LEBANON, Va. -- When disaster strikes, voluntary agencies often are among the first to arrive on the scene and among the last to leave. Volunteer response to spring floods in southwest Virginia was no exception. The overall contribution of these volunteer agencies to recovery is immeasurable, federal and state disaster officials said today.
“Too many times, the good works of these organizations goes unsung and unrecorded, but we want to recognize their joining with us in the form of local disaster recovery task forces to deal with unmet needs of southwest Virginia residents affected by storms, tornadoes and floods in May and June,” said Federal Coordinating Officer Tom Davies of the Department of Homeland Security’s Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).
“Federal and state assistance programs are a helping hand, but they cannot meet all the needs of those affected,” said State Coordinating Officer Michael Cline of the Virginia Department of Emergency Management (VDEM). “Local disaster recovery task forces try to assuage those long term unmet needs.”
Local disaster recovery task forces are a consortium of local volunteer agencies, such as churches and local volunteer groups; national volunteer agencies, such as the Mennonites, Volunteer Organizations Active in Disasters, state representatives, local governments and civic organizations, local business leaders and other groups that may provide help.
FEMA employs a volunteer liaison to work with local, state and national organizations to form local disaster recovery task forces. Kenneth Skalitsky, FEMA volunteer agency liaison for this disaster, has been working since the declaration to coordinate FEMA issues with the state and local task forces.
As always, the local volunteers are doing tremendous work to help their neighbors in their hour of need,” Skalitsky said. “My job is to augment their efforts by working with the state to coordinate national volunteer groups that can help the local effort.”
Virginia is an innovator in the area of local recovery task forces, Skalitsky said. After Hurricane Fran in 1996, the Virginia governor recognized the value of such groups and charged the Virginia Department of Housing and Community Development with leading the effort to encourage the creation of such organizations throughout the state. The department appointed Selby Jacobs as state coordinator of local disaster recovery task forces.
Jacobs said, “Ken (Skalitsky) was an excellent partner in this operation. He used his information and knowledge to get additional outside resources in to support the work of the local disaster recovery task forces. It has been a very productive partnership.”
There are many groups, Skalistky said, that will come in to help, but they may depend on local folks for local logistical needs and sustenance.
For example, the local groups can organize sleeping and feeding arrangements for an outside group that pays its own way to come in for two weeks to help with recovery work, such as mucking out homes, removing debris, doing construction.
The task forces identify those affected who have needs not met by federal or state assistance programs, and attempt to match them with volunteer help. The help may come in many forms; money, labor, materials, counseling -- it runs the gamut.
One goal is to maximize the federal and state monetary assistance by matching it with donated labor. By using a FEMA home repair grant to buy materials, for example, a volunteer group can multiply the effect of those dollars by supplying the labor to make the home livable. It’s a marriage of money and muscle that is unbeatable.
Southwest Virginians particularly are fortunate in this area, Jacobs said. Buchanan, Russell and Tazewell counties all have active and ongoing local disaster recovery task forces. These ...