Disaster Response Requires Coordination… That’s Where DVSI Fits In

When disasters such as hurricanes and tornadoes strike, local first responders are almost always overwhelmed.

That’s why federal government agencies such as FEMA are called in. But it usually takes time for their representatives to arrive. And soon they might be overwhelmed as well.

People who have lost their homes or are missing have immediate and critical needs that can’t wait. Understanding this serious problem, local officials call in area disaster response organizations to assist.

Often multiple groups will arrive on the scene within the first 24 hours. They help with search and rescue operations, and by arranging for temporary shelter. As well as providing food and water to those who have been displaced.

Founders Wear Many Hats

One of those groups, based in Mobile, Alabama, is Disaster and Victim Services International (DVSI) via Mobile County EMA.

This 501(C)3 not-for profit agency with a focus on emergency management and operations was launched in 2011 by Michael Dillaber and Tony Dickey.

Mike serves as chairman of Mobile County Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster (VOAD), an umbrella organization, as well as unit director for the Mennonite Disaster Service Alabama-Northwest Florida.

Among the crises they have responded to have been Hurricanes Opal, Ivan, Katrina, Isaac, Michael, Laura and Sally. Michael was the State of Alabama VOAD Chairman during both The Deep Horizon Oil Spill and the unprecedented tornado outbreak in central and northern Alabama in 2011.

A Need for Organization

“Tony and I met when we were both involved with the Hurricane Katrina response,” Mike said. “He was doing disaster distribution of donated goods in Alabama and Mississippi, and I was managing the donated goods warehouse located in Mobile, Alabama.

“We talked about how tired we were of having to rebuild the response and recovery process many times in our community following disasters. We wanted to be able to quickly access different resources and receive in-time grant funding for our community.

“Organizations that had lead roles for Katrina and Ivan in Mobile – such as Volunteer Mobile and Points of Light – disappeared with the change of administrations and the communities’ loss of interest, so all the knowledge they gained from their work disappeared as well.

“Tony and I agreed there was a need for a group to be keepers of this community knowledge bank so when the next disaster occurs we can help organizations and individuals to respond to and navigate the different cycles and resources that can be lost if knowledge and relationships with key government, business and private entities are lost.”

Helping the Helpers

“We also talked about how important coordination of rescue and recovery efforts were with so many groups being involved. These groups need local leadership quickly in order to help a community in response and recovery phases of a disaster.

“So often we see chaos following a disaster as well-meaning citizens, without good information, respond as they see fit instead of really figuring out what is best for the community affected. For example, donating your used clothing is never good. Gift cards for distribution from national retailers is always a great way to contribute.

“So, we decided to start Disaster and Victim Services. We originally intended to respond internationally following the earthquakes in Haiti, but we’ve been mostly focused on the continental U.S. with a certain concentration on the Gulf Coast.”

Mike said that due to the number of relief groups that enter an area following a disaster, DVSI has become a coordinating entity.

“We help other organizations that are from out of the area with logistical needs to entice them to our area. These needs vary from housing volunteers, access to meaningful work, materials and anything else we can get our hands on to help whatever community we are working with.

Responding to the Call

“Often these are church groups. We hook them up with emergency management people and local mayors.

“Typically what we do is to enable other groups. We manage the flow of resources so that they have the materials they need.

“Over time, we’ve built up many trusting relationships with government officials and other relief agencies.

“But we would never show up without an invite. We go where we are requested to go by local jurisdictional governments.”

Managing and Teaching

While Mike focuses mainly on coordinating relief efforts following a disaster, Tony concentrates on other areas.

“I do volunteer and donations management for our county as a quasi-part of emergency management agency,” Mike said.

“I work with all the affiliated organizations such as the Red Cross, Salvation Army, Presbyterian and Lutheran groups, United Way, and any organization that has a disaster piece to how they function.

“The number of volunteers varies depending on the disaster and where it is, but we have a core group of about 10 to 20 organizations.

“I also work in disaster preparedness education. Right now I’m working with the University of South Alabama on a study of disaster preparedness for a vulnerable community of Southeast Asians in Mobile.”

Crisis and Grief Counseling

Tony’s focus is on search and rescue, as well as finding missing and exploited children.

“He gets involved with helping these kids and doing crisis counseling for those affected by disasters,” Mike said.

“Sometimes he works in conjunction with groups such as the Red Cross and volunteer fire departments.

“He even goes into communities where there has been a shooting. He’s a highly respected chaplain and counselor, so he uses his grief counseling experience in those situations.”

Donations Are Welcome

Anyone wishing to contribute to relief efforts conducted by DVSI can do so by calling Tony Dickey at 1-251-654-8803.

“Actually, the easiest thing for us to handle in terms of donations are gift cards to places such as Walmart, Home Depot and Lowes,” Mike said.

“We sometimes will choose to receive tools for our volunteers to use. We’re trying to establish a tool loan program involving chainsaws, yard rakes, shovels, work gloves, etc.

“Cash is good, but typically, we direct cash gifts to organizations responding in the local area or we turn over cash donations to those serving as fiscal agents for the community’s long-term recovery organization.

“Neither Tony nor I take salaries from DVSI nor do any of the members of our Board of Directors. And our only organizational expense is our annual audit and travel into areas where we are requested.”

4Patriots Donates to DVSI

Recently 4Patriots made a donation to DVSI consisting of 30 HaloXT flashlights, eight Patriot Pure Personal Water Filters and a dozen 72-Hour Survival Food Kits.

Mike said these products are being used for a variety of purposes. Among them are gifts to volunteers in thanks for giving up their vacation time to serve.

“Many people who volunteer give up vacation time, time with family and many other worthwhile opportunities to venture into an unknown situation without creature comforts to serve out of the goodness of their hearts. 

“It is awesome to be able to give these organizations who bring their wonderful volunteers into our community, items like those donated by 4Patriots. Thank you for the resources you have provided to us!”

Groups that have benefitted from the 4Patriots donation are Feeding Gulf Coast, Christians in Action and Southern Baptists, United Methodists and Mennonites.

“Right now, we’re distributing food, tarping roofs and clearing debris on private property for Mobile, Baldwin and Escambia counties in Alabama, all of which have been affected by Hurricane Sally,” Mike said.

“We very much appreciate the things we got from 4Patriots. Everything we receive is used and helpful to our work.”

As we’ve mentioned before, 4Patriots is able to help groups such as DVSI because of your purchases of our products.  So, thank you for making this possible.

Putting Faith Into Works

As with most people who devote significant amounts of time and energy to helping others in need, Mike’s and Tony’s reward is not financial.

“For Tony and me, it’s both a passion and a calling,” Mike said. “Both Tony and I are people of faith.

“We believe God brought the two of us together for a purpose and I think this is that purpose.

“We don’t preach to people or ask them to pray with us, but we certainly will pray with them if they request it.

“We purposely did not make this a faith-centric organization because we didn’t want our faith to be a hindrance. Instead we choose to walk our faith out with our actions only using words when necessary. We just want to help people.”

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