Elite International Emergency Response Team Trains Candidates

Elite International Emergency Response Team Trains Candidates

News Oct 30, 2017

Walla Walla Union-Bulletin, Wash.

Oct. 29—It is Day 3 in the final leg of Ned Morris’s yearlong quest to join an elite emergency relief team.

The details of what he’s doing on this leg in Cornwall, England, are not exactly known.

It is said to combine a mixture of classroom learning with fitness tests and practical exercises designed to prepare him for the worst of the worst conditions as a responder in international disaster relief for ShelterBox. Specifics though are secret.

When he’s done, the Walla Walla consulting winemaker will be one of just 40 Americans trained for deployment on the front lines of disaster relief on behalf of ShelterBox. He will be one of just 200 in the world for the organization. The international charity provides lifesaving aid, providing critical supplies for those in disaster.

As the name suggests, the program centers around durable plastic boxes filled with supplies tailored to the nature and location of each disaster.

Typically that includes a tent, water purification system, thermal fleece blankets, solar lighting, school kits, tools and other necessities.

“ShelterBox not only helps victims survive the hours and days immediately following a natural disaster, but also helps sustain them in the ensuing weeks and months as they pick up the pieces and start to rebuild their lives,” Morris said.

The ShelterBox Response Teams, which work in groups of two to four people, travel to the most remote and often inaccessible locations to palletized aid, traveling by foot, boat, helicopter—even tuk tuk rickshaws—Morris said.

The operation works closely with organizations such as FEMA and the United Nations to coordinate efforts, as well as its international Rotary clubs to help with navigation on everything from government issues, safety, transportation, translation and other logistical obstacles.

Getting to this point has been arduous.

Morris, who first learned of ShelterBox through Walla Walla Rotary five years ago, applied online a year ago to join the Response Team.

Another 299 candidates from North America joined him in that first application process. From there a more thorough application took the field down to 125 people. That process was followed with video interviews. Just 80 people were selected to complete a rigorous four-day assessment.

From there just five candidates were selected from North America to go on to the final training. Morris is one of three of those from the U.S.

When he finishes, he will be eligible for deployment.

ShelterBox is currently deployed in Iraq, Syria and Bangladesh, among other places.

It is coordinating provision of aid across six Caribbean countries socked by Hurricanes Irma and Maria.

“We have a variety of aid in the Caribbean, so we can tailor our response to best support different communities, the website explains. “On some islands, like St. Kitts and Nevis, Dominica and the Dominican Republic, there are enough natural resources available to quickly rebuild homes with the help of a ShelterKit. In other areas, like the British Virgin Islands and Barbuda, our tents are the best option—creating a warm, safe home while the long cleanup process takes place.”

Morris has been an ambassador for the program. But taking the next step as a responder came to him as tensions mounted around the presidential election season. With friends on both sides of the political spectrum and his own experiences with world travel, he wanted to take action.

“I didn’t necessarily want to be that guy in the group that complained all the time. I wanted to be a source of change,” he said.

His wife, Suzie, has been a source of support as he opens to the possibility of at least two three-week deployments a year (though in his case never around grape harvest).

Morris isn’t certain why exactly he’s made it through the testing while others have not. Being a good listener may be part of it, he said.

“They want leaders who can be active followers,” he said. “They want people who can acknowledge that they don’t know something and step back without being intimidated.”

A wilderness first responder, he said his training in that realm may also be a plus. His background as an athlete and coach may also have served him well.

“You’re working in small teams of four; you don’t make decisions without each other,” he said. “They’re coed teams where you go into these countries and you’re given a great amount of responsibility and decision-making power.”

The wine industry may have also given him a leg up when it comes to intense work in relatively short windows of time. “I make good decisions when I’m sleep-deprived,” he quipped.

Vicki Hillhouse