When We Embrace Different, Innovation Happens

Greetings Colleagues in Disaster Response and Recovery,

I am consistently amazed by the stories of how your organizations are responding to COVID-19 and all the natural hazard disasters across the U.S. and U.S. Territories!

You inspire the best in people and bring hope and healing to those affected by disaster. As we lean into our upcoming Fall Member’s Meeting and workshops, I am reminded of our NVOAD Strategic Plan – Leadership Development, Strengthening our Collective Identity/Relationships , Technology and Data supporting our 4Cs, and Financial Sustainability.  We have been making great strides towards some of these goals and find that they mirror what our society and industry is aiming towards.

Currently, I reside in a part of New York City called Roosevelt Island.  Almost daily, I take a walk around the island, and when timed correctly am able to visit the Franklin D. Roosevelt Four Freedoms State Park. FDR penned these words in early 1941, “In the future days which we seek to make secure, we look forward to a world founded upon four essential human freedoms. The first is freedom of speech and expression – everywhere in the world. The second is freedom of every person to worship God in his own way- everywhere in the world. The third is freedom from want…everywhere in the world. The fourth is freedom from fear..anywhere in the world. That is no vision of a distant millennium. It is a definite basis for a kind of world attainable in our own time and generation.”

In my mind, I correlate them with the 4 Cs of National VOAD – Cooperation, Communication, Coordination, and Collaboration – something to strive for every day knowing that some days…we get it right. 

A colleague recently forwarded me an essay by Kevin T. Smiley: Homes are flooding outside FEMA’s 100-year flood zones, and racial inequality is showing through. I read these types of articles very carefully to see if the premise is sound and if there are other underlying factors that the writer may have missed. This essay fails to mention that the Army Corps of Engineers sets the boundaries for the flood zones which are then presented to the community leaders for arbitration, review, and to challenge the newly included properties. If mortgaged, the properties added to the flood zone would need to seek flood insurance through the NFLIP – this possibly may be outside of the financial ability of the homeowners thus making homeownership unaffordable.  If the NFLIP is not renewed by Congress at an affordable rate – this could have an adverse effect on entire communities and force people from their homes. Community political leaders have understood this local nuance and so have not pushed for the expansion of flood zones in many communities – including in large amounts of predominantly black and Hispanic areas.

Participating in the (NEMA) National Emergency Management Association Forum, I was challenged by a presenter – Dr. Junia Howell, from the University of Pittsburgh. She relayed some of her work outlined in this article: “When the Big One Strikes, People of Color will be Hit the Hardest”. She has significant data to show that communities of color are more severely financially impacted by disaster due to home ownership valuation and Federal post-disaster funding. She further reflected on data confirming that white college educated homeowners will show an increase in overall wealth post disaster in comparison to homeowners of a similar demographic in non-disaster affected areas. However, college educated black and Hispanic homeowners will show a decrease in overall wealth post disaster. Dr. Howell’s statement to the emergency managers across the country was that, “Disaster systems/funding are designed to privilege the Privileged!”  A challenging statement to make to a primarily government audience in charge of allocating funding post disaster.

As our civil society continues to confront inequities within many governmental and societal structures, I want to make certain that National VOAD continues to provide information to our membership related to equitable distribution of disaster resources. As we engage our Strategic Plan in the area of Strengthening our Collective Identity and Building Relationships that we look at our systems, our resources, and our membership we take into account the ideals of equal voice…and vote.  Aligning actions with intentions – the National VOAD Board has established an Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion Taskforce, an AdHoc Committee for Membership/Dues, and a Governance Committee. National VOAD, as an association, must provide equity in all that we do and with the resources that we make available to our members. I sat with the final words of FDR this morning, “it is a definite basis for the kind of world attainable in our own time and generation.” I look forward to hearing your voices at our October 27-28 Fall Member’s Meeting.


Greg Forrester

President and CEO