Beginner’s Guide to VOADs: Voluntary Organizations Active in Disasters
San Francisco has its very own Voluntary Organizations Active in Disasters (VOAD) group, but a lot of individuals and organizations don’t know what that means. We’ve summed up what that means for you and your community.
What’s a VOAD?
VOAD = Voluntary Organizations (like the Red Cross, Salvation Army, faith-based group, food bank, box store, etc.) acting because they want to help (not because they are legally bound to) Active (responding to requests from their community) in Disasters (like a flood, earthquake, storm, fire, etc.)
A VOAD is a coalition of nonprofits and businesses that meet the unmet needs of local, state, and federal emergency responders, communities, neighborhoods, and other organizations. They are basically a group of organizations that have access to either goods, services, or buildings that can support during an emergency in case the community has an urgent need.
How do they work?
VOADs are typically formed by organizations like a faith-based group, Salvation Army, or the American Red Cross because their community is at risk for a disaster. VOADs can be formed before, during, or after an emergency happens. Some VOADs have formal internal structures with an Executive Committee or Board, bylaws, and formal meeting structures, others meet on an ADHOC basis. VOADs can exist at the local level like the San Francisco VOAD, County, State (California has a Northern and Southern VOAD and they can be multistate), and a National VOAD.
VOADs organize in order to respond to emergencies and to communicate during emergencies the needs of the community. For example, in San Francisco during a large neighborhood fire, the local VOAD was requested by a shelter to help find more items of clothing for the survivors. It’s as simple as finding a need, and working with a partner organization to meet that need.
Will the VOAD come knocking on my door during an emergency?
VOADs are not first responders, they will not put out fires, respond to crime, or put themselves in harm’s way during an emergency. They typically begin working after the emergency has ended and the community needs to recover. These recovery efforts could look like cleaning up homes after a storm, providing emotional support or counseling, identifying food and clothing, managing donations and volunteers, delivering necessities to community members, or providing assistance with lost animals.
How can I join the local VOAD?
VOADs are open to all official organizations (private, public, NGOS, etc.), but sadly not to individuals. If you want to help out in an emergency, but are not affiliated with an organization with a response role, we highly recommend joining your local Community Emergency Response Teams (CERT or NERT in SF).
If you are part of an organization that could serve a response function to the community in a disaster it’s as easy as signing up here www.sfvoad.org
and getting involved at the next VOAD meeting.
Where can I learn more?