Reflections of a Disaster Junky: FEMA Training Iris Abilene: Camp Barkeley

Reflections of a Disaster Junky Imagine if you will, I’m sitting in a circle of chairs at a support group meeting. It is my turn to introduce myself and I stand to my feet and declare: “Hello, my name is Esther Kissell and I am a disaster junky”. The group responds with a resounding “Hello Esther”! From the time I took my first job with the American Red Cross in Wyoming until this very day the Lord has given me an indescribable passion to share the disaster preparedness message with all I come in contact with! Shamefully I admit that much of the time sharing the message of disaster preparedness comes easier to me than sharing the good news of Jesus Christ. But that is the beauty of how God works! Just over 3 years ago, God led me to an organization called Global Samaritan Resources in Abilene, Texas where I could share my faith and my passion at the same time!

Fast forward 3 years to the present…. As I reflect on this past year’s events, I realize that just over a year ago God birthed a vision in me and simultaneously in Angel Poorman, Director of Iris Abilene. That vision was to equip people with disaster preparedness and response training. More specifically, to employ the FEMA developed Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) Training. As we prayed and many joined us in prayer, God began to move mountains to make this a reality!

We find ourselves looking back over the past year and one of the many events that took place stands out. In September Iris Abilene held its first School! A long time desire of Iris Abilene and the Poormans! As part of that School, the CERT training was able to be incorporated. A CERT Instructor Trainer was able to come all the way from Brazil to conduct the training and certify 2 local folks to be instructors close to home for future schools! One of those being me!

As I personally reflect on the opportunity to participate in the CERT training from the very beginning all the way through, I am truly humbled by the entire experience! Months before the training I began working with Paul from Brazil to begin all the preparations. The first of many blessings came when a local Abilene foundation broke protocol to provide a seed grant on short notice to cover the cost of purchasing the durable equipment needed to conduct the training! Another blessing was getting to know Paul via Facebook and email and to bond with another person a continent away who shares the same passion for Christ and disaster preparedness! Yet another blessing was working so closely with Angel Poorman to develop the customized backpacks for the students and work on all the other logistical moving parts. All of this culminated in the week of training peaking with the full scale simulation and then presenting 40 people with FEMA CERT Certifications!

As another Iris Global School is coming up, I was asked to write a blog about my recent experience with Community Emergency Response Team Training at Iris Abilene. My initial thought was, ok, that should be easy since I am so passionate about the training and the work of Iris Abilene and it was such an amazing experience. As I began to gather my thoughts and set out to write, I found myself at a loss for words and wondered why! Maybe it was the flood of images that kept going through my memory or the replaying of exercises and group activities…I can’t really say. On the surface there was a lot of practical and useful information taught but it was so much more than that! It truly was an experience; physically, emotionally, spiritually, and mentally on so many levels. As both a student and an instructor I had a unique vantage point. As an outsider coming in (to the School already many weeks in progress) I was an observer as well as a new member of an already established “team” of folks who knew each other pretty well.

Now, I am a pretty practical person most of the time. That is why I do what I do! I do logistics; organizing and planning everything out. From that perspective, I would not be fulfilling my responsibility to mention here what CERT training entails. CERT training is a 24+ hour course which educates people about disaster preparedness for all hazards that may occur and trains them in basic disaster response skills, such as fire safety, light search and rescue, team organization, and disaster medical operations. Using the training learned in the classroom and during exercises, CERT members can assist others following an event when professional responders are not immediately available to help.

All of this said, if you are considering the upcoming Iris Global School, be prepared to be challenged all along the way! CERT training will challenge you physically, mentally and spiritually but God will be there through it all and you will be much better equipped to handle any situation you may find yourself in. I am so excited at the opportunity to prepare for and conduct the upcoming CERT Training! You will have a great time! You will laugh at yourself and others, you may cry but you will have a great time for sure.