Volunteering During Disasters (VOAD): Neighbors Helping Neighbors


Sheltering and feeding, debris removal, disaster communications, and making repairs to damaged housing all share a common characteristic -- they rely on individual volunteers and networks of volunteer organizations active in disasters. These groups, Volunteer Organizations Active in Disasters (VOAD), are fulfilling increasingly important roles in communities devastated by disasters. 

EKU students learned about the management and operation of volunteer organizations active in the eastern Tennessee region during an emergency management forum sponsored by the U.S. Department of Energy Oak Ridge Office and Tennessee Emergency Management Agency, which was held Oct. 14 in Oak Ridge, Tennessee.

Panelists from the American Red Cross, Southern Baptist Conference Disaster Relief, Radio Amateur Club East, and state and local emergency management organizations, among others, discussed lessons learned when integrating volunteer organizations during severe ice storms in February 2015 that impacted the greater Central Tennessee region.   

Michael Bush, an EKU student with emergency management experience, admitted that “in a large scale disaster, the vast majority of your resources come from volunteer organizations.” 

He recalled preparing to receive volunteers who were skilled carpenters during the response and recovery from a tornado incident in his community. Unfortunately, the crews that arrived had no carpentry experience. “A professional organization like VOAD could have insured I only received experienced persons,” Bush explained.  

 "VOAD is not a group that comes in and takes over operational control; VOAD is, however, a means to help all agencies collaborate, cooperate, coordinate, and communicate during disasters,” said Gary Ward, Tennessee VOAD President. 

While always looking to improve, the Tennessee Emergency Management Agency appears to have systems in place to integrate voluntary organizations as part of disaster preparations. Panelists repeated that “exchanging business cards at the time of an incident means that–as with first responder organizations–the mistake has already been made.”

VOAD is most effective as a proactive and preventative organization by identifying resources before they are required during an incident. VOAD seeks to broaden participation to other organizations and anyone else that understands the importance of vigilance and proactive measures to help prepare for, respond to, and recover from an incident.

During the session, EKU students were able to ask questions of VOAD group members; the students also provided insight about how VOAD could reach out to the younger generations of volunteers and channel their interests. It was brought to the attention of the VOAD supporting panel that it is never too early to get students involved and interested in volunteer organizations. A suggestion included taking proactive measures by attending and recruiting students during career days at universities and high schools. These venues may be utilized to reach youth and make them more aware of the positive actions associated with volunteering with VOAD and others like it.


Contributing authors: Michael Bush and Sherana Tomblin, EKU students enrolled in the undergraduate Homeland Security Program, and Dr. Chad Foster, assistant professor

Published on December 08, 2015