My CISM Experience

By: Daniel Geraci

In early September 2011, as every tv station in Texas was covering the Central Texas fire disaster, ADRN was deployed to help Red Cross operate shelters in Bastrop and Smithville. I too was in Bastrop at the Command Center, set up in the Bastrop Convention Center. The scene was intense as workers/leaders from organizations around the state gathered to work together in response to the disaster. Most of us were getting 2-3 hours of sleep per night. ADRN’s call center was in full-swing at Hill Country Bible Church NW, receiving an estimated 500-750 calls per day from desperate fire survivors wanting to know more about their homes and when they could return.

At the convention center, I meet Lisa Jackson, the victim services coordinator for the Bastrop Sheriff’s department. She was working on mobilizing the State of Texas’ CISM team to be deployed into the residential areas just prior to the families returning to the remains of their homes. I had recommended inviting ADRN’s CISM team into the field to help her with this response but Lisa wasn’t 100% confident in ADRN as this was her first interaction with us. Fortunately, she decided to drive me into one of the hardest hit areas of Bastrop to ask me questions on how we would deploy CISM trained volunteers in the area if deployed. It wasn’t easy to get in these areas because the fire departments were still trying to put out the smaller fires and DPS had blocked off all roads leading into the Bastrop communities affected by the fires (Hwy. 71 was closed). By God’s grace, we were able to pass through the barricades, see the devastation and I had a chance to share our plan for deployment.

As we were combing through the neighborhoods, she made the decision to deploy ADRN’s volunteers and asked if I could pull together a large team by the next day to lead the deployment. In faith, I said “yes!” Shortly after this, she receives a call from officials at the Command Center recommending to cancel the next days deployment of CISM teams and not allowing residents back into their homes. The reason for the decision was the ash in the area was toxic and officials feared that residents health would be greatly affected by the ash in the air. City officials recommended that a facemask needed to be handed out to every resident. Lisa looked at me and said “do you know where I can get thousands of facemasks?” I told her that I had received 21,000 facemasks 8 months prior to the Central Texas fire disaster and that I could get her 8,000 facemasks by the morning. She asked me to get them there by evening due to the pressures from the state. So God enabled us to get 8,000 facemask within hours. She also told me to “call in the troops and deploy in the morning!” After this short trip in Bastrop, I drove to the McDonald’s in Bastrop to use their internet service to get a deployment email out to our CISM team as soon as possible (the convention center internet was practically jammed due to the high volume of internet use). I also emailed my friends at Austin Bridge Builders Alliance (ABBA) to send an email to Pastors throughout Greater Austin, asking them to join us in the morning. At this point, all I could do was commit my plans to God, have faith in Him to stir the hearts of CISM volunteers and pastors to join us in the morning! I had no idea if 1 or 100 people would show up?

Day 1 of our deployment was to join the Red Cross at the Home Depot in Bastrop to begin debriefing victims as they drove up to the back of the Home Depot to pick up sifters, tools and the placard that would get them back into their neighborhood within the next few days. By the grace of God, over 80 ADRN CISM trained volunteers and pastors showed up! They would split up into 3 different locations to debrief families as they picked up their supplies. At my location, the Home Depot, cars and trucks wrapped around the building and as far as an eye could see. As victims drove up to our area of the drive-thru line, going behind the Home Depot, we began asking victims “Hello. I am with the Austin Disaster Relief Network. We are a network of churches that are sponsoring families affected by this disaster. Would you like a church on our network to walk with you through this process?” As people began to say “Yes!” – I told them to drive up on the side parking lot of Home Depot and like a Sonic restaurant, find an open slot and one of our Yellow Shirt volunteers will take your information. This was how the ADRN CISM team debriefed hundreds of people that day! The cars/trucks continued to come non-stop for at least 3-4 hours. Some victims couldn’t drive another inch once asked if they wanted to be adopted due to the emotion that erupted through them like an open fire hydrant. It took the loving arms of pastors to embrace these people as they wept uncontrollably. This was a glorious day for His Church because pastors and volunteers became the hands and feet of Jesus, loving on the victims, debriefing them, collecting their information in order to be adopted and praying with them. To me, it was a great day in the Lord!

Over the next 4 days, ADRN set up our Incident Command Post tents in 100+ degree weather, at the heads of neighborhoods to deploy CISM volunteers and pastors into the residential areas before the victims were allowed to return to their home. The Sheriff’s Department told me if our volunteers were not wearing the Yellow ADRN T-shirt, that they would be arrested and counted as a looter. We made sure everyone wore an ADRN T-shirt over the next 5 days. ADRN’s objective in the field was to assign 2 CISM trained volunteers and one pastor per team to cover several streets in the neighborhood to ensure that by sending 20-25 teams, the entire neighborhood/each home owner would be greeted by an ADRN team. Each team also was assigned a driver to become their personal chauffeur, taking each team from one house to the next since each home was so far apart. The plan was to greet the victims with cold water as they drove up to the remains of their home, comfort them, debrief them (most were in a state of shock/trauma), help them bury pets and livestock as needed and most importantly, pray with them, inviting God into their situation. After 4 days of debriefing over 1,400 people, ADRN had collected close to 500 “sponsor a family” forms!! Also, stories began to pour in from our CISM volunteers on the impact that was made between them and the victims through debriefing and praying. Many families were incredibly touched and moved by the hand of God working in their lives! Many CISM volunteers quickly saw the benefit of their CISM training and how powerful it was to help take traumatized victims to a greater state of peace so they could begin moving forward in their lives.

Over the last 2.5 years, ADRN has seen hundreds of volunteers who have been led by God to become CISM trained volunteers enabling them access to love people in their greatest time of need for such a time as this. Thank you Jesus!

Watch the ADRN CISM Deployment video, click here.