By Adriana Rabkin
Marin VOAD Coordinator
Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster, otherwise known as VOADs, play a critical role in disasters. Through their collaboration with community-based organizations, VOADs help to identify gaps in relief efforts and then coordinate the work of their nonprofit partners and local, county, and state agencies to fill those gaps. VOAD members take a large burden off of government agencies by sharing expertise about vulnerable communities and directly providing services to those in need. This helps to both build community resilience and alleviate the impact of the disaster when it occurs.
Marin VOAD, formerly known as MIDC (Marin Interagency Disaster Coalition), is a collaboration of nonprofit partners, faith-based organizations, government agencies and community groups and is an active part of Marin County’s disaster response. From feeding those who are food insecure to taking care of older adults and people with access and functional needs, to providing emergency financial assistance and behavioral and mental health services, Marin VOAD organizations work with the communities with the greatest need.
MIDC was established in 1989 in response to the Loma Prieta earthquake when local organizations understood the need to work collaboratively to provide assistance following a disaster. Initial efforts included identifying key agency roles and responsibilities as a way to avoid duplication of services during the disaster. In the 1995 Vision Fire, MIDC demonstrated to the Marin community and beyond how successful planning and strong collaborative efforts could result in exceptional disaster response and recovery assistance to those who were significantly impacted.
Today, the Marin VOAD, with its network of over 70 distinct nonprofit and community organizations, covers the entire geographical region of Marin and plays a key role in disaster preparation and response and recovery efforts. Through collaboration during the 2017 North Bay Fires to provide mass care and shelter, coordination in the 2018 Camp Fire to assist other counties and help one another, communication during the Public Safety Power Shutoffs in 2019 to ensure everyone knew what was going on, and cooperation now during the COVID-19 pandemic to provide services and resources to those who are most at risk, Marin VOAD has been present and active to help our community at large. And when this is all over and COVID-19 finally wanes, we will look at the gaps that our nonprofit partners faced during this difficult time and we will help them by providing training and discussions around where they had the biggest challenges. I suspect one of those areas will be Continuity of Operations Planning. The Marin VOAD will work with its community-based partners on how to continue operations in this virtual environment with reduced staff and fewer volunteers, how to manage staff’s needs, and how to do all of this while following the public health guidelines, social distancing, and shelter-at-home orders.
As the coordinator for Marin VOAD for over two years, I can tell you first-hand how important this work is in a disaster. Our objectives are simple and straightforward: to identify unmet needs and facilitate efficient, streamlined services to those who are impacted by disaster. Our VOAD organizations do just that. They are working with the County Health & Human Services and Office of Emergency Services to provide childcare to health care workers and first. They are ensuring food distribution is coordinated down to every community, they are giving emergency financial assistance and wellness checks to low-income elders, they are providing immigration and social services for caregivers, and they are supporting the most vulnerable and at risk underserved seniors across Marin County.
This is a difficult time for most of us and I am proud to help support our front-line nonprofit organizations that we rely on for many of the support services in our community. Together we can do more. As a collaborative, cohesive team, we will get through this together.
How to join VOAD: if you are part of a nonprofit, faith-based organization, or community-based organization that provides disaster services and you want to participate in Marin VOAD, please email MarinVOAD@gmail.com. We are all in this together.