The outpouring of support for Hurricane Harvey survivors has been inspiring. So many people have sent donations or traveled to the disaster area to volunteer, it would have been overwhelming if not guided by expert, experienced disaster specialists.
FEMA’s voluntary agency liaisons (VALs) have helped ensure those contributions would not be lost in the commotion of disaster response and helped maximize their value throughout the recovery process. By building relationships between volunteer organizations and government agencies, VALs helped coordinate a comprehensive emergency management effort.
Among other duties, VALs shared best practices from past disasters, guided the creation of community-based long-term recovery groups (LTRGs), supported existing LTRGs and integrated volunteer organizations into recovery operations. They also facilitated collaboration between governmental and nongovernmental organizations that provide support to survivors, and arranged volunteer support and base camps.
“Over the years, VALs have been extremely helpful to me and to long-term recovery groups,” said Erin Ford, who has worked in several disaster areas for the nonprofit Samaritan’s Purse. “They are eager to step up to the cause and do what they can to provide resources and information.”
Since Hurricane Harvey, VALs have helped Texas communities manage more than 93,000 volunteers and track nearly 3.5 million volunteer-hours. Additionally, they’ve helped manage a massive amount of unsolicited donations, and created a multi-agency warehouse to control the flow of donated goods.
VALs also have supported the creation of 22 LTRGs that are in various stages of development in Texas and are supporting survivors in 29 counties. These nonprofit, community-based organizations, which will support survivors with unmet needs for years to come, continue to receive frequent counsel and close support from local VALs.
“When LTRGs are established for a particular disaster, it can be scary to go through that recovery for the first time,” said Ford, who has worked with LTRGs in multiple locations. “The VALs have been through this before, so they bring stability … and give agencies hope and peace of mind that this can be accomplished, because it has been done over and over.”