Volunteers: vital to community preparedness

An aerial view of flooding along Oregon's Willamette River in February 1996. (National Weather Service photo)

An aerial view of flooding along Oregon’s Willamette River in February 1996. (National Weather Service photo)


By Michelle Helms, Public Affairs Office

“We had lots of rain in the years before,” said Carolyn Booth. “But nothing like this.”

The amount of water from rain and snow melt in February 1996 took a lot of people by surprise.

“The water was about three feet from the foundation posts,” said Booth, who lived near a creek in Beaverton, Oregon, when the Pineapple Express came through that year. “It was a raging river.”

When a disaster strikes, such as the 1996 flood, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers springs into action alongside other local, state and federal agencies to help respond and recover.

The agencies also rely on organizations and volunteers. The Corps works with these groups to train their members to support their communities’ and neighborhoods’ preparedness, response and recovery efforts.

One such group is the Oregon chapter of the National Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster. The Corps coordinates with the nonprofit group to train other nonprofits, faith-based groups and neighborhood associations to prepare for, respond to and recover from disasters.

“It is very important for all organizations who respond to disasters to train and work together whenever possible,” said Steve Courtney, Oregon VOAD President. “It’s important that everyone knows what each other is prepared to do and how they will do it. It eliminates duplication of efforts and resources.”

Courtney said when they train together organizations are better prepared to work together effectively and efficiently, helping their communities recover more quickly and minimizing the economic impact. Cooperation, communication, coordination and collaboration are the guiding principles of the National VOAD. They’re also vital to responding and recovering during a disaster.

A recent resurgence of citizen involvement, through employers and membership in faith-based and civic-service organizations, enhances government’s ability to support the nation according to Les Miller, Flood Preparedness Program Manager for the Portland District.

Miller said working with organizations such as VOAD is essential to sustain the Corps’ effectiveness. “They help us to more effectively reduce the whole community’s risk and damages from natural disasters, especially the Northwest’s most frequent and costly hazard: floods,” said Miller.

Booth and her husband were lucky; the water from the normally small creek behind their home stopped rising before doing any damage. Others living in the Willamette Valley where the waters raged had very different stories. Booth said after the flood waters receded she put together a kit with extra food and water, batteries and blankets.

Are you ready?  Learn about volunteer opportunities to prepare for and respond to emergencies at the VOAD website.

Web resources to get you started

This one-stop shopping website provides information and resources for Oregon residents to improve individual and community responses to a flood and reduce risk to people and property. The information also is helpful for other natural disasters and emergencies.