As disasters grow more frequent, WV volunteer network grows bigger

By Joe Severino, RealWV

Natural disasters are seemingly affecting more West Virginians every year.

Jenny Gannaway, executive director of West Virginia Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster (VOAD), a nonprofit humanitarian network, said she’s seen an uptick in flooding and other natural disasters since she took over the role in 2012. But volunteers across the Mountain State have met this growing devastation head-on, increasing their response capabilities and coordinating a greater effort. 

West Virginia VOAD is still in the midst of responding to flooding nearly three weeks ago in eastern Kanawha County, where rain fell up to eight inches in some areas overnight. Emergency responders conducted dozens of early morning water rescues. More than 100 homes were significantly damaged.

This is the second August in a row where sudden overnight storms have flooded out small towns in eastern Kanawha and western Fayette counties. In turn, Gannaway said that VOAD’s workload has spread further, and their network has been called on more over the last 11 years.

“Typically, back then, you might have one or two [disasters] a year. Now, it seems like it’s five and six a year, and it’s hitting areas that we typically didn’t see flooding back in 2012,” she said.

Devastating flooding in West Virginia used to primarily concentrate in the southern counties, said Gannaway, who is from Matewan. She said they’ve now been creeping up into the central part of the state.

“Kanawha County’s getting a lot of flooding, and you never saw that back in 2012,” Gannaway said. 

Nearly 50 organizations make up West Virginia VOAD. These member organizations include groups like the American Red Cross, Mountaineer Food Bank, Habitat for Humanity, Catholic Charities, as well as more community, faith and health organizations. All coming together under the umbrella of WV VOAD, these groups can mobilize within minutes of a disaster, with communication becoming easier due to increased coordination, Gannaway said.

“We have 48 organizations that bring all their volunteers to the table,” Gannaway said. “We coordinate their efforts along with what the county and the state needs. Everybody’s brought together on one call.”

WV VOAD has acquired a shower trailer, laundry trailer, tool trailer and work trailers over the last few years, which Gannaway said has lessened the need for out of state assistance.

“Now, within hours, we’re able to be out there responding. Whereas it would take days or maybe even a week before to wait for people from out of state to come in,” she said.

These tools have made the jobs of volunteers – mucking out homes, finding safe shelter, seeking healthcare, and much more – a little less difficult. 

“We’re able to take care of ourselves more,” Gannaway said.

Along with short-term response, WV VOAD helps coordinate achieving federal disaster declarations for communities that have faced disaster. Gannaway said they are currently applying for federal funds to recover from the Aug. 28 flood.

On Tuesday and Wednesday in South Charleston, WV VOAD will hold its statewide conference, bringing together hundreds of national, state and local representatives. 


Related stories

Give us your feedback