Many of us never spent much time thinking about disasters and pandemics until we found ourselves in the middle of one. But many Union graduates work in the field of disaster preparedness and response. As you might expect, 2020 has been a busy year for them!
Kiana (Meyers) Kabanje—Class of 2017
Disaster Preparedness Outreach Coordinator for the State of Washington
“The International Rescue and Relief program (IRR) truly changed the trajectory of my career path. It prepared me to do anything I want,” Kabanje reflected. “When I graduated from Union, I felt like staying within the Adventist system would be the easy route. Being a government employee is another animal. What I liked about IRR was that it prepared us to be Christians doing ministry in any sector.”
Kabanje is now a disaster preparedness coordinator on the state level. She feels that Union prepared her well. “I have absolutely glowing things to say about the IRR program. I loved it so much! It totally prepared me for where I am now. Even though I’m in my 20’s, I feel totally competent and qualified.”
She spends a lot of time doing training in the community, and supporting disaster preparedness officials at the city and county levels. Her work at the state emergency operation center has changed during the pandemic as she and most other staff have transitioned from their every day jobs to their incident response roles.
“The IRR tagline: Career of Adventure, Lifetime of Service is so true. Whatever happens, it may be fun, adventurous and exciting, but I know I’m really here to serve. Whether it be serving my family, my community, or my coworkers.”
Kabanje’s Pandemic Tips
- Make sure you’re getting information from accurate sources. Check the facts and don’t spread rumors.
- Even though we are currently living through a disaster, you can still be preparing for the next one. Replace the batteries in your smoke detectors, and replace expired food in disaster kits. Be prepared!
Tobias Watson—Class of 2016
Emergency Preparedness Coordinator for Bryan Medical Center, Lincoln, Nebraska
Tobias was already a certified EMT and an active firefighter before he arrived on Union’s campus. But he was in search of a degree that would allow him to advance his career.
“I wanted a program that would not only give me leadership skills but also hands-on experience using those skills. There are a lot of opportunities for that at Union,” he said.
Watson has been the emergency preparedness coordinator for Brian Medical Center since shortly after his graduation. But this year has been extra busy.
His team caught wind of an unusual virus spreading in China the first week of January.
“We started discussing some of our response plans early on,” said Watson. “We were very certain we would be exposed to this virus even though we are in the middle of the country. We knew we would have large outbreaks. However, we did not predict the pandemic.”
Watson explained that he and his team had already put detailed plans in place for a contagious individual entering the facility, most likely through the emergency room, and had practiced how to isolate the department to protect against contagion. “But we quickly realized that we would have to put a lot of these practices in place throughout the entire hospital,” he said..
He loves to be active on the front lines. So working this pandemic from his office has been hard. But his role as a resource, not only for the medical center, but also for the community is crucial.
“A lot of the relationships I have formed helped us identify resources that can help,” said Watson. “Our community in Lincoln has not been directly impacted by a mass casualty disaster in recent history. I know who to call, and I’m able to help connect people with the resources they need. I am a key resource.”
The Covid-19 pandemic holds an important lesson. “This and every disaster response we have shows there is a greater need for preparedness, not just response and recovery,” explained Watson. “Any organization, state, or country will shell out a lot of money to recover from something—but not for preparedness. There is so much more we can do.”
Watson’s Pandemic Tip:
- Listen to trust healthcare professionals.
Meredith Nichols—Class of 2017
Director of Emergency Management for Custer County, Colorado
Nichols started at the Custer County Emergency Management department as an intern before graduating from Union. Over time she learned the ropes, and when her boss retired in July of 2019, she was promoted to director.
“It has been a wild ride!” she said. “My first day on the job we had a tornado. I don’t think that has happened here for years. And now this global pandemic!”
Nichols and the public health director serve as the unified command for the incident within Custer County. “We have been working nonstop,” she said of the last few months.
Meredith credits IRR class drills for many useful skills that she employs daily. She learned to be comfortable with public speaking, to distill a complicated scenario into usable public information, to understand how people react in times of high stress, and also how to stay calm and collected through long periods of intense stress.
Custer County has very few cases of Covid-19, thanks in part to early prevention measures Nichols helped put in place. “Our community has done a great job of protecting others and themselves by not going out unnecessarily, and wearing masks when needed,” she said. “It has been great to see the community come together!
Nichols’ Pandemic Tips:
- Be wise. Even as things start to open up, there will still be risk.
- Don’t live in fear.
- Wear your mask in public.
If you are interested in working in the field of public safety or emergency management, learn more about how Union’s international rescue and relief program can prepare you to work in this exciting and rewarding field at ucollege.edu/irr
Author Carrie Purkeypile is a Union College graduate and
freelance writer based in Sacramento, California.