Preparedness for disasters is an issue that is near and dear to my heart. Nature and manmade disasters are devastating to people’s lives, the economy, and the environment. Whether it’s an earthquake, pandemic or nuclear hazard, disasters cause havoc and affect many for a long period of time. Media has shown us images of people whose lives have been completely changed by disasters, but unless you have been a victim of one, it’s difficult to fully empathize with the kind of issues they face as they try to create normalcy again.

Hurricane Katrina made me aware of how hard disasters are on people. The images and stories I saw on television affected me greatly. I had much compassion for those that were left distraught, and it caused me to take a look at the possibility of something like that happening where I live. By the next summer, I enrolled in a Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) class to learn about personal preparedness, and mitigation. Throughout the eight week class, I learned about many emergency situations that I should be prepared for. I saw ways that my community was not extremely well prepared. I concluded that I needed to do more to help my community be prepared, so it will be easier to recover in the aftermath of emergencies.

At the end of the CERT class, a training event called a CERT rodeo took place. It just so happened that the rodeo was two days after Hurricane Ike hit the Texas coast. Red Cross was at the event and the representative spoke about the needs of the people in Texas.  I had a calling. I wanted to see the situation and help the recovery first hand. Two weeks later, I was in Galveston, Texas, deployed as a Red cross volunteer with the job to help find missing people.

This was a life changing experience. I met people that had lost everything. I met people who needed such basic things as water, prescriptions, and eye glasses to read the forms just to get some assistance. I also met people that were dedicated to providing help for those in need. And I met others, who despite losing everything, still had the dignity and the courage to rebuild. It put everything in my life in new perspective. My problems seemed trivial and my blessings were greater than I had been aware. I learned that serving others delivered a reward that no money could buy. I am most grateful for the gift that trip gave me. Also, I know how vital it is to be prepared for emergencies, because that preparedness will make all the difference in the world if a disaster hits.

Since that time, I have continued to build preparedness in my community. I have put together a nonprofit that helps with animals and pet owners with disaster issues. I have done public speaking, interviews for reporters, set up public information / outreach booths, and taught at the same CERT rodeo that I attended years before. I received certification in numerous FEMA courses, made connects in the emergency management community, and last fall, I received my certificate so that I may teach emergency management to residence in my city. Spring of 2011, I took a volunteering trip to New Orleans and worked with several agencies with the rebuilding that is happening five years after the Hurricane Katrina event. (It’s amazing how great of an impact such event can truly have. I’m still in awe.)

This topic is global and local because disasters can happen anywhere. Being prepared saves lives, money and stress. Next fall, I will teach CERT classes and I’m looking forward to that. I hope that I will be able to encourage a few students to deploy with Red Cross, or create a community project that will build up preparedness in their community.  My wish is they can come to know the rewards that service work can provide and the security that emergency planning will bring.