Nashville's volunteer group is prepared to support residents through any disaster| Opinion

·3 min read

When tornadoes ripped through Tennessee in the middle of the night on March 3, 2020, the devastated Nashville community scrambled to respond. Helpers came out in droves with chainsaws, supplies, food and donations.

Hands On Nashville alone saw more than 20,000 volunteers in the week after the tornado. The city relies on me, as the CEO of Hands On Nashville, and my team to lead volunteer efforts after a disaster. It’s what we do.

That early March morning, we immediately snapped into action to lead these efforts. It was a challenging, heartfelt and sometimes chaotic effort.

We quickly worked to make sense of the chaos, and within a few weeks of the tornado, the Davidson County Long-Term Recovery Group formed to coordinate continued services for survivors.

It was here that we really began to assess the landscape: Which organizations were providing which services? How could we streamline and not duplicate efforts?

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How VOAD came to be

The success of this team approach led me — working alongside my nonprofit peers at the American Red Cross, The Community Foundation of Middle Tennessee, Community Resource Center, Neighbor 2 Neighbor, Salvation Army and United Way of Greater Nashville — to establish a steering committee to reinstate the Nashville Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster (VOAD).

Tennessee and Red Cross Disaster Relief workers talk with Jacob Olsen, grey sweatshirt, making sure he and his family were all right and they needed any supplies on Saturday, March 7, 2020, in Cookeville, Tenn. Olson was destroyed by a tornado on Tuesday.
Tennessee and Red Cross Disaster Relief workers talk with Jacob Olsen, grey sweatshirt, making sure he and his family were all right and they needed any supplies on Saturday, March 7, 2020, in Cookeville, Tenn. Olson was destroyed by a tornado on Tuesday.

The Nashville VOAD is structured around a coalition of dozens of area nonprofits, community organizations, faith-based institutions, and government departments. We’ve found that bringing in these representatives is critical to the success of disaster recovery.

The VOAD’s first activations came after the Christmas Day bombing in 2020 and again after the South Nashville flood in 2021. When responding, VOAD coordinates and fills needs such as case management, counseling and communications.

Being a coordinated group, the response to these disasters was much more efficient and allowed each agency to know exactly how they could help. We now have key activation protocols in place to help respond at a moment’s notice.

Working in conjunction with Metro’s Office of Emergency Management and the Mayor’s Office, we can alert local media and the public via social media, email and text to dangerous weather patterns or other PSAs to keep our communities safe.

Our mighty group of 41 nonprofits stands together— ready to respond to whatever comes next.

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We stand ready for the next crisis

Disaster response is exhaustive work, and our community has been stretched thin over the past two years. The sad truth is that it is difficult to convince people to dedicate resources to disaster preparation when there is not a disaster at hand.

Lori Shinton
Lori Shinton

Disaster prep work is crucial to disaster response, and any support you can give will help us as we continue to do the work.

Hands On Nashville benefits greatly from being a part of the Nashville VOAD. We are a customer-driven organization that builds nonprofits’ capacities by recruiting volunteers. We have become a broader, more inclusive organization because of our work in disasters, and people beyond our core audience have gotten to know us and trust what we are able to do.

The VOAD is built around local people who care about our city and the people who live here. We stand ready to provide services and to support our friends and neighbors when the next crisis hits — whether it is severe weather or man-made.

Lori Shinton is President and CEO of Hands On Nashville and the Chair of Nashville VOAD.

This article originally appeared on Nashville Tennessean: Nashville volunteer group is ready to support residents in disasters