ERT training in South Carolina helps volunteers get the credentials they need to travel to disaster sites.
By Susan Kim*
Sept. 25, 2012-- When his son was one-and-a-half years old, Billy Robinson's boating mishap changed his life forever. Robinson had backed down a boat-trailer ramp, leaving his son in the car. “I heard a 'click' and he'd put the car in neutral,” said Robinson. “He'd locked the door on top of that!”
The car drifted down the ramp and into the water as Robinson reached for the gear shift. “I tried with all my might to put the car in park,” he recalled.
Somehow, Robinson got his baby boy out of the car before the water overtook the vehicle. “I got him out just in the nick of time,” said Robinson. “We were both alive but we were freezing cold. I stood there on the boat ramp thinking: 'I need help now. I don't need it tomorrow. I need help now.' ”
A woman saw their predicament and stopped to help. Her immediate action not only protected Robinson's son, it also started Robinson on a path of volunteerism that he has never left.
An engineer for the Department of Energy, Robinson is also an emergency response technician and serves as assistant chief of the fire department in the small town of North, SC.
Robinson also trains Early Response Teams (ERTs) to move into action immediately following a disaster. UMCOR has developed special training and credentials to help ERTs move quickly into a disaster zone once they are officially deployed.
Robinson and his peers across the U.S. have reached a disaster-response milestone: the number of ERT-trained people across the United States has reached 10,000.
Halfway across the country, Julie Pohl, disaster response coordinator for the Kansas East Annual Conference, has also trained dozens of ERTs. UMCOR's training has imprinted the future of disaster volunteerism, Pohl reflected.
“Training and credentialing are more important than ever,” she said. “Our emergency managers are holding our feet to the fire as to who they allow into a disaster site. It's harder and harder for unaffiliated volunteers to find a way in.”
Once trained, ERTs may be deployed for a disaster local to them, or to one out of state. Sometimes, ERT-trained people are disappointed to be put on alert for deployment, then told that they will not, after all, be going onsite.
“I explain to them, over and over again, that the conference that's affected needs a chance to take care of itself first,” Pohl said.
Back in South Carolina, Robinson said he is inspired by people who, like him, are determined to offer immediate help to disaster survivors.
“I see the passion in them,” he said. “They really want to help. Being on an ERT is an honor, a privilege, and an opportunity. I believe disaster survivors will see Christ through our actions.”
Help UMCOR train thousands more Emergency Response Teams. Please contribute to US Disaster Response, UMCOR Advance #901670.
* Susan Kim is a journalist and a regular contributor to www.umcor.org.