SAVANNAH – As Georgians continue to recover from Hurricane Matthew, they may find some of their needs go beyond the scope of assistance available from the state or FEMA.
This is when community-based long-term recovery groups can help, providing what hurricane survivors most often need: money, materials and manpower.
With support and guidance from FEMA and the state, county managers and voluntary agencies in six largely rural Georgia communities have formed a permanent long-term recovery group to be ready for the next disaster.
Emergency managers in Bulloch, Effingham, Evans, Long, McIntosh and Wayne responded enthusiastically to creating the group in their area. The new Bulloch County Voluntary Organization Active in Disaster would assess the longer-term needs of individual hurricane survivors and connect them to assistance after they exhaust state and federal funds available to them.
“We’re excited about it,” said Lee Eckles, deputy director of the Bulloch County Emergency Management Agency. The agency is charged with providing public safety for more than 70,000 residents in a 684-square-mile area of southeast Georgia, plus another 25,000 students when Georgia Southern University is in session.
Eckles said the Bulloch County VOAD will give county residents and organizations a specific place where resources can be coordinated to provide efficient delivery of post-disaster services to the disaster survivors who need them.
FEMA and the Georgia Emergency Management Agency/Homeland Security offered guidance in creating the long-term recovery group. It is structured along the lines recommended by the National Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster. The national group represents dozens of nongovernmental organizations, all with extensive disaster experience, and 55 state and territorial counterparts to the national organization.
Voluntary organizations are often present in communities before federal and state assistance arrives and are there long after the first responders go home. Still, disasters leave long-lasting impacts on individuals, many for whom federal and state disaster assistance is not enough. It is at this point that long-term recovery groups can be effective.
A governing board of approximately eight members will guide the Bulloch County VOAD, which is considering establishing itself as a tax-exempt nonprofit able to receive donations, Eckles said. A wide variety of organizations will participate “to make sure nobody falls through the cracks,” he added.
The board’s chairman will be Bob Olliff, executive director of United Way of Southeast Georgia.
Olliff said organizers knew they wanted to start a recovery group but weren’t sure how to go about it. They reached out to GEMA/HS, FEMA and others and discovered a wealth of disaster experience.
“For us, the group paints a great picture of how this community can rally together after a disaster,” Olliff said. “We felt by forming the group we can put a plan together to address every issue.”
The Bulloch County VOAD has met twice and elected officers. Eckles said it will use parts of the long-term recovery group guide that the national Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster offers as a resource. The free guide is a nuts-and-bolts handbook available at nvoad.org.
As communities plan for the next disaster, the authors of the guide said they hoped each long-term recovery group will capture its experiences so “together we can accomplish what none of us can achieve alone.”
For more information on the Bulloch County VOAD, contact Bulloch County Public Safety/Emergency Management Agency at 912-489-1661