Comal County's New VOAD

by Crystal Gottfried, Staff Writer

Newspaper and television reports last week named Texas as among the few states that are "sufficiently" prepared to respond to a disaster.

This distinction is partly due to a group of community and faith-based organizations who work year-round to hone their emergency response network ­ and they are all volunteers!

Just recently, the county's Emergency Management Coordinator Carol Edgett gathered together the first Comal County Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster, CCVOAD, comprised of an impressive array of basically volunteer, community service agencies.

Faced with a new and foreboding hurricane season again this year, the county's elected officials encouraged and supported local volunteer agencies, non-profits and faith based groups to organize and form a VOAD in Comal County. This effort provides an organizational structure for the groups to communicate and coordinate emergency sheltering activities which the county has recently be asked to provide.

At the group's first meeting, held last week, Edgett said that the 2006 hurricane season was presenting new challenges for the State of Texas and our area. Comal County was asked by the State to accept 2500 coastal evacuees, on buses, for point to point sheltering.

These "special needs" people, some with pets who would also need sheltering, would arrive from four counties in the Corpus Christi area. These people would be pre-determined and pre-registered so they would arrive with a manifest containing their names and other pertinent information that would assist shelter volunteers in meeting their needs.

In addition to the 2500, New Braunfels has also agreed to find shelter for up to 700 people within our community. San Antonio has also been asked to accept a large number of evacuees as the shelter hub.

Comal County already has 62 members of Community Emergency Response Teams (CERT) who have been asked to be a part of the Disaster Volunteer Reserves (DVR) and Shelter Management classes currently being provided.

DVR classes, locally presented by the local American Red Cross Chapter, teach volunteers how to register evacuees into shelters and teach basic damage assessment. Shelter Management classes teach volunteers how to open and close a shelter according to standards set by the ARC.

Faith-based organizations were asked about providing potential shelter facilities, with showers and rest rooms. Interested groups should contact Sharon McAllister at the local Red Cross chapter to they can be approved and contracted. These groups were also encouraged to be trained as a shelter team.

President Suzanne Carter of the San Antonio VOAD spoke to the newly formed group about the organization and how effectively volunteers worked in response to meeting the needs created from disastrous Hurricanes Rita and Katrina last year.

The SAVOAD received a national award for their relief efforts just recently.

Several Canyon Lake "volunteers" have already completed CERT training and many from the Community Resource and Recreation Center of Canyon Lake (CRRC) have completed the classes qualifying them for DVR.

Eleanor Preston, Belinda Frisk and Carl and Beryl Josephson have taken the basic course in Shelter Operations Management.

"We were thinking that we could possibly help the Red Cross at another shelter if needed," said Preston. "This pre-planning sounded to me like a step in the right direction and might be of interest to others in the community."

"With hurricane forecasters predicting that more of this season's storms will impact our gulf coast, this area could see another massive evacuation of people moving north," she said.

The new CCVOAD members would elect their own officials to operate the organization locally, and the group plans to meet monthly.

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