by Anne Goodrich, Director of Upper Valley Strong
After Tropical Storm Irene, temporary Long-Term Recovery Committees popped up across the state to help coordinate support for flood victims. Upper Valley Strong (UVS) was one. When a localized flood hit the Upper Valley again in 2013, UVS immediately jumped in to coordinate relief efforts and support volunteers and homeowners. UVS aligned with Two Rivers-Ottauquechee Regional Commission (TRORC) to access individual disaster-related information and coordinate with state relief processes. Staff and committee members already had the relationships and local knowledge to quickly gather resources – shovels and wheelbarrows to dig out, new appliances for residents, and volunteers to assist. Disaster relief and recovery were efficient and fast, largely because UVS was already in place.
It was clear to UVS that the region needed a permanent group in place to maintain relationships, coordinate resources, and hit the ground running when a disaster happened. And so UVS became Vermont’s first Community Organization Active in Disaster (COAD).
COADs are growing in popularity across the Unites States. These voluntary groups consist of nonprofits, corporations, faith-based groups, and other organizations that can play a role in disaster recovery. COADs help coordinate local resources, oversee individual recovery, and support local volunteers. They also coordinate with larger groups, such as Vermont Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster (VOAD), and coordinate efforts with other local, state, and federal organizations. Perhaps most importantly, COADs offer disaster case management, which is required for people to receive money from the Vermont Disaster Relief Fund.
In Vermont, two regional COADs are now up and running. While Upper Valley Strong was transitioning to a COAD, the Windham Regional Commission’s Executive Director Chris Campany and Emergency Planner Alyssa Sabetto formed the Southern Windham COAD (SWCOAD) to establish a regional framework for response.
UVS has now proposed that COADs could, and should, exist in every region in Vermont, aligned geographically with Regional Planning Commissions (RPCs). UVS presented its story at the 2015 Vermont Emergency Preparedness Conference, and several RPC Emergency Planners expressed interest in forming COADs within their own region. WRC is helping to move the conversation forward, and invited Tracy Rogers, an Emergency Planner from Western Massachusetts, to speak to all interested Vermont RPC Emergency Planners regarding COADs.
Although COADs exist throughout the US, the construct of aligning COADs with their respective RPCs statewide is a unique arrangement – but it’s not without challenges. COADs require basic administrative support to “keep the engine warm,” and COADS across the USA share the same dilemma: how to sustain the organization between disasters without a funding stream. The solution, which has both benefits and additional challenges, may be connecting with RPCs. Statewide Emergency Management Performance Grant (EMPG) funds help some RPCs support Local Emergency Planning Committees and may soon cover COADs as well. Regions that don’t receive those funds, however, have little financial incentive to create COADs in their region. Capacity is another issue: during disasters, RPCs’ first priority is to serve as liaisons with state emergency management, which means COADs still need to support their own staffs to coordinate local operations.
Despite the details to work out, the potential is great. We hope that at least 75% of Vermont RPCs will support regional COADs within the next year. These alliances between RPCs and COADs will create sustainable disaster recovery programs and enable each region in Vermont to better recover from any disasters that lie ahead.
We encourage you to learn more and get in touch if you are interested in forming a COAD in your region!