Volunteers willing to work disasters invited to VOAD

Published 1:54 am Wednesday, November 15, 2017

The second meeting in a effort to begin the process of organizing and training volunteers to work in the event of an emergency is set for 5:30 this Thurs., Nov. 16, at the Covington Baptist Association on Hwy. 84.

Covington County EMA director Susan Harris is leading the effort to establish a Voluntary Organization Active in Disaster (VOAD) group. It’s something Harris says has long been needed, but the there was heightened awareness for that need when Covington County found itself hosting evacuees fleeing Hurricane Irma.

In the past, those storm refugees likely would have found themselves in a Red Cross storm shelter. But Red Cross has changed its business model, and getting a shelter open is not as simple as it once was, she said.

In 2014, the American Red Cross changed its business model, and consolidated 18 chapters into six. The local chapter was among the offices that were closed.

Consequently, there are fewer volunteers, Harris said, and Red Cross won’t open a shelter without trained volunteers in place.

While the state Emergency Management Agency holds the position that Covington County is too close to the coast to open pre-event shelters, Harris said with proper planning, county volunteers could possibly open a “safe haven” as a place to stay while a storm is hitting, as opposed to a shelter offering cots, bedding, showers and food.

All of those issues – and how to staff such initiatives – will be the task of the VOAD group.

Churches, civic groups, and individuals interested in volunteering are encouraged to attend.