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Volunteer Agencies Essential to Hurricane Response


Help for Louisiana Communities Came from Across the Nation and World

March 13, 2006, Baton Rouge, La. -- The devastation in Louisiana from the impact of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita soon brought needed assistance from charitable organizations around the globe. The U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) partnered with 408 volunteer organizations from the immediate aftermath through the long term recovery effort.

National and local voluntary agencies (VOLAGs) are fundamental to emergency relief and support in any federal disaster mission. FEMA relies on the experience and speed of the volunteer agencies to provide immediate shelter and food assistance whenever a disaster threatens an area or as soon as the President declares the need for a federal disaster response. Through a VAL, or Voluntary Agency Liaison, FEMA assists the VOLAGs with federal assistance programs, deadlines, coordination with other volunteer organizations and donation management. They also identify special needs populations and help applicants avoid duplication of benefits.

VOLAGs are organized on a state level in groups called Voluntary Organizations Active in Disasters (VOADs) that work constantly on local disaster preparedness and supply. This vigilance gives the VOLAGs the ability to go into action immediately when needed without duplication of services.

During Hurricanes Katrina and Rita relief operations, the first volunteer agencies on the ground were the specialists in emergency mass care. The national groups involved in the first response effort included the American Red Cross, The Salvation Army, and the North American Mission Board (Southern Baptist Convention). These groups and others sprang into action and helped provide emergency shelter, supplies, and hot meals immediately after the disasters.

Once immediate mass care, housing, and human services were underway, other non-profit organizations began arriving in the disaster area with support in the form of food, volunteers, and supplies. The disaster relief came from every type and size of charitable organization. These agencies’ efforts are not financed by the federal government. These services are provided by volunteers through charitable donations with the goal of offering immediate help to those devastated by the storms.

The organizations range from umbrella groups like the United Way to faith-based charities, including small churches, large regional religious societies, and consortiums of individual churches like Church World Service, made up of 36 different denominations. Some organizations specialized in only one type of service, such as Angel Flight, an organization that connects families separated after a disaster and Operation Hope, Inc., a group that offers free professional financial advice to disaster survivors.

There are a variety of charitable organizations who serve affected specialty populations. Advocacy organizations for special needs survivors offer help to the elderly and the disabled. Service providers include well-known international relief specialists Oxfam International, with decades of experience as well as new partners in disaster relief, the Evangelical Free Church organization. Unique populations all around Louisiana , such as the various Native American Nations provide aid as well as volunteers through groups like the Tribal Civilian Community Corps.

Once personal resources such as insurance settlements are expended, and Stafford Act provisions through the U.S. Small Business Administration loans and FEMA disaster assistance are distributed, voluntary organizations will lead the long term recovery mission by providing services for unmet needs. For the first time, FEMA has granted $66 million dollars donated by other nations in the aftermath of Katrina to assist with the long term recovery. The recipient of this grant, the United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR), is working in tandem with nine other relief organizations for individual case management.

It would be impossible to carry out the sheer volume of services offered by these collective organizations as quickly and effectively as any single group or federal agency. A clear example of this phenomenal effort is the 34 million meals provided by American Red Cross volunteers across the Gulf Coast in the six month period following Hurricanes Katrina and Rita.

The VOLAGs began providing invaluable services to Louisiana since the day Katrina struck on August 29, 2005, and will continue to provide much needed disaster support into the future with this and other Gulf Coast disasters. Volunteer opportunities continue to be available. The United Way connects national 2-1-1 telephone information callers to local health and human service providers and offers opportunities to volunteer. The USA Freedom Corps Hurricane Response and Recovery database lists over 20,000 current volunteer in Louisiana and numerous donation opportunities to assist those affected by the storm with the hurricane relief.

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FEMA manages federal response and recovery efforts following any national incident. FEMA also initiates mitigation activities, works with state and local emergency managers, and manages the National Flood Insurance Program. FEMA became part of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security on March 1, 2003.


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