In a recent commentary, Jim Pate states that “coordinating volunteers is key for future disaster recovery.” Jim’s assessment is accurate, and his organization, New Orleans Area Habitat for Humanity, has been an integral part of the recovery landscape in post-Katrina New Orleans. But much has changed since 2005, and volunteer planning is now an integral part of the disaster response and recovery planning.
It is important to remember that all disasters are local, and effective disaster response depends on a coordinated network of emergency responders, the parish Offices of Emergency Preparedness, local and regional VOADS (Voluntary Organizations Active in Disasters), and the faith-based and nonprofit communities. For larger-scale disasters, the state also has an important role to play, including volunteer coordination. My agency, Volunteer Louisiana in the Office of Lt. Governor, is charged in the state’s Emergency Operations Plan with coordinating spontaneous, unaffiliated volunteers and marshaling national service resources. In the most recent large scale disaster, the 2016 floods, over 30,000 volunteers responded in just the first few months. Volunteer Louisiana shared volunteerism messaging statewide, helped connect volunteers with volunteer opportunities, and helped coordinate and secure housing for 1,480 AmeriCorps Disaster Response Team members from across the country.
In 2018, Volunteer Louisiana worked with GOHSEP, the Governor’s Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness, on ACT 548, which provides a framework for improved communication, coordination, and collaboration between voluntary organizations and emergency officials. Volunteer Louisiana was also awarded a Volunteer Generation Fund grant to build the volunteer capacity of local emergency offices through Community Emergency Response Teams, improving immediate response capacity and training citizen volunteers to help neighbors and affiliate with disaster response and recovery organizations.
There is certainly room for improvement and opportunities for greater public investment in volunteer housing and volunteer management infrastructure. But volunteer coordination and management efforts have vastly improved 2005, and it is important to recognize the efforts of stakeholders at every level who have helped make that happen.
Volunteer Louisiana, Office of Lt. Governor