New group, VOAD, aims to organize area disaster relief efforts


Chris Hopper, chairperson of the newly-created Cullman County Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster (VOAD), left, and Phyllis Little, director of the Cullman County EMA / Nick Griffin

CULLMAN – Cullman County’s Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster organizational meeting was held Tuesday night at the Cullman County Water Department building and the turnout reflected how much the community cares about the topic. Organizers invited “individuals, faith-based groups, civic organizations, disaster response groups, elected officials, first responders and any others interested in providing assistance following a natural or man-made disaster.”

Cullman Emergency Management Agency (EMA) Director Phyllis Little said she was happy to see such a good showing for the up and coming Cullman VOAD; the theme of the night was organization.

“We have never had this many people come to the meeting,” Little said. “This community always does a great job of taking care of each other when they need it and we just need to organize those efforts.”

Tuesday’s meeting saw representatives from all kinds of organizations like Loretto Fire and Rescue, Cullman Community Radio, The Link of Cullman County, Cullman County Volunteer Fire Department Association, The Red Cross, Cullman Police Department, Daystar Church, Sacred Heart and Camp Liberty. A handful shared stories about some of the obstacles they face when trying to take care of people during a disaster. Kelly Riether, a disaster program specialist from the American Red Cross, talked about the importance of communication during a disaster situation.

“The most important thing to worry about is organization and communication,” Riether said. “In the short amount of time I’ve been here, I’ve seen that Cullman is really an amazing community. The way that everyone is anxious to support each other; I’ve never seen anything like it, but in that desire to support people, individuals often don’t communicate. That’s what the VOAD tries to avoid and the goal is to bring everybody’s efforts together. I’m just really excited to see the potential of this organization because this community already does such a great job of helping people who are in need.”

Joseph M. Land, Sr., the owner of Battleground’s Camp Liberty, echoed some of Riether’s sentiments and hammered home how critical it is for the community to be organized in times of need.

“I can speak to the importance of communication. I had about 135 evacuees from Florida a couple of months ago. We were able to get everyone fed and found a place for them to sleep and once the dust settled, it was like a scene from ‘Field of Dreams.’ We had over 100 vehicles just showing up at the camp dropping off cases and cases and cases of water and food and diapers and everything imaginable being dropped off and we didn’t have a way to store or use all of it,” Land said. “I’m new to Cullman County. I’ve been here for two years and this is a remarkable community, and the way folks drop everything to help each other is incredible. If disaster hits and we have to take care of our neighbors, we’re going to take care of our neighbors. I’ve been to 48 states and 34 countries and I’ve never been more proud to be part of a community…but some organization during that time would’ve kept my staff from being crushed by the weight of all the goodness because we were suddenly just completely overwhelmed and had no space.”

That organization began Tuesday night with the nominations of three positions to lead the VOAD. Chris Hopper was nominated to be the chairperson, Fred Trevino was selected as the vice chair and Paige Williams was chosen to be the secretary. The members at the meeting also decided to build a Facebook page for Cullman County VOAD, not only to recruit members, but also to take steps toward a more organized community effort. The group did not decide on an official date for the next meeting but said it will be in January and they will use that time to compartmentalize various VOAD duties into smaller groups to be able to help the maximum number of people when disaster strikes.

The newly-created Facebook group states: “A disaster is defined as any natural or human caused event resulting in damage, loss, hardship, or suffering, disasters can affect individual households, local communities, regions, states, or the entire nation.  When a disaster occurs, neighbors and community organizations want to reach out and help, but this is not always easy.  During a disaster, organizing a community response may be hindered by the chaotic nature of the event.  Communities are better served if a VOAD is in place for collaboration, coordination, communication, and cooperation (sic) long before a disaster strikes.”

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