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Archive for April, 2011

What’s in a Disaster Response Go-Bag?

Posted on: April 22nd, 2011 by Jason Chatraw  |  4 Comments

This is the final post in a three-part series about MAF and disaster response.

MAF Go-Bags

MAF Go-Bags

John Woodberry’s non-descript gray bag sits in an adjacent office like Pandora’s box, begging for me to open it. Another co-worker told me it is his disaster response “go bag” but there was only one way to be sure. My general curiosity about mysterious things is so strong that I would have used up my nine lives in 10 minutes had I been born a cat.

Rather than risk getting caught and labeled an office snoop, I concocted the cover of writing a blog on disaster response. So, here I am covering myself and writing about how I coerced John into opening his bag to display its innards.

MAF staff media guru man and documentarian Paul O’Brien joined me to capture the mysterious gray bag’s contents with evidentiary photographs.

So, here’s what we found:

The Essentials

Contents of MAF Go-Bags

Contents of MAF Go-Bags

According to John, no disaster response “go bag” is complete without a few things: the ability to get drinking water, stay warm, be fed, and sleep without being dinner for a pack of pestering insects.

John uses a Katadyn water bottle that he claims has such a powerful filter that he could dip it into a disease-infested river and drink the water without fear of getting sick. (I passed on the demonstration offer, thinking it might be some initiation prank.)

Then there’s the bug hut – basically a 100% mesh tent that makes way for the breeze in the warmer regions MAF mostly serves.

Next come the MREs (Meals Ready to Eat) that need only boiling water to miraculously turn into a piping hot meal. And you thought fast food wasn’t healthy? (John quipped, “The only rule to eating healthy in these situations is to ask yourself, ‘Would my grandmother recognize this as food?’ Probably not.” Check please.) Clif Bars, the energy-packed snack bars, are also considered an essential side item for MREs.

Finally, the go bag contains a package of chemical substances that only require water to create fire-like warmth. The only thing left to do is crack open a package of freeze dried marshmallows and pair it with a “chocolate-like” substance on a graham cracker.

The Extras

Some people might consider this an essential, but the mere thought was tough to stomach – Shot Block. It’s like condensed gummy bears that works like coffee, giving you a caffeine jolt. John carries this sticky, chewy substance everywhere, but never showed me his toothbrush. What’s really essential for John? Hmmm.

Then there were body wipes for when there is no access to showers. My experience on the mission field is that after a few days the only thing that you can actually smell is a fresh pot of coffee. Other than that, it’s an olfactory nightmare. So, John insists on pampering himself with luxuries like a wipe-down shower so he can smell fresh for his team members who have long since quit sniffing voluntarily.

John also carries a blow-up pillow with lumbar support and a Cool-Max Travel Sheet, which serves as an ultra-thin sleeping bag. He claims it is to protect against bed bugs and sleeping in unwashed sheets as he never knows where he could be sleeping. I didn’t think John would be afraid of such things. I thought it was rather luxurious and started to anticipate John telling me about his travel assistant who fanned him with a palm tree leaf when he was hot during naptime.

The E-communications

Some people have an obsession with their iPhone; John is obsessed with cell phones and satellite phones in general. He carries his personal cell and three more in his go bag. There are two sat phones and one regular inexpensive cell phone he can use for local calls.

John also carries a standard laptop, a printer to produce official permissions and requests on letterhead when necessary, and a battery-powered “BGAN” remote satellite internet unit that allows him to transmit data such as email and photos anywhere in the world.

There were other odds and ends—all of which weighed next to nothing and served multiple purposes. Last but not least, John has a compartment in his bag that keeps a few sets of dress clothes as wrinkle-free as possible. “You never know when you’re going to have to meet a government dignitary and plead your case for why you should be allowed into a country to serve,” John said.

John assured me he only worked for MAF even though I was quite sure I could see a hidden parachute bulging out of the back of his “go shirt.” Nevertheless, John’s passion about what he does for MAF and the way he prepares is a good sign that the organization’s disaster relief program is in good hands.

How MAF Prepares for Disasters

Posted on: April 15th, 2011 by Jason Chatraw  |  Leave a comment

This is the second in a three-part series of posts about MAF and disaster response.

John Woodberry Organizing Chaos

When it comes to being prepared for a disaster, John Woodberry thrives.

As MAF’s manager of security and disaster response, Woodberry is ready in a moment’s notice to coordinate disaster response efforts in different parts of the world through MAF’s programs and vast network of partnerships. However, these response operations aren’t thrown together overnight – much careful planning takes place long before a catastrophic event occurs.

“MAF takes a mid-level approach to disaster response,” Woodberry said. “By that, I mean that we don’t take a fire station approach where we are sitting around with a lot of equipment and people waiting for a disaster to happen. And neither do we wait until after disaster strikes to determine if we can do something.

“Instead our mid-level approach means that we are proactively building up our internal surge capacity to respond well. When disaster strikes, we know what we can do and the potential resources we have to do it. It’s just a matter then of determining if the disaster meets our criteria for involvement.”

With MAF’s operational footprint in 32 countries, a “surge” results in an increased presence of personnel and equipment to facilitate disaster relief efforts. It can be any combination of staff, planes, communication equipment, computers or supplies – or all of the above. Woodberry also maintains a 48-hour response call list, detailing individuals’ skill sets, language abilities, and other valuable talents that might be useful in a disaster.

“We know that we have what we need to maintain a surge in a disaster relief effort of one month without major impact to our ongoing programs,” Woodberry said. “After that, we need to evaluate how long the disaster response is needed and develop a more detailed plan.”

Woodberry doesn’t mind the frenetic environment that occurs in a first-response situation, though he cautions that it’s not for everyone.

“In those first few days after a disaster, the situation is chaotic. It can be day three and plan four. And not all people are wired to do well in that type of situation,” Woodberry said. “After that initial relief phase, we can then bring in those people who are better suited to serve in a longer-term ongoing relief plan.”

Read last week’s post when Woodberry explained the process of how MAF determines if it is going to respond to a disaster.  Next week, the final installment of this series will cover the essential items, unique tools, and amazing resources Woodberry carries in his disaster response “go-bag”.

When Does MAF Respond to Disasters?

Posted on: April 7th, 2011 by Jason Chatraw  |  Leave a comment

This is the first in a three-part series of posts about MAF and disaster response.

While MAF maintains ongoing operations in countries all around the world, its ability to respond immediately to disasters is critical for both the suffering people and the agencies trying to help.

Following the recent earthquakes and tsunamis that struck Japan, MAF supporters and media members alike asked why MAF isn’t involved in the relief effort there. In short, MAF’s expertise is best served when aiding in a disaster that occurs in a remote location.

“Though the needs are significant and urgent, the aviation and communication services that MAF offers in remote areas are not appropriate for Japan’s more urban environment,” MAF President and CEO John Boyd recently said in a statement.

So, just how does MAF decide to respond?

John Woodberry, MAF’s manager of security and disaster response, provided some insight into the philosophy of MAF’s disaster response approach.

“Once a disaster strikes, MAF’s team attempts to answer a host of questions to determine if MAF’s assistance is necessary and, if so, what the immediate and long-term ramifications of involvement are,” Woodberry said.

Here are some of the filters used to determine if actionable steps are required:

  • Is this God’s leading?
  • Are there acute unmet needs?
  • Can what MAF does help the situation?
  • Are communities vulnerable?
  • Is local capacity insufficient to deal with the scale of the disaster?
  • What is the NGO/Mission presence in disaster location? Do they need MAF-type support?
  • Will we truly meet needs and with God’s help transform lives?

Disaster response is a key part of MAF’s mission. However, this type of checks and balances keeps MAF focused on utilizing its strengths of aviation and technology with other partner organizations to serve isolated people in desperate situations.

Over the next two weeks, check back for more posts when Woodberry explains how MAF prepares to respond in disaster situations as well as what is in his disaster response “go-bag”.