Organization focuses on refining disaster planning

GREENFIELD — When a disaster strikes — “When, not if,” George Boaz said — there are hundreds of scenarios to consider.

While Hancock County Emergency Management directors are coordinating with state, local and federal governments; while police and fire departments are handling rescues and trying to make the aftermath as safe as possible, someone has to take care of everyone left behind, the deputy director of emergency management said.

Those duties often fall to a COAD, or Community Organizations Active in Disasters, a group dedicated to streamlining the aid local nonprofits offer in a crisis situation. The Hancock County COAD recently celebrated its two-year anniversary, and organizers say while they have made significant steps in developing plans for coordinated emergency response, they know there is still more work to be done.

As the group moves forward, members are seeking input from community stakeholders, nonprofit leaders and business owners who are willing to lend a hand when disaster strikes. It is tedious but essential work, and there’s always more to be done to prepare, organizers said.

“It’s never the end,” Boaz said, of the group’s efforts toward preparedness.

Discussions of creating a COAD began in the summer of 2013, when leaders of several county nonprofits began working to identify what resources they could contribute in a disaster. Those offerings were then matched to emergency management’s response efforts, said Jim Peters, the group’s chairman.

The COAD handles mass care and shelter, officials said. Those working with the group are charged with organizing volunteers and securing food, water and housing for residents and first-responders — an effort coordinated by leaders with the Salvation Army, American Red Cross and United Way.

Hancock County’s COAD was called upon in December 2013 after floodwaters displaced dozens of Greenfield families. This incident was a great example of how low-level disaster scenarios were best handled at the local level, organizers said.

Since its inception, the group has done its best to coordinate and outline participants’ responses in different times of need, Peters said. The COAD has forged partnerships with local restaurants, hotel owners and businesses. Members have held run-throughs of scenarios and have made sure their plans do not overlap others.

But there are still gaps in coverage, Peters said; he estimates the group is only about 40 percent of the way to completing its response effort. With each new scenario, organizers identity additional needs, including having backup relief-providers should an original support partner’s ability to help be compromised, he said.

In 2013, for example, a resident whose home was flooded refused to leave the area because the hotel where COAD members had arranged for him to stay in didn’t allow pets, and he wouldn’t leave behind his dog. That situation taught COAD members they needed a plan in place for not only displaced people but their pets, Peters cited as an example.

The only way to predict and then close those gaps in disaster response is to engage in further idea-sharing, Peters said. Now, COAD members are interested in involving more people in their collaborations, as long as those involved understand the effort will take time.

“The planning can be done in a small group with a few people,” Peters said. “But the legwork of going out, meeting with people and businesses face to face and getting contracts negotiated and signed, (that is) a very time-intensive operation.”

Once the COAD plans are fully formed, the group becomes an essential part of the community, and its efforts continue long after disaster clean-up has finished, said Mary Meek of the American Red Cross.

Meek used recent flooding in parts of Central Indiana as an example of the long-term recovery a COAD might be called upon to deal with; groups in some doughnut counties are still helping residents cope with the aftermath by putting them in contact with assistance groups that will donate time or money to help repair homes.

“The COAD becomes the people part of it; they take care of the people,” Boaz said. “When you put out fires and rescue the people that are trapped, that’s the next important things; taking care of the people.”

Get involved

For further information about the Hancock County COAD or to volunteer, call Jim Peters at (317) 372-2304 or visit the group’s website www.HancockCOAD.org.

To make a donation to the Hancock County COAD, contact the Hancock County Community Foundation at (317) 462-8870.

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Caitlin VanOverberghe is a reporter at the Greenfield Daily Reporter. She can be reached at 317-477-3237 or cvanoverberghe@greenfieldreporter.com.