Ravalli County Organizations Active in Disasters is part of the Montana Voluntary Organizations Active in Disasters program. Prior to the founding of National VOAD, numerous organizations served disaster victims independently of one another. These included both government and the private, nonprofit sector. As a result, help came to the disaster victim haphazardly as various organizations assisted in specific ways. Unnecessary duplication of effort often occurred, while at the same time, other needs were not met. There was only limited availability of training for potential volunteers. Information for victims on services during disasters was woefully inadequate and communication among voluntary disaster agencies was very limited and coordination of services was negligible.
Seven founding organizations came together and committed to fostering the four C’s—communication, coordination, collaboration, and cooperation in order to better serve people impacted by disasters.
Ravalli County faced similar problems in the Roaring Lion Fire of 2016 which burned more than 13 square miles, destroyed 16 homes and led to the evacuation of hundreds of homes.
The community wasn’t prepared for the very generous donations of food, water, clothing and other items that poured in and the storage of it took up a good share of the Red Cross Shelter. That, among other problems, precipitated the formation of RCOAD.
Some of the founding members and partners of RCOAD are:
• The American Red Cross Ravalli County Disaster Action Team
• The Salvation Army, Hamilton
• Montana Team Rubicon
• Bitterroot Emergency Amateur Radio Services
• The Latter-Day Saints Charities
• Hamilton Seventh Day Adventist Church
• St. Francis of Assisi Catholic Church
• Bitter Root Humane Association
• Ravalli County Office of Emergency Management
Since March of this year most of these organizations have been meeting bi-weekly or weekly on conference calls that have also involved:
• MSU Extension
• Family Shelter of the Bitterroot
• The American Legion
• MSU-Ravalli Extension SNAP-Education program
• Ravalli County Council on Aging
• Ravalli County Public Health
• Ravalli County Ministerial Association
• Child Care Resources
There have been other organizations and many volunteers who stepped up to help with the efforts that included people serving on several committees:
• Child Care
• Food Security
• Blood Drives
• Animal Care
• Spiritual Emotional Mental Health
The organization has used the 4 Cs to help to make sure organizations like the Council on Aging and Salvation Army have the volunteers they need, to organize Blood Drives and encourage people to sew masks for the hospital and others. It has also sought out people who would care for animals caught up in the COVID-19 situation when their owners are hospitalized or unable to take care of them temporarily. It has also worked to connect people to agencies and professionals for mental health.
Two of the good, and historic, things that happened, because of the 4 Cs work to assist with spiritual help for those that need it during the confinement was a special online Easter Service that included many pastors and leaders of several denominations in the valley. The National Day of Prayer Service was also broadcast on the 7th of May and included some denominations that had not participated before. Hundreds of people attended or tuned into these services, many for the first time.
Usually in a disaster, VOADs or COADs set up Multi Agency Resource Centers (MARC) so that people going through these disaster related trials can go to one place and make contact with all the agencies and resources available in a sort of one stop shopping. Resources like the Red Cross and the Salvation Army and the many churches that are involved in Disaster Relief. One was set up after the Roaring Lion Fire which turned out to be a great help to the many people who had lost their homes and belongings. Many times, these efforts are continued to help people rebuild their homes and lives through the generosity of local businesses and banks.
A new organization formed to do a sort of MARC so that people can go to one place to see what resources are available and to see how they can help. With the help of a veteran, a website has been set up as well as a Facebook page and Instagram account. The website is www.ravallicountymutualaidcommunity.org. That is the name of the organization and they have put together a call center and encourage people to call if they, for one reason or another, cannot pick up food at the local food banks or grocery stores or items from pharmacies. People can call (406)233-9031 and volunteers are ready to take the call and dispatch someone who has volunteered to pick up the food for the caller and deliver it to them.
Many things have been accomplished because of caring volunteers and agencies and voluntary organizations. Because no one knows for sure where this COVID-19 thing is going, RCOAD wants to be prepared in case it rebounds now or later in the fall. Many of the resources that have been put together will be available in the future for other disasters.