On Saturday evening, Sept. 13, students from Union College's international rescue and relief program gathered for a vote. Dr. Michael Duehrssen, associate director of the program, presented the students with two choices: drive through the night to south Texas without specific rescue or relief assignments or wait until morning to hear more from contacts already in the area.
The vote was unanimous. Eager to put their training into practice, the students wanted to help victims of Hurricane Ike as soon as possible and chose the all-night van ride.
The team of 10 junior and senior IRR majors along with Duehrssen and Aaron Kent, program alumnus and IRR graduate assistant, arrived in Orange County, Texas, on Sunday. While they didn't need their rescue gear, their skills in relief and assessment were quickly put to use.
Hurricane Ike hit Orange County, close to Port Arthur, La., harder than forecasters expected. Based at a high school in Bridge City, the team connected with the county's emergency operation center (EOC) and FEMA, along with disaster response organizations, Eagles Wings and Adventist Community Team Services (ACTS).
The group's main assistance has been to team with FEMA to do door-to-door needs assessment. The trained Union College students are leading 10-person teams incorporating 60 high school students who have come to the area to serve. The groups report the needs of each home through the GPS hand-held units provided by Eagles Wings. This information is gathered at the county's EOC. Tuesday they found 24 urgent needs in flooded neighborhoods including medical and humanitarian concerns that they were able to report or assist with on the spot. One of the IRR students is stationed at the EOC helping coordinate the teams and relay information.
Wednesday, they helped set up three ACTS kitchens with food provided by the FDA. One kitchen unit, a semi truck, is stationed at the high school where they are based. Two smaller mobile units will move through the community. With residents returning to flood-damaged homes, many without power, the group is preparing to serve 3,000-10,000 meals a day.
Union College IRR students will return this weekend and resume classes with a new outlook on the application of their coursework.
Front Row Kneeling (L to R) - Michael Gardner (senior), James Goff (senior), Aaron Kent (IRR Graduate Assistant) *David Skau (sophomore), Corrie Sample (senior)
Middle Row Kneeling (L to R) - *Doug Tallman (IRR Associate Director), Kyle Kuehmichel (Junior), Dr Michael Duehrssen (IRR Associate Director)
Back Row Standing (L to R) - Dan Rogers (junior), *Katelyn Shoemaker (sophomore), Beth Cook (junior), Danae Steele (junior), Ginger Hany (junior), Amy Agosto (senior), Jordon Personius (senior), *Lauren Hansen (senior)
* indicates the student did not travel with the IRR group. The extra students came to the planning meeting as alternates, but the team was filled. The group size was determined in part by how many could fit in the van.