WHITESTOWN — Jenna Latourette has always felt the pull of wanting to help people in disasters and emergency situations, and this weekend she is getting that chance to find lost hikers and pull injured victims from disasters zones.
Sort of. Latourette was one of 50 students taking part in the second New York Hope Disaster Response exercise at the state Preparedness Training Center in Whitestown.
“This is an amazing experience, and definitely a good opportunity to develop teamwork and team-building skills under stressful situations,” said Latourette at the scene of the Center’s rubble pile station on Friday.
“We each bring unique skills to the situations and exercises that really help us, and then we’ll each take away new skills that we can all use in the future.”
Latourette is a senior at the University of Albany majoring in homeland security studies. She’s one of 20 Albany students participating in the four-day exercise, along with students from Fairfield University, Elmira College, University at Buffalo, St. John Fisher College, Northwest Missouri State University, the University of Missouri and the University of North Carolina-Asheville.
Along with classroom training, the students got to work hands-on at the Preparedness Center’s many training scenarios. Latourette spent Friday morning in a wilderness search and rescue operation, and by the afternoon she was digging through the rubble pile for injured volunteers, simulating a tornado strike.
The students also got to train on water rescue at the facility’s swift water rescue course, and learned a bit more about cybersecurity.
“This facility is really great, definitely something that I feel everybody should be able to experience,” said Latourette.
“Even just as a civilian, to get into this field and try to help with disaster response is very important.”
The Hope Disaster program started in Florida about 16 years ago, and has outlets in Missouri and New York. Each location hosts a group of students for a week-long training course each year, and this was the second year at the Preparedness Center in Whitestown.
The New York exercise is hosted by the University of Albany’s College of Emergency Preparedness, Homeland Security and Cybersecurity.
“This is a fantastic opportunity for them to get the hands-on, get the exposure and get the simulation for these real world issues and these real world circumstances,” said Annie Connors, assistant director of experiential learning at the college.
“It is absolutely one thing to be in the classroom, to be learning about things anecdotally, or to study case studies. But it is completely another thing to be in it, to be working in a rubble pile, to be looking for your objectives, to be rescuing individuals; to hear it and to be in the middle of it is life-changing for our students.”
The Hope training is free to the students, sponsored by the Consortium for Humanitarian Service and Education and their colleges.