Again, COAD is activated for disaster

After the Diamond tornado, and especially in response to the Coal City tornado, the Grundy County Community Organizations Active in Disaster (GC-COAD), formalized and, as a result, was ready to respond within minutes of the first reports of the Morris Lithium Battery Incident.

COADs (or VOADs – Volunteer Organizations Active in Disaster) are year-round networks of local (usually nonprofit and government) organizations who plan before an incident about who is available to do which tasks and when.  They are found throughout the nation and strategize how to respond to a disaster after first responders and before long-term disaster teams arrive, such as Team Rubicon.  Over the years, we have been invited to train with Grundy County EMA and others, whether for nuclear station drills, active shooter incidents, and other severe weather responses.

Our chair of the GC-COAD is Colin Monk of the First Methodist Church Morris Emergency Response Team.  His team has their own trailer of equipment and have traveled to Houston and other communities after hurricanes, plus they respond locally, such as helping local residents pump out basements after heavy rains.

Karen Nall, Executive Director of the United Way of Grundy County, is the COAD team leader in charge of volunteers.  Through the United Way’s partner agencies, Karen has a ready list of contacts to call upon.

My role on GC-COAD is to administer the Grundy County Disaster Fund, which is accepting donations through July 23rd to assist Kendall/Grundy Community Action with providing financial assistance to those evacuated due to the Morris Lithium Battery Fire on the east side of Morris.

Other members of GC-COAD are Michelle Pruim of the Grundy County Health Department as well as the leaders of Grundy County EMA, including Joe Schroeder, Jim Sheldon, Blake Pettinelli, and Ken Buck.  Eric Fisher of We Care of Grundy County is also a member, both for We Care’s food pantry as well as being the Grundy County Salvation Army canteen coordinator.

GC-COAD meets throughout the year to strategize about how local organizations can support disaster response for first responders, municipalities, and the county.  We run through scenarios that we hope to never use, but after the flood of 2013, two tornadoes, one pandemic, and now this first-ever, large-scale lithium battery fire, we’ve had our share of scenarios coming true.

GC-COAD has a desk in the county Emergency Operation Center, alongside GC Health Department, the Regional Superintendent of Schools, Morris Hospital, the American Red Cross, fire, police, Sheriff, county engineer, county IT, and many others.  During both training and real situations, these organizations collaborate about to support those out in the field addressing the emergency – providing real-time solutions as a collective.

Grundy County is incredibly progressive to have had the Grundy County Interagency Council (GCIC) for the past 40+ years.  GCIC is a monthly gathering of all of the social services that serve Grundy County, so that we are informed of one another’s services, staff changes, program updates, and more.  A fantastic feature of the GCIC is a members-only listserv, so we are able to communicate with everyone at a moment’s notice, which has been incredibly helpful during disaster to recruit help and disseminate accurate information.

I mention “accurate information” because another role of GC-COAD is “rumor control.”  It really started with the Morris flood of 2013 when I was sitting at home babysitting the sump pump and noticing all of the wrong information coming from residents rather than accurate information from those in the official “know.”

Ever since, GC-COAD has used our position in the EOC to monitor social media, present rumors and wrong information to the right authorities, and get the correct information out there.  We are happy to report that the GC-COAD page has nearly 5,000 followers, which is helpful in spreading accurate information.

In partnership with GCIC, GC-COAD has been able to provide timely services during disasters over the years, such as meals for tornado families, volunteers, and first responders; mental health counseling; shelter; clothing, diapers, formula, and medications; financial assistance; and much more.  Organizations who serve children have come and lent their expertise to disaster families with children.  Organizations who serve seniors or provide mental health services have come and loaned us their expertise to assure that none affected by disaster were overlooked.

Lastly, I have a big “thank you” to the faith community throughout Grundy County.  First, they all step up to offer their buildings for shelter, volunteers, and meals.  They have their own listserv to help us quickly share correct information.  And, for the first time, the faith community stepped up with just a few hours’ notice and hosted a prayer vigil at First Presbyterian Church barely more than 24 hours after the lithium battery fire began.

We know from our past experiences that our residents not affected by a particular disaster are anxious to do something – anything to be of help.  But sometimes volunteers can’t enter the zone due to safety; sometimes residents are unable to help due to health, age, or having children at home.  Hosting a prayer vigil is a great way for friends and strangers in our community to come together for prayer, reflection, song, and comradery.

Thank you to Pastor Faith of First Presbyterian, Fr. Jason of Immaculate Conception, and Fr. Mike of St. Thomas Episcopal for 1) answering the call to come sit and talk with evacuees at the Grundy County Administration Center on Tuesday, and 2) for partnering to host the prayer vigil Wednesday night after I suggested it only a few hours before.  You all did a fantastic job and I am incredibly grateful!

If your organization is interested in joining GC-Community Organizations Active in Disaster, please call -me at 815-941-0852 or [email protected]

Thank you to everyone who stepped up during all of our disasters – I hope we have a few really boring, disaster-free years ahead of us!