Coordinating area emergency services

A new multi-agency association is being formed to coordinate emergency services in Eastern Madera County when the need arises.

Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster (VOAD) is being created through a collaboration of the Oakhurst Area Chamber of Commerce, Sierra Tel and the Red Cross.

The goal of the organization is to build relationships before a disaster, so that emergency services are maximized when needed.

VOAD will be made up of representatives from businesses, utilities, service clubs, faith-based organizations, and realtors who would improve outcomes for people affected by disasters by facilitating cooperation, communication, coordination and collaboration.

Laura Norman, public relations supervisor with Sierra Tel, is chairwoman of the new organization. She said a VOAD association enables its members to share information and coordinate the deployment of resources to improve outcomes for people affected by disasters.

“Remember how everyone wanted to help during and after the Junction and Courtney fires last year, but nobody was a lead agency to coordinate efforts,” Norman asked. “This organization will help do exactly that.”

VOADs also share information on what resources an organization can provide, work to develop organizational response plans, provide input for community and government response plans, receive training, promote individual preparedness plans, serve as a communication link between emergency management and member organizations.

“Through VOAD we will be able to have an efficient, well-planned, and unified effort to respond and recover from any future wildfire or emergency that may impact our community,” said Dan Rule, Oakhurst Area Chamber of Comerce president.

Norman explained that the nearest VOAD is in the Central Valley, and, although they do a great job for the valley, they do not have the knowledge of the unique neighborhoods in the foothills and mountains or the contacts in the Mountain Area.

Although not officially chartered at this time, Norman said it is her hope to combine Eastern Madera County and Mariposa County into one VOAD.

“It makes sense that our neighboring county, with the same remoteness and need for coordinating services, collaborate as one entity,” Norman said.

Assisting with the formation of the association is Dwaine Breazeale, a member of the Fresno Salvation Army and a coordinator for the Central California VOAD, and Katrina Poitras, an Oakhurst resident, with the Central Valley Red Cross is responsible for the counties of Madera, Mariposa and Merced.

National VOAD was created in the aftermath of Hurricane Camille (1969) in response to a serious lack of coordination among the major national relief agencies. There were gaps in service, wasteful duplication of efforts and unseemly competition for donations. After Camille, the agencies agreed that this was a man-made disaster within the natural disaster, and that a framework was needed to structure their relationships. As a result, they came together to found NVOAD.

Local VOADs are a fairly recent phenomenon, developing in California after the Loma Prieta Earthquake (1989) and in Florida after Hurricane Andrew (1992).

Due to its size and geography, California is home to two regional VOAD associations - NorCal and SoCal - and numerous local VOAD associations. Each strives to include the necessary organizations and agencies that provide disaster-related services in their areas.

“We all learned a lot, sometimes through sweat and tears, during the 2014 wildfire season,” said Darin Soukup, executive director of The Oakhurst Chamber of Commerce. “VOAD is just one example of many behind the scene efforts that are in place to better protect and serve our mountain communities.”

It is Norman’s plan to have the association up and running by the end of June. Those interested in volunteering for the organization, or in receiving more information, should contact Norman at (559) 683-4611,