Tornadoes Stalk a National “Disaster Conference”
5/27/2011 10:39 AM
VOAD Conference participants moving to safe place
during tornado warning
Following my trip to Alabama to meet with artists who were affected by the tornadoes and arriving in Kansas City close on the heels of the one that struck Joplin, MO, it seemed appropriate that the “disaster conference” I am attending was punctuated by a tornado warning and sheltering in the Hyatt underground parking garage and other designated tornado shelters. A system known to spawn tornadoes was headed for the vicinity of the conference. The hotel staff clearly had been drilled on the procedure, and calmly and efficiently moved hundreds of guests to safety. Fortunately, Kansas City was spared a direct hit, and the schedule resumed with a modest delay.
“The Ark was the first ERV“(rhymes with curve), quipped a luncheon speaker once the conference schedule resumed. Taking a cue from the military, the emergency response community communicates in a patois that is heavily seasoned with acronyms. It took me until the end of lunch to decode the joke, a smiler, to be sure — ERV=Emergency Response Vehicle. But the joke was certainly appropriate for an audience rich in faith-based organizations. These are organizations that literally, but not figuratively wear their religion on their sleeves, with insignia for organizations such as Lutheran Disaster Response, Buddhist Tzu Chi Foundation, or the Jewish Federations of North America emblazoned on matching polo shirts and other team-building accoutrements. Here they unite with secular organizations such as the American Red Cross and Hands On Network in a common cause, to deliver assistance to individuals and communities that have been torn apart by disaster — with efficacy, compassion, respect, and dignity.
Sheltering in the Hyatt parking garage - one of the more secure
sites I have sheltered in recently. I am in the dark jacket/red lapel pin.
The invitation to demonstrate the Studio Protector, talk about preparedness efforts in the arts sector, and about the special needs of artists to all of the regional FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency) VALs (Voluntary Agency Liaisons) was an excellent opportunity to make contacts and strengthen relationships between CERF+ and the nation's network of first responders. The conference was organized by the National VOAD (Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster) which is a consortium of national, state, and local organizations. The National VOAD movement started in 1970 in response to the recovery effort for Hurricane Camille which revealed a largely ad hoc and uncoordinated response to disaster response that frustrated organizations and volunteers alike.
Since then, the organizations of the National VOAD have worked steadily to create standards of operation and treatment of disaster victims, improve training of volunteers, and coordinate disaster response. The dedication and competence of these organizations and their volunteers is truly impressive, confirming what I had seen and heard two weeks ago in Tuscaloosa.
The federal government followed suit in 1979 when President Jimmy Carter signed an executive order that brought over 100 agencies under the umbrella of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). Today there is a more effective coordination of efforts between FEMA and the National VOAD, and many representatives of FEMA besides the Voluntary Agency Liaisons (VALs) were participating in the conference. I think that those active in this movement would not be offended if I referred to it as a “work in progress.” In fact, the dynamics of disasters and the people they affect dictate that it must always be so. Like so many others, I had been demoralized by the seemingly ineffectual early response to Hurricane Katrina, but seeing the dedication and thought that goes into disaster response at this level was truly heartening.
My organization, CERF+ is not a “boots on ground” kind of organization that addresses the immediate and elemental needs of disaster victims. In fact, natural disasters represent a highly visible, but small percentage of the emergencies that threaten artists’ careers. However, there is a place for us and our partner organizations in the arts sector, under the umbrella of the National Coalition for Arts Preparedness and Emergency Response, in this movement and a there is a lot we can learn from it. For now, it was enough to let them know we are here to help; to talk about the importance and vulnerability of artists’ careers and about the important role artists can and do play in the recovery of their communities. For the future it is up to us, as artists and arts organizations, to build more emergency resilient careers and organizations, to know how to respond to emergencies, and to be prepared to apply our unique skills and creativity to help our communities recover from disasters like we have seen in Tuscaloosa and Joplin.
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