Local Organization Gives Relief When Disaster Strikes

by Deanie Lowe

For several years, Volusia County went through a wonderful period where it experienced very few disasters. Sure, it experienced a couple of tornadoes; however, unless you were around for the fires of 1998, you may have thought Volusia had its own, special “Garden of Eden.”

During those “blue sky” years, many who grew up in the county knew the hurricanes would return, and a few started organizing a group called Community Organizations Active in Disaster (COAD). COAD’s aim is to support both businesses and residents before, during and after disasters strike. It is composed of citizens volunteering from both the public and private sectors, representing businesses, civic clubs, government agencies and faith-based groups. Being careful not to duplicate other efforts, this group’s goal is to fill gaps that inevitably come about when customary emergency agencies cannot fully meet the needs of the citizens, due to lack of a formal disaster declaration or shortage of available resources.

Their general membership meets in the odd-numbered months, in the Dennis McGee Room at Daytona Beach International Airport from 2:00-4:00 p.m. on the third Wednesday of the month. Programs are a series of presentations by local, state and national organizations, detailing the types of aid they can render for the residents and businesses of Volusia.

Due to demand, COAD focuses primarily on serving the needs of individual residents, but the group sees service to the business community as an important part of its mission as well. “Businesses don’t operate without their employees. We help get employees back on their feet so that businesses can reopen,” says Frank Bruno, Co-Founder and President of COAD.

To that end, COAD works year round, preparing residents to take care of themselves during the first three to seven days after a disaster hits. This is the period when emergency services are under enormous strain and may not be able to help everyone at once. They offer several programs including, Map Your Neighborhood, which trains neighborhood representatives on how to organize support groups to prepare their own families and assist neighbors in distress, and provide training for volunteers to become Community Emergency Response Teams (CERTs).

COAD also works with the County’s Emergency Management Department to present an annual Disaster Expo, featuring representatives from various agencies such as fire, police, sheriff, EVAC, Red Cross, Health Department, etc., to answer questions and distribute literature.

During disasters, COAD assigns two of its members to the County’s Emergency Operation Center to serve as the lead agency for Emergency Support Function 15, in charge of volunteers and donations. This gives COAD timely information about where volunteers and resources are needed and who is best able to meet the need.

Immediately following a disaster, COAD focuses on opening one or more Volunteer Reception Centers. The Mormon Church is their primary partner in this endeavor, opening its facilities and providing emergency power and computers for processing spontaneous volunteers from the local area, as well as those from other counties and states. COAD does not deploy volunteers directly to work sites, but they are instrumental in the coordination of volunteer resources.

This means COAD is able to address the needs of individuals and small businesses. For example, COAD can assist with cleanup efforts. Whether it’s the distribution of blue tarps to cover damaged structures, enlisting volunteers to assist with “muck-out” work in homes and businesses or the deployment of “chainsaw teams” to cut fallen trees and remove debris, COAD is a useful resource for connecting businesses and individuals in need with volunteer agencies on hand to help.

Long term recovery, beginning six months after the disaster for anyone still in need, is headed up by one of COAD’s members who is the director of Volusia Interfaiths/Agencies Networking in Disaster. Working with donated supplies and contributions, this group helps to restore damaged homes where the owners have no other resources available to them.

COAD is a non-profit organization, led by a Steering Committee comprised of representatives from American Red Cross, Florida Department of Health, Volusia County Emergency Management Services, Volusia County Human Services, United Way, CareerSource Flagler Volusia, Amateur Radio Emergency Services, several faith-based organizations, small businesses owners and other dedicated individuals.

“The idea is to have everyone working together to help each other,“ says Frank Bruno.

COAD is a 501(c)(3) organization and uses tax-deductible donations for all of its work. There are no paid employees; all work is done by volunteers. For more information, please visit www.volusiacoad.org or call 386-872-3705 or 386-561-9767.