Would Richmond be ready?

That’s the question Dana Mollenkopf asked himself while assisting with relief efforts after tornadoes decimated Mayfield, Kentucky, during December 2021. His answer was: Probably not.

That’s when he began pushing to form a Wayne County Community Organizations Active in Disaster group, abbreviated as COAD. There wasn’t much momentum until the April 11 plastics fire exposed Wayne County’s shortfalls in providing services when that disaster displaced as many as 2,000 residents.

“It raised the awareness that we really do need to be prepared,” Mollenkopf said.

The community provided necessities, rising to the occasion; however, the effort lacked coordination. Matthew Cain, the director of Wayne County Emergency Management Agency, said EMA never knew about some resources being offered, so the agency could not direct residents to use that assistance.

“We probably had residents who fell through the gap, and we’re trying to close that gap,” Cain said.

Now, there is a local COAD to help during all four phases of handling disasters: mitigation, preparedness, response and recovery.

Mollenkopf invited 200 contacts to an initial July 12 meeting. He said 41 people attended and 15 organizations submitted their intent to participate. Another meeting Aug. 1 drew representatives from nonprofits, health care, school districts, churches and city and county government agencies. There are now 19 groups intending to participate.

“It’s nice to just get everybody on board and know who can do what at the time and how they’re going to do it,” Mollenkopf said.

The local COAD forms under the umbrella of Indiana Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster, which provides guidance and a template for bylaws. Nonprofits, businesses and religious groups can become voting members, while the government agencies serve in an advisory capacity.

Discussions during the Aug. 1 meeting included how to select officers, forming committees, structure for voting and recognizing a quorum and, of course, recruiting more participants.

“We need to get the word out about what it’s all about,” said Mollenkopf, who provides local Red Cross response and is a member of the agency’s Disaster Action Team for fire, tornado and hurricane response. “I hope COAD becomes a familiar term.”

A COAD that organizes what resources can be provided, by whom and how, streamlines the assistance process during a disaster and eliminates duplication of effort. Cain said EMA can then contact the COAD and relay what resources are needed, and the COAD members will fulfill that mission. Then, response agencies can connect those resources with the people who need them.

“We’ve always known that our community organizations are strong and willing to help,” Cain said. “It’s been proven time and time again historically and most recently with the industrial fire. What we have lacked is the coordination and collaboration amongst those groups, and that, at the very basis of this group, is the purpose, is that coordination and collaboration.”

The COAD will meet again at 1 p.m. Sept. 12 in the EMA office inside the Wayne County Administration Building, 401 E. Main St., Richmond. Interested organizations may call Mollenkopf at 765-277-0287.

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A version of this article appeared in the August 9 2023 print edition of the Western Wayne News.

Mike Emery is a reporter and layout editor for the Western Wayne News.