSAN KIM | BALTIMORE | March 25, 2002

How do voluntary organizations communicate so they're not duplicating services in the wake of a disaster? Through a partnership in disaster response called National Voluntary Agencies Active in Disaster (NVOAD).

NVOAD was founded with the simple belief that the time to prepare for the next disaster -- is now. And in the wake of Sept. 11, that mission has taken on new importance.

At the Tenth Annual VOAD Conference March 17-20 in Oklahoma City, NVOAD President Chris Rebstock said NVOAD members have learned a lot since Sept 11.

"Despite a relatively calm hurricane season, we have been challenged by many smaller disasters as well as the heinous acts of terrorism perpetrated against our country last September," he said. "Our efforts to respond to those challenges have made us stronger and taught us lessons about the core focus of the VOAD movement: cooperation, collaboration, communication, and coordination."

Workshop topics at the conference included everything from a disaster video film festival, to giving effective press interviews after a disaster, to preparing to help children after trauma.

Sponsors for the conference included the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), Oklahoma Department of Civil Emergency Management, American Red Cross, Custom Mobile Sales and Services, Oklahoma VOAD, The Salvation Army, The Volunteer Center of Central Oklahoma, United Way of Metro Oklahoma City, and TinkerBear Studio.

The "four c's" of the NVOAD movement began to take shape after Hurricane Camille in 1969. Organizations that had been involved in providing resources and services to disaster survivors shared their mutual concern about the frequent duplication of services.

Beginning in 1970, representatives from these voluntary organizations began to meet together on a regular basis. During those early meetings, participants shared reports about their activities. They also shared their concerns and frustrations, trying to minimize duplication of effort and manage disaster response activities more efficiently.

Today NVOAD has 34 national member organizations, 52 state and territorial VOADs, and a growing number of local VOADs.

NVOAD is "non-operational." That means its role is one of coordination. There are no NVOAD feeding canteens, donated goods distribution centers, or shelters. Member groups of NVOAD perform and deliver actual disaster response services.

This doesn't mean NVOAD has no role once a disaster strikes; rather NVOAD has an active role of coordination. Each NVOAD member comes to the table as an equal partner. Participation is never mandatory but always voluntary.

NVOAD's goal is to develop the capacity and competencies of state and local VOADs in order to ensure that they are prepared and equipped to fulfill their disaster response and mitigation mission effectively for the future.

In addition, state and local VOADs are commonly forums at which long-term recovery committees form.

After disaster strikes, FEMA -- or state emergency management agency depending on the size of the disaster -- confers with Church World Service representatives, American Red Cross representatives, and other members of the state VOAD. Together they agree on long-term recovery goals.

On a state or local level, VOADs meet before disaster strikes to plan each organization's primary role in responding. State and local VOADs also provide training for VOAD members on how to respond effectively.

Then, when disaster strikes, state or local VOADs convene to talk about the specifics of response. They meet with federal or state emergency managers to plan long-term recovery. The responsibilities of state and local VOADs may be similar to an interfaith long-term recovery group and to a community-based long-term recovery committee but the entities are separate.

Some areas of the country are moving toward the concept of a "standing" long-term recovery committee that may become a subcommittee of the state or local VOAD.

To help organizations better communicate about specific issues NVOAD established "standing committees" that periodically meet.

These committees include:

Donations. This committee tries to tackle such challenges as managing as unsolicited goods. Through a listserv, the committee also discusses how domestic organizations can work better with international organizations on donations targeted for international aid. The committee has also begun to focus on ways to help the media and state and local governments provide the most appropriate donations-related messages when disasters strike.

Recovery. NVOAD encourages local voluntary organizations to follow its "Long-Range Recovery Manual," available for free through the NVOAD Web site (www.nvoad.org).

Mass care. The mass care committee develops information about mass care for distribution on the national and local level.

Communications. The communications committee manages NVOAD's newsletter and Web site.

Mental Health/Crisis Counseling. This committee focuses on the stresses and mental crises affecting both disaster survivors and disaster responders.

In the wake of Sept. 11, it became even more important for voluntary agencies to closely coordinate their efforts. NVOAD held a special meeting in New York City in January to share information about the response to the terrorist attacks.

At the meeting, which was attended by more than 70 leaders, NVOAD began an ongoing process of reflection on the events and the response to capture best practices and lessons learned and to generate a beginning list of issues important to the VOAD movement.

The process continues to be informed by local organizations active in response and recovery, as well as NVOAD's government partners.

Participants in the meeting included national members of NVOAD, their directors for operations in the New York City and New Jersey area, representatives from the city and state VOADs for New York and New Jersey, interfaith groups, government representatives, and other organizations involved in response and recovery.

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