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(Archive photo from NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune)
By Suzie Hunt - nola.com
In the dark days following Hurricane Katrina, hundreds of people put their own lives on hold and came to the Gulf Coast to help. Known as Early Response Teams, the men and women from many different organizations arrived soon after the winds died down and the waters receded. They came to get their hands dirty and were a blessing to people still in shock on how life here had changed.
Time has passed and memories of the days of HK recovery are softening in many memories. But talk to anyone who had a hot meal delivered to their doorstep when the electricity was still off or experienced a group of volunteers braving the muck to tear out the ruined carpet in their house and they will tell you they will never forget those people.
Now people on the north shore have the opportunity to offer the same type of support to people across the country at whom fate has thrown a curveball.
UMCOR, the United Methodist Committee on Relief, is recruiting adults to take part in Early Response Team training and be certified as ERT members, according to Dale Kimball, Epworth Project Executive Director. A training day was held in Slidell earlier this month, and 18 men and women participated in the one-day course, took the certification test, and now carry credentials that will get them into disaster zones when they are called to serve.
“Hundreds of teams came here after Katrina,” said Kimball. “There is always going to be a need for this type of help and we want to be ready.” Kimball and the Epworth Project have committed to having 100 trained team members certified by the end of the year.
Early Response Teams must be invited by local authorities into a disaster area, according to Kimball and come in once the area is deemed safe and secured by the area’s first responders. ERT work revolves around salvage and support services, with the maximum stay for any team being three days.
“Our focus is on preventing further damage through things like removing trees from roofs, boarding up homes to prevent looting and pulling out carpet and sheet rock to minimize long term damage,” said Kimball. “It is also to offer support which could mean jobs like cooking meals or organizing donated supplies in a warehouse. Our time on site is a short-term, concentrated effort.”
What might be one of the biggest assets for north shore ERT member is their empathy, according to Kimball.
“One of the most important skills we need on site is how to be a good listener. You need to let the person tell you what they need for you to do to help, not you tell them what you think they need,” he said.
With ERT members, flexibility is the key. Teams of eight to 10 people have to be ready to leave within 24 to 48 hours of a call for assistance and be prepared to be gone for three days. Housing, food and equipment are provided for team members by the Epworth Project. They go on-site as a self-sufficient unit as not to be a burden in an already stressful situation.
Kimball’s goal of 100 certified team members is a pure numbers game. Due to responsibilities at home or work, he may have to call 50 people to get 10 that are available at a given time to serve on such short notice.
“Anyone in the community interested in receiving the training and serving on a response team is welcome to sign up. This is not just a Methodist thing. All adults are welcome,” said Kimball.
The next training session is tentatively scheduled for June 14. The cost is $40 for the eight hour course and the certification is good for three years. Individuals can take the training at age 17 and will receive their credentials on their 18th birthday.
Holly Stokes, a senior at Northshore High School and a member of Aldersgate United Methodist Church took the training and will receive her badge after her birthday next month. She has participated in reconstruction projects with her church youth group in the past, however she gained insight at the workshop about helping people immediately following a disaster.
“I learned a lot about how best to help people get through that stage of shock and grief,” said Stokes. “It’s important to know what to say and what not to say and how to help them be part of the process to recover.”
Kimball said that for most of the people at this month’s certification workshop, they see it as a way to pay it forward after all the help this area received here after past storms. Early response team members from the north shore served in the recent past two years in Moore, Oklahoma following the tornado outbreak there and in New Jersey after Hurricane Sandy.
“The people who go through this training, and are ready to move on short notice, have the opportunity to make a difference in the lives of people faced with a disaster,” said Kimball. “We know on a personal level the value of that kind of help.”
To get more information on the ERT program or to sign up for training, contact Dale Kimball at firstname.lastname@example.org.