Helping communities recover

Helping communities recover

VOAD members at the State Volunteer Organization Summit (ADEM Photo By Aprille Slutsky)

PHOENIX - “I depend on you. The state depends on you. Our communities depend on you.” Whitney Roberts smiles at the assembled group at the State Volunteer Organization Summit. Representatives from the American Red Cross, HOPE Animal-Assisted Crisis Response, International Fellowship of Chaplains, Yarnell Hill Recovery Group, Association of Arizona Food Banks, various counties, first responders, and many more were in attendance to network and gain some new ideas/ best practices from each other.


As Arizona Division of Emergency Management’s (ADEM) Voluntary Agency Liaison (VAL), Roberts has been looking forward to this day. “It is critical that all of our partners know each other and what everyone is capable of providing - in the way of resources and skills - before, during and after disaster,” she said. “That way when the time comes, nobody has to second guess who to contact.” 


As the state VAL, Roberts' job is to develop relationships with volunteer groups, non-governmental organizations, governmental agencies and Volunteer/Community Organizations Active in Disaster (VOAD/COAD). 



“Along with the Human Services Branch Manager, during disaster recovery, we manage the Individual Assistance Service Centers (IASC),” Roberts explained. “The IASC is where we bring in the different groups to help assist survivors to meet their immediate needs for recovery.” 


When deployed and opening an Individual Assistance Service Center, several VOAD/COAD partners have an immediate spot. The American Red Cross and the Salvation Army are active when evacuations begin. The local/county emergency manager plays a big role in determining what their needs are and who can provide assistance. “They know their community best and can bring key players together to build an initial group,” said Whitney. “I am their point-of-contact to help address the needs of the survivors and anything else that may come up.”


Joan Brown is a reservist with ADEM’s Disaster Recovery, Human Services. When a disaster strikes, Joan starts on recovery case management in the Individual Assistance Service Center. She is the first contact for survivors. She assesses their needs and directs them to the resources that can assist them. “I network with the VOADs/COADs to identify what they are able to supply during disasters such as resources, skilled labor, spiritual care... any service that can assist a disaster survivor.”


Joan says that VOADs/COADs are a necessary part of disaster recovery. “They are a wealth of knowledge, guidance, and skills,” she said. “Without VOADs/COADs to assist in a disaster recovery, many survivors would never be able to reach their ‘new normal’ stage of recovery.”


Jeanette Wood and her dog Callie are members of HOPE Animal-Assisted Crisis Response, a nationwide all-volunteer organization with more than 120 teams. “Our national leadership made a decision to join National VOAD because our work is best done in partnership with other crisis responders,” Jeanette said. “National HOPE encouraged all members to join their local VOADs and COADs. We joined the Arizona VOAD two years ago. Since that time, we have grown from one team to three teams and we expect to double that this year. We have made many important connections in the community, including a working relationship with ADEM.”

During a crisis, HOPE provides comfort and encouragement to those affected by the crisis through animal-assisted emotional support. In addition to being registered therapy dogs, the dogs are certified working dogs and both the handler and the dog have received specialized training in crisis response.


HOPE does not self-deploy; they wait to be invited by another organization that requests their services. This might be the American Red Cross, a minister, a school principal or a government organization like ADEM. “During the Yarnell Crisis, HOPE responded at the request of ADEM and we provided emotional support to Yarnell residents who were using ADEM’s Individual Assistance Service Center to procure services after the fire,” Jeanette said. “On the first day that residents returned to Yarnell, emotions ran high and the dogs provided a calming presence and provided a pleasant distraction for those waiting for services.”


Roberts is a point of contact to assist VOAD/COADs with any needs they may have. In the last year, she spent a good amount of time networking with current Southern Arizona partners to reenergize their COAD, as well as get new groups involved. Chaplain Anders Hitchcock of the Tucson Community Chaplains Corps appreciated Whitney’s determination and enjoyed working with her.  ”We have a good head start with the Southern Arizona COAD due to Whitney’s guidance,” he said. “Hopefully, we will continue to expand with some new partners.”


During an emergency, the chaplains serve, listen and provide spiritual council. They facilitate information and resource dissemination, stress management education, compassion fatigue education, or any number of practical services to support responders and victims, in a crisis. “Sometimes a confidant who is purposefully unbiased, and invested only in the wellness of people, can be a good resource,” Chaplain Hitchcock said.


Roberts knows that without the VOAD/COADs, many disaster survivors would not receive help. “Our partners each have unique capabilities and resources,” she said. “We rely on them.  Big or small, all organizations have something to bring to the table.  Whether it’s debris clean-up, feeding, or rebuilding homes, we have a partnership that can help.  We cannot thank them enough.”