Stories from the Field: In the Face of Tragedy, They Turned to Helping Neighbors

Stories from the Field: In the Face of Tragedy, They Turned to Helping Neighbors

Washington State-based nonprofit Empact Northwest provides disaster preparedness and response support to underserved communities around the globe and affordable, professional technical rescue training to emergency responders. The organization fields an international Urban Search and Rescue Task Force, medical team, canine and technical search elements, and a free-standing logistical support unit.  

With support from donors and partner United Airlines, Airlink recently facilitated travel for their volunteer responders assisting communities in The Bahamas recovering from Hurricane Dorian. Learn below about the assistance they provided with the support of our partnership.  


Stories from the Field

Jake Gillanders | Executive Director
Empact Northwest

In my 10 years with Empact Northwest, I’ve had the opportunity to help and assist people all over the world after their lives have been racked by disaster. The Bahamas experienced a degree of destruction from Hurricane Dorian that is among the very worst of the disasters I’ve seen. The people of Abaco Island experienced near-unprecedented devastation and it will take them years to recover.  While Empact deployed to provide technical urban search and rescue services, our mission is ultimately one of humanitarian relief.  We searched buildings, deployed our dogs to look for trapped victims, and used our search cameras to explore voids in the debris with the hope we may find someone clinging to life but still able to be rescued.

We also delivered food, handed out water from our own packs, tended to the sick and injured, and provided what comfort we could.  Ultimately, that is what the mission is about.  It’s about giving what we can to those most in need.  It’s about bringing our greatest strengths to bear for those who are desperate.

We do this for people like the young Haitian man we met when we were working an area called “The Farm.” This is a poor neighborhood inhabited primarily by Haitian migrant workers who provided labor for a large-scale agricultural operation.  This gentleman explained to our team that lost his passport and birth certificate in the storm and wasn’t sure what he was going to do as he now couldn’t return home and couldn’t leave the island where his home had been destroyed and his work gone.  When explaining about his lost documents and livelihood, he told us “I don’t even exist anymore.”

We’re truly all in this together and as a global community we’re only as strong as our most vulnerable brother or sister. That is a concept Bahamians certainly embrace. While their homes, businesses, communities and livelihoods were destroyed, the spirit of the Bahamians we met was fully intact. In the face of this tragedy, they turned to helping their neighbors.

We saw this in Walter, a building contractor living in Cooperstown. He and his family survived the storm largely unscathed.  Recognizing his good fortune, he immediately set out to help others. He and his neighbors found as many chainsaws as they could and began clearing the road back to Treasure Cay, until they met up with British Army engineers who finished the job with their heavy equipment.  After helping his wife and daughter evacuate by airplane, Walter and his son refused to leave, saying, “somebody has to rebuild our island.”  Walter, like many Bahamians, is committed to sticking it out and doing what it takes to aid and rebuild his community — right up to and including lending our team his truck for the duration of our deployment so we would have transportation to complete our mission.  He did so without a second thought and without asking for any compensation other than some fuel to run his generator, if we were able to find some.  When I expressed our deep gratitude, his attitude was simply that it was the least he could do to help his neighbors.

Our constellation of donors, supporters, and partners like Airlink made our response to Hurricane Dorian possible. They have allowed Emapct to contribute to the global community of rescuers, givers, healers, and solace bringers. I have never been more proud to be part of an effort than I am of this one. Here’s to hoping that in our worst moment, we’ll be met by someone willing to give of themselves in order to make our situation just a little bit better.

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