United Rescue Alliance in Abilene hosts university students for disaster relief simulation


ABILENE, Texas (KTAB/KRBC) – Students from Lee University, a Christian school in Cleveland, Tennessee, are at the United Rescue Alliance (URA) headquarters at Camp Barkeley to train for disaster relief. 

The immersion trip is for juniors and seniors studying disaster and health care mission management who hope to work in the field, whether it be the ministry or governmental sector.

“The smell of smoke, there was fire, they had blood everywhere, I could see broken bones, the makeup was just so realistic,” said Michaela Morris, senior at Lee University. “It’s the most realistic thing we have all been through.” 

But why did they come all the way to Abilene to train for disaster relief?

“We felt like this was the best place to give the students an experience,” said Dr. Charlotte Webb, Associate Dean of Nursing for Lee University.

Webb says that their school first partnered with URA after Hurricane Harvey. 

“As we looked at all of our objectives, Camp Barkeley just seemed like the perfect environment that we could set up and stage exactly what we wanted the students to go through,” said Webb. 

“It felt like we were in a tornado,” said Morris. 

Abilene had a tornado in 2019, so what these students are learning is applicable to not only foreign countries, but right here. 

“A part of what our goal is, is to raise up leaders upon leaders,” said Rick Cutler, director of training and logistics for Guatemala and Central America.  

To best prepare the students, they were not told when the simulation would happen. 

“Disasters are unpredictable, so you can go and have a tornado strike in the dead of night and you don’t have electricity, you don’t have a light source,” said Morris. 

To further prepare the students for what disaster response may actually be like, URA partnered with Nancy Economou, president and founder of Watts of Love, who makes solar power lights, to help disaster teams and communities see during disasters.  

“Being prepared for something like that, having a light that can be charged by the sun and also by electricity is really important,” said Economou.

Morris says of all the training they have done before, the one with URA has been the most prepared.

“So that they will be able to respond in such a way that they can give hope and save lives,” said Angel Poorman, President and CEO of URA. 

The students have been sleeping in tents, are forgoing showers, and purifying their own water to simulate what it will actually be like while living through disaster response. 

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