Volunteers & Voluntary Organizations
Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster
The Aware & Prepare Initiative continued development of an active VOAD (Voluntary Organizations Active in Disasters) organization made up of non-governmental agencies in partnership with local government to improve coordination and capabilities in disaster preparedness and response, as well as a planned and coordinated system for integrating volunteers and DSWs (Disaster Service Workers) during all phases of emergencies and disasters.
PREPARING COMMUNITY-BASED ORGANIZATIONS TO RESPOND
Santa Barbara County has twice the number of nonprofits per capita compared to the average for California, second only to Marin County. 82% of these 2,000 organizations have budgets of less than $1 million, which results in limited staffing to achieve their mission. Although it is well known that this region is vulnerable to a variety of hazards, non-profit organizations often do not have the capacity to prioritize emergency readiness. With 25% of not-for-profit and private businesses unable to re-open after a disaster, not fully understanding their roles and responsibilities can adversely affect their engagement in preparedness, response, and recovery efforts.
The established mechanism for engaging non-profit organizations in emergency management is the Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster (VOAD). There was some effort to establish a VOAD in Santa Barbara County during the early ‘90s as part of the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s (FEMA) now defunct Project Impact, but the volunteer-led and volunteer-driven organization succumbed to leadership turnover and other competing priorities.
BRINGING STRUCTURE AND STREAMLINED COMMUNICATION
In 2007, an Initial Needs Assessment conducted by James Lee Witt Associates highlighted the lack of coordination and communication between government agencies and non-profit organizations as a gap that needed to be addressed. As a result, the Aware & Prepare Initiative provided significant funding support to re-invigorate the Santa Barbara County Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster (SBC VOAD) through the Santa Barbara County Chapter of the American Red Cross. Funding supported the hiring of a full-time coordinator to provide structure for membership recruitment and retention as well as strategic collaboration with government agencies, and to streamline identification and deployment of resources.
THE USUAL CHALLENGE OF SUCCESS: SCALING UP
After several years of initial investment in capacity-building, the leadership of SBC VOAD began to prioritize long-term sustainability. This required implementing measures such as charging a small fee for membership, reducing overhead costs, and transitioning responsibilities from a full-time coordinator to a ten-member Executive Committee. The fiscal agent of SBC VOAD also transitioned from the Santa Barbara County Chapter of the American Red Cross to the Foodbank of Santa Barbara County.
SBC VOAD is now a robust collaborative with 38 member organizations including community-based and faith-based organizations as well as government agencies. The Executive Committee is charged with general oversight and fiscal decision-making while a Steering Committee is responsible for project development and implementation. Both of these committees thrive on multi-sector engagement as well as open and honest communication.
A FORMAL ROLE FOR VOAD AND A PLACE AT THE TABLE
Beyond the small membership fee that helps support on-going infrastructure and administration costs, the SBC VOAD is also in the midst of executing a Memorandum of Understanding with the Santa Barbara County Office of Emergency Management that will formalize its role as the supporting and coordinating entity for non-profit organizations in preparing for, responding to, and recovering from emergencies and disasters. This also enables SBC VOAD to have a Liaison that will be present in the County Emergency Operations Center (EOC) when it is activated for emergency operations to facilitate communication with its membership organizations.