If there ever was a disaster in the Bay Area, residents should plan on being self-sufficient for at least five days, according to Olga Crowe, Manager of Disaster Services for the American Red Cross Bay Area chapter in San Mateo County, who spoke to a group of County agencies last December at a Coastal Emergency Action Program (CEAP) meeting in Half Moon Bay about establishing a countywide organization to serve human and animal needs following a disaster.
After those five days, the help from outside disaster relief agencies would be all the more critical to service — as efficiently as possible — the special needs and lack of resources in a community during a disaster situation, said Crowe.
That’s where Voluntary Organizations Active in Disasters (VOAD) comes in. VOAD is a team of local organizations committed to encouraging cooperation and coordination in planning for and responding to disasters. VOAD aims to minimize duplication of services during a disaster and provide more efficient services to those affected. The Red Cross and other key partners are currently working toward establishing a San Mateo County VOAD.
At the December meeting, members of the Peninsula Humane Society, Half Moon Bay Chamber of Commerce, media, San Mateo County Sheriff’s Office, CERT, Seton Medical Center, and Coastside Fire Protection District and more attended.
“The response has been very positive as there is a clear need for a County VOAD,” said Crowe.
Tomorrow the group will reconvene at the CalFire Station in Half Moon Bay to continue the discussion of how to form such a countywide group.
Currently San Mateo County does not have an official VOAD, but there are a few collaborative non-profit organizations in the County, some of which focus on preparedness and disaster response.
"There are also several groups like CEAP in San Mateo County," said Half Moon Bay Chamber of Commerce CEO Charise McHugh, who was instrumental in organizing CEAP, "and the Red Cross has been meeting with them regularly. CEAP could become the VOAD for the Coast, it's still a work in progress."
The County is divided into four distinct geographic areas: North, Central, South and Coastside.
"The borders are flexible enough as the division is somewhat driven by the local Fire Departments and County OES," said Crowe.
North would include everything from Daly City/Colma to Pacifica to South San Francisco. Central includes San Bruno to approximately Belmont. South would include Redwood City to East Palo Alto, and Coastside includes all towns along Highway 1.
"But these are not ‘hard’ borders and local VOADs should be formed in such a way that benefits the County the most," said Crowe. “But a county VOAD would change the face of what is already created in San Mateo County by pulling together resources and local organizations to respond to disasters,” said Crowe.
A local disaster agency for the county would uphold the privileges of its members to independently provide relief and recovery services while supporting their efforts to do so by providing a forum where agencies active in disaster can “cooperate, communicate, coordinate, and collaborate,” she said.
The group plans to model themselves after the Marin Interagency Disaster Coalition, a VOAD in Marin County, which is “the most successful VOAD in the Bay Area,” said Crowe, who delivered at the December meeting a step-by-step process of how organizations in San Mateo County can form their own local VOAD.
The first couple of steps include defining the geographical coverage of VOAD and identifying potential member organizations that perform a disaster response and/or relief function such as the Red Cross, food banks, police and fire, humane society, churches, and medical centers.
The name of the organization is yet to be determined but it would be the vehicle in San Mateo County for coordinating private sector, non-profit and community based organizations and government agencies serving human and animal needs following a disaster in the entire geographical area of the County.
At Friday’s meeting Mark Borson of the Peninsula Humane Society and Sharon Montoya Bretz of the San Mateo County Large Animal Evacuation Group will be guest speakers.
Don Mattei of Homeland Security Division & Office of Emergency Services will also be in attendance, updating the group on the San Mateo County Sheriff’s Office’s disaster preparedness plans.
At the December meeting, Mattei addressed issues concerning the San Francisco Airport and plans he's working on if the entire airport had to evacuate because of a disaster. SFO has its own plans in place onsite but "where would all the people go if they had to evacuate the entire airport?" he said. "That's an entire town in itself displaced."