Dec 15, 2021 - News

Planning for disaster in Nashville

A scene of damage following the March, 2020 tornado in Nashville. Signs and trash are askew.
Damage following the March 2020 tornado in Nashville. Photo: Mark Humphrey/AP

Even before forecasters warned last week that Nashville was in the crosshairs of a storm with serious tornado potential, a coalition of nonprofits and government agencies was prepared to respond if disaster struck.

  • The Volunteer Organizations Active in Disaster (VOAD) consists of about 30 groups that collaborate when destructive flooding or tornadoes hit Middle Tennessee.
  • The VOAD was formed in the wake of the deadly 2010 flood, but fell dormant through the years as Nashville was fortunate to be spared from major disasters.
  • It reactivated last year after a series of weather tragedies decimated the area.

Why it matters: Fueled by climate change, the South is expected to face more tornadoes, violent storms, and flooding. This new normal increases the need for an organized response when a storm like last weekend's impacts Nashville.

Flashback: Before the latest wave of tornadoes, Middle Tennessee had seen four natural disasters since the beginning of 2019 that required fundraising to aid survivors. The Community Foundation, a leading member of the VOAD, received nearly $16 million in donations for those four disasters.

The intrigue: Amy Fair, VP of donor services at the Community Foundation, says when the 10th anniversary of the historic 2010 flood arrived last year, community groups planned a series of events to commemorate the disaster.

  • "A lot of people were looking back. But one conversation I remember distinctly was, 'Instead of looking back, why don't we look ahead?'" Fair tells Axios. "Literally a day or two before the March 2020 tornado, a group got together at our office to talk about restarting the VOAD."
  • "Then, poof, a disaster happens."

Go deeper: Fair says that because the partnership was reestablished, the VOAD was able to quickly respond to flooding that killed four people in March.

  • She says the alliance improves communication and creates a more cohesive disaster response instead of the nonprofits working independently.
  • A benefit of the VOAD is that it allows members to use a centralized computer system to log a survivor's needs so that each group can offer its assistance.
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