Posted by: Deborah Ingram, Assistant Administrator, Recovery Directorate
Voluntary agencies are a vital part of a community’s ability to prepare for, respond to and recovery from disasters. Before a disaster, voluntary agencies help communities and families get prepared by providing disaster training, raising awareness regarding vital health and safety issues. After a disaster strikes, voluntary and faith-based organizations respond alongside state and local emergency responders, helping to address immediate needs of survivors.
At FEMA, we engage the vitally important voluntary agency sector through Voluntary Agency Liaisons (VALs). VALs act as a bridge between the community and the government.
To better understand the roles of a VAL, here is a quick Q&A on the work that they do before, during and after a disaster.
What is the role of a VAL before a disaster?
Like most jobs in emergency management, one of the most important roles for a VAL is as a preparedness advocate. VALs support state and local Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster (VOADs), assisting with planning, preparation, training and exercises.
VALs work closely with these organizations to deliver updates on FEMA programs and initiatives, challenge them to be prepared for disasters and encourage non-profits to be a part of VOAD. A strong VOAD will promote disaster networking, training, program development, and exercises to help build the necessary disaster resiliency in communities, and speed a community’s recovery.
Once a disaster strikes, what role does a VAL play in the response?
When disaster strikes, VALs become a critical avenue to make sure voluntary agencies and the federal government are sharing information and working together as a team to help disaster survivors.
VALs also give guidance to voluntary agencies on federal assistance programs including eligibility requirements, program deadlines, and emphasize the importance of avoiding duplication of benefits to survivors. They provide guidance to newer voluntary agencies interested in getting involved in relief operations, and they assist States with the management of volunteers not associated with a specific voluntary agency, and the use of unsolicited donated goods.
How do VALs work with voluntary agencies to assist in the Long Term Recovery?
After the immediate, short term needs of the community have been met, the emphasis of the emergency management team shifts to addressing the long term recovery needs of the community. Survivors may need extensive help to recover and for some, the assistance that FEMA is able to provide under law, is simply not enough. Through Long Term Recovery Groups (LTRGs), local communities take control in the recovery process and empower volunteers to make a difference in the lives of disaster survivors. Check out this video for more on LTRGs:
VALs work with the LTRGs to identify possible LTRG participants based on previous disasters, help with disaster training, and assist in identifying any unmet needs. VALs also provide resources for LTRG formation and function, as well as information on mitigation measures and connections to mitigation specialists to help the community rebuild using mitigation best practices. These help the community build or repair homes and structures in a way that will reduce vulnerabilities, help prevent future losses and make the community more resilient and sustainable.