Working Together in Disaster Preparedness: VOAD

blog_image_tetonTeton County, Wyoming is situated in a valley vulnerable to devastating wildfires, landslides, and other potential disasters. While the county has an emergency response team in place, coordinating efforts proved challenging. Coming together in recognition of this situation led to the formation of Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster (VOAD), a local cooperative initiative among government, business, and non-profit stakeholders invested in the safety of Teton County.

After giving a talk on disaster preparedness, Teton County Emergency Management (TCEM) leader Rich Ochs was approached by Darby Egan, then Senior Vice President at First Western Trust. Her background in non-profit organizing led Darby to propose creating a volunteer organization to support emergency preparedness. Rich knew of the Red Cross’ membership in the National Volunteer Organizations Active in Disasters (VOAD) and used that model as the basis for Teton County’s own VOAD. Together, Rich and Darby engaged a number of organizations, from the Red Cross and First Western Trust to local churches. These organizations contributed their time and resources toward improving the local voluntary emergency response system. While still in its early stages, the Teton County VOAD is a promising initiative, creating plans to improve and supplement current service provisions. The VOAD works with the Red Cross and TCEM to avoid program overlap, and to strengthen a coordinated response in case of emergency.

The collaboration has already paid off: VOAD recently provided service and support in evacuation when a geological shift jeopardized the safety of forty homes and a major thoroughfare. In an interview about the emergency response, Rich Ochs explained, “Public safety is our number one priority, and taking this action now instead of waiting is the best approach.”

Teton County VOAD is an impressive example of members of various sectors working toward the same goal, although more a cooperative effort than a collaboration across sectors. All parties involved benefit from participating in the VOAD; TCEM gains volunteer support; First Western Trust garners positive publicity from association with a successful non-profit initiative; the Red Cross expands their local resources; and local churches and non-profits receive training and validation for their efforts. This collaboration allows each participant to succeed on its own terms, and its accomplishments offer lessons from which all sectors can learn.