After Tropical Storm Irene, temporary Long-Term Recovery Committees popped up all across the state to help coordinate support for flood victims, and Upper Valley Strong (UVS) was one. When a localized flood hit the Upper Valley again in 2013, UVS immediately jumped in to coordinate relief efforts and support volunteers and homeowners. UVS aligned with Two Rivers-Ottauquechee Regional Commission (TRORC) as well as the Upper Valley Lake Sunapee Regional Planning Commission (UVLSRPC) to obtain disaster-related information and create a cohesive approach to response and recovery. Staff and committee members already had the relationships and local knowledge to quickly gather resources – from shovels and wheelbarrows to dig out, to new appliances for residents, and volunteers to assist. The disaster relief and recovery processes were efficient and fast, largely because UVS was already in place.
It was clear to UVS that the region needed a permanent group in place to maintain relationships, coordinate resources, and hit the ground running when a disaster happened. And so, UVS became Vermont’s first Community Organization Active in Disaster (COAD). COADs are growing in popularity across the Unites States. These voluntary groups consist of nonprofits, corporations, faith-based groups, and other organizations that can play a role in disaster recovery. COADs help coordinate local resources, oversee individual recovery, and support volunteers. They also coordinate efforts with other local, state, and federal organizations during an emergency.
UVS is unique in its alignment with the Regional Planning Commisions of both the New Hampshire and Vermont regions within the Upper Valley. Though these relationships present challenges in terms of establishing consistent funding between disasters and coordinating local operations during an emergency, UVS believes that partnering with our region’s RPCs makes disaster response more sustainable and effective. Perhaps most importantly, COADs offer disaster case management, which is required for people to receive money from organizations like the Vermont Disaster Relief Fund. “The value contributed to the community by COADs such as Upper Valley Strong during disaster recovery cannot be overstated” says Wesley Miller, the Upper Valley’s Public Health Emergency Preparedness Coordinator.
In many ways, their name speaks for itself – Upper Valley Strong is an organization that capitalizes on the inherent strengths of our communities to help people recover following a disaster. They not only support local agencies like the Upper Valley Haven, COVER, SEVCA and the Upper Valley Housing Coalition, but also train and mobilize a strong contingent of dedicated volunteers. According to Miller, “without the dedication and spirit of community shown by these volunteers, the crushing effects of disaster events would weigh on community members for a significantly longer period of time. Upper Valley Strong has a long history and demonstrated capacity to support our local communities during these most challenging times.”
UVS trainings provide volunteers with information about how to conduct themselves safely and effectively on disaster sites. These programs are available to corporations, groups, and anyone interested in learning more about helping their neighbors in times of disaster. As one UVS volunteer from Hypertherm, Pete Twarog, spoke about in a recent interview, we all see far off disasters on the news every day, but it is difficult to have a direct impact even when we feel drawn to help. What UVS works to instill is a “serve local” mentality. “Help out your neighbor. Your neighbor may be the next person who needs you, so be ready,” Twarog says. To learn more about how you can be ready to lend a hand when your community needs you, contact Upper Valley Strong, and check out their training promotion video.