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Oct. 9, 2016
Some 500 students, faculty, first responders and emergency services personnel descended on the Mozingo Outdoor Education Recreation Area (MOERA) and its fictitious Redden Village Thursday through Sunday as Northwest Missouri State University hosted the fourth annual Missouri Hope disaster response field training exercise.
Missouri Hope is a full immersion field training exercise sponsored each fall by the Consortium for Humanitarian Service and Education, a non-profit organization involving faculty from Northwest and other partner institutions to provide intensive, profession-based opportunities for domestic and international disaster relief and humanitarian workers to practice safe and effective relief operations.
Missouri Hope is the flagship exercise, complimenting others in New York and Florida.
“It’s a staple in the emergency disaster management program,” said Sarah Saladan, a senior psychology and emergency disaster management major from Wood River, Nebraska. “If you can make it through this, you can make it through pretty much anything.”
The exercise centers on the aftermath of two tornadoes touching down at Redden Village, resulting in multiple casualties and injuries. There are building collapses, fires and flooding. First responders arriving on a chaotic scene are confronted with victims screaming for help and calling out for loved ones.
“There is so much stimulus going on right now, but there is so much learning going on at the same time. You hit the ground running,” said Saladan, who was participating in Missouri Hope for the first time.
Saladan spent Friday’s iteration working at incident command, helping to manage logistics of the response. She called the experience “data overload.”
“You’re getting like 4,000 different people coming into one communication system, and you’re trying to get 12 different people all of their information at one time,” Saladan said. “We’re writing stuff down. We’re trying to keep calm heads. It’s crazy. … I definitely think I’ll take away some self-confidence and some skills to keep calm under pressure.”
That is one of the primary objectives for students participating in the exercise, says John Carr, an instructor of emergency disaster management at Northwest.
“There is a growing demand for graduates who not only are able to perform on an academic level – that they know the information, that they’ve studied, that they got good grades in all of their classes – but then in addition to that, they’re bringing with them professional skills that they can apply in the workplace,” Carr said.
While the intensive three-day domestic disaster relief training exercise is required for students studying majors or minors in emergency disaster management (EDM) at Northwest, this year’s exercise involved 23 partner agencies representing local, state and federal agencies as well as students from nine higher education institutions throughout the country.
Partner agencies included Maryville Public Safety, Nodaway and Buchanan County Emergency Management, Nodaway County Ambulance District, LifeFlight and LifeNet Air Ambulances, SEMA Region H Marine Hazmat Team, the 1-129th Field Artillery Battalion Missouri Army National Guard and the 139th Airlift Wing of the Missouri National Guard.
Students benefit from the exercise by developing skills they will need to be successful in their careers. The exercise challenges students to overcome fears and hone skills as emergency responders while working with teams in mass casualty, high-angle rescue and water rescue situations.
For the participating emergency agencies, the exercise is an opportunity for professionals to practice skills and develop relationships with partnering agencies so they’re better prepared if and when disaster strikes.
The exercise also incorporates student leaders, faculty and emergency service personnel in staff positions such as role players, evaluators and facilitators.
“This is a great chance to really build some of those relationships before the disaster actually happens,” Carr said. “Often, agencies don’t have the additional funding or resources to coordinate this on their own. If we can facilitate trainings like this, it gives everybody a chance to work together as well as figure out what mistakes we’re going to make ahead of time.”
For Brett Kirk, a senior comprehensive crisis response major from Liberty, Missouri, this fall’s Missouri Hope exercise was his fourth. In addition to working toward completing his degree at Northwest, Kirk is an officer in the 138th Infantry Regiment of the Missouri National Guard.
Kirk was the incident commander for Friday’s scenario, using advanced emergency command and managing assets responding to the disaster.
“My first year I was a participant and I knew very little coming out here,” he said. “I really learned a lot of the basics, getting hands-on learning, what it actually means to be a responder. Through the years, I’ve taken more of a management role, so I’ve see what the first responders do and now I’m seeing what it’s like to manage it.”
Kirk recognizes the exercise as a valuable opportunity to apply his knowledge as he prepares for a career in the field.
“There’s a lot of great state and federal jobs where you can use this,” he said.
“You can work in communication, public relations, logistics, management. There’s a security operations position in Washington that I’m applying for.”
The wealth of career opportunities available in emergency and disaster management is yet another takeaway the exercise provides students, Carr said.
“We offer so many different opportunities their first year that they’re probably not going to be able to fully latch on to all of them,” Carr said. “But we lay out this tasting plate and say we’ve got overwater rescue, we’ve got fire, we’ve got some of the emergency medical, we’ve got the National Guard. They might say, ‘I like that fire piece. I think I’m going to train and become a volunteer firefighter.’ That kind of opportunity is what I really hope they get out of it.”
Participation in the disaster response training is available to all Northwest students, regardless of major or minor. Students do not need to receive academic credit to participate, but credit may be earned by any student who desires it.
Mark Hornickel, Communication Manager
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Northwest Missouri State University
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