Flexibility in Responding to Disasters

I recently had the opportunity to train with MAF’s Disaster Response team in order to be prepared when such events arise. There is very little time for decision makers to determine if MAF is equipped to meet the specific needs of a particular disaster response. Once the decision has been made to go, speed is of the essence. Because each disaster situation is unique—differing in scope, location, cultural setting, remoteness—how can one really prepare for all of the unknowns, and do so quickly?

John W. shows Jill Holmes (left) and Sharlene Coker (center) how to operate a BGAN, a portable satellite terminal for high-speed Internet and phone.

Time after time I was amazed at the team’s level of thought that had gone into being prepared for some of the worst imaginable scenarios. We went through the various “go kits” that allow someone to get out the door quickly with the necessities for basic living and to organize a response as soon as feet hit the ground. I was able to receive some hands-on experience with the communications equipment available to keep a response moving forward when cellular towers and internet service is down. We examined past responses and how partnerships were formed, chaos was turned into order, and amazing things were accomplished. We also discussed what lessons were learned so that things could be improved upon for the next time. Always there was the caveat: just because something worked a certain way in one situation does not mean it will work that way in the next. Because of this, the Disaster Response team has gone far beyond the motto, “Always Be Prepared,” and stressed the importance of always being flexible. In day-to-day life, we like to have a Plan B, but in disaster response one must be okay with moving on to Plan C, Plan D, etc. I learned that it is not always about having the right answers, but being able to ask the right questions and change course as necessary.

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