County officials are moving forward with creating a new emergency response organization that will lay out a detailed plan to prepare for pending disasters such as tornados or flooding.

The new group is called a Community Organization Active in Disaster (COAD), which is a voluntary association of public, private and nonprofit agencies that come together to respond to a disaster.

According to the state, there are currently 22 COADs in Indiana in both individual counties and regional county coalitions.

Now, Howard County is working to become the next place in the state with a COAD.

Commissioner Paul Wyman said in the past the United Way of Howard County was the go-to organization to coordinate both short-term and long-term responses to disasters, including the two tornadoes that damaged parts of Kokomo in 2013 and 2016.

“Most people realize that the United Way is not in the disaster business,” he said during a meeting Wednesday at Indiana University Kokomo to discuss the COAD. “Although they filled that function very well, that’s not their primary role.”

Under the county’s COAD, United Way would instead become one of many organizations that would help coordinate responses to disasters, including the Red Cross and Salvation Army.

The COAD would also form nine committees that would specialize in responding to specific needs and problems that arise after a disaster.

Those committees are for relief supplies, like food and water, emotional and spiritual care, donations management, animals, communications, long-term case management, construction and inspection, unmet needs and finances.

Wyman said the goal of the COAD is to develop a preemptive plan that could be immediately put in place when disaster strikes by simply making a few phone calls.

“It would be a coordinated, well-designed structure so the minute the COAD is put into place, boom, everyone goes into action and everybody will know what their roles are,” he said.

Wyman said one example is securing warehouse space now, so if another tornado were to hit, there would already be a place set up to start housing donations instead of trying to find a warehouse after the fact.

“We wouldn’t be in a situation where the disaster happens, and now we’re trying to find warehouse space or scrambling to make phone calls about it,” he said. “It will already be done as part of the plan. The idea is that all the work is done before a disaster and automatically goes into place.”

The next step for forming the COAD is finding people who will to serve on the nine committees, Wyman said. After that, each committee will come up with detailed plans for their specific purpose and then put all those together into a master plan.

From there, the committees will meet for a tabletop exercise to hammer out any kinks or problems and ensure the plans all work together.

“We want to walk away feeling like that if a disaster happened in any given moment in our community, boom, we’re ready to go and address it,” Wyman said.

He said they are still looking for people to lead the relief supplies and animal committees.

In the end, Wyman said, the city and county already have a great track record of responding to disasters, but with a COAD in place, that response can be even faster and more efficient.

“For not really having a formal game plan in place like this, our community did exceptionally well during our last disasters,” he said. “People worked incredibly well together … With this COAD, we can build on that success so we have something in place immediately, so we’re not scrambling to do things we need to do.”

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