As the hurricane season dawns on us, we would like to take notice of the group of talented volunteers committing their time to participate in rigorous trainings to adequately prepare for disaster situations.

While hurricanes are ultimately inescapable, K1 Britannia Foundation realised that a long-term solution must be put in place to be prepared; K1 DIRECT which is comprised of those very volunteers.

On St. Maarten, there are approximately 20 volunteers who all have been vetted and selected to be a part of K1 DIRECT (Disaster Relief & Crisis Team). Since 2018, they have been undergoing trainings, made possible by Carnival Cruise Line and the Dutch Disaster Fund. Through their experiences post-Irma and K1 DIRECT, they all feel better prepared to assist their community in case of an emergency.

We asked them:

  1. What was your experience during Hurricane Irma and how did that influence you to join K1 DIRECT?
    2. What skills and background experience do you feel you bring to the team?
  2. What trainings have you received so far, through K1 DIRECT, that you deem the most beneficial?
  3. What would you like to learn through this whole experience, and what would you like to accomplish for yourself and your community?

Here are quick glimpses of their experiences…

Laura Bijnsdorp, Communications Consultant

Irma Experience: Volunteering with K1 and other initiatives helped me feel like I could ‘do something’ in the aftermath of such an uncontrollable event. We often think volunteerism is a ‘selfless’ act, but helping others in the months after Irma, helped me just as much in return.

The same goes for my decision to join K1 DIRECT. Being part of this team means that I can better myself through learning new skills, as well as putting these skills to good use in case of an emergency.

Skills: I’m dependable, communicate well and I’m able to follow and lead. In a team situation, just tell me where you need me, and I will get it done!

Training: I completed my Emergency Medical Response (EMR) training with Windward Islands Emergency Medical Services (WIEMS), which was great. Although I still have much to learn, I do feel a lot more equipped to provide first aid in a wide range of medical emergencies.

This summer, K1 is planning to have a psychological first aid training, which I am very excited about. I do think the aspect of mental wellbeing is often overlooked during/after a disaster.

Goals: I’d like to feel as useful as possible, in case another disaster would hit our island and hope we can play a role in preparing our community better.

Gerard Lake, Safety & Security Manager

Irma Experience: During Hurricane Irma, I was stationed at work providing the necessary assistance in my role as (deputy) Incident Commander. The following day, my colleague and I made our way through Maho and Simpson Bay where we observed the damage. 

A few days later, I contacted Melanie from Be the Change Foundation to inquire how I can provide assistance. Melanie led me to Priya and Alan of K1, and that’s how I ended up in K1 DIRECT.

Skills: My professional background consists of a mixture of law enforcement and physical security. As part of my continued education, participating/enrolling in various courses provided by various organisations, such as Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and Texas A&M Engineering Extension Service, have been beneficial and have allowed me to continue enhancing my skillsets from an incident response standpoint.

Training: I participated in First-Aid, CPR/AED [cardiopulmonary resuscitation/ automated external defibrillator – Ed.], Emergency Medical Responder (WIEMS) and the Disaster Response training by United Nations Disaster Assessment and Coordination (UNDAC). 

The information provided by UNDAC was paramount. Oftentimes when a disaster strikes, we will see major issues in communication, which will impact coordination. This training highlighted how critical those elements are.

Goals: Volunteerism is something that I have a passion for, once it's for a good cause. My overall goal with K1 DIRECT is networking and priceless memories in cases when I can reflect and say, "We accomplished x together as a team...".

Andwele Illes, Pharmacist

Irma Experience: Hurricane Irma was my first experience with a natural disaster. After the winds had calmed down, I had to find a way to get to the hospital as soon as possible and worked there for 48 hours straight.

Since working at the hospital, I came into contact with Alan, my neighbour, who kept me posted on the work K1 was doing. Through him, I was able to meet the volunteers, post-Irma, and through this my interest in K1 piqued.

Skills: Being a Pharmacist, I have knowledge of medication and logistics and have gained leadership skills, even if they are not directly related to crisis management.

Training: I have completed the EMR and UNDAC training; both are equally beneficial. Through EMR I can provide first-aid and through UNDAC I was able to draw parallels to my work as a pharmacist on how to improve our workflow in times of crises.

Goals: How to be prepared in a setting where everyone is prepared and knows what to do.

Zuleima Violenus - Salmon, Psychologist

Irma Experience: Two words to describe volunteering with K1 post Irma are “intense” and “grateful”. Intense pressure, intense comradery - but it was very rewarding and I am very grateful.

K1 gave me the opportunity to be useful. Experiencing one of the worst disasters in St. Maarten history, K1 as a team handled the extreme pressure very well during the aftermath. I took notice of how well and how efficiently they worked together. Consequently, I chose to be a part of K1 DIRECT.

Skills: Disaster response training via UNDAC was the most relevant thus far. It gave us an idea on how to set up certain structures, once a disaster should occur, and shed light on available resources and how we can access them – definitely an eye opener for me.

Training: I bring my skills of being a psychologist, which includes analytical skills, being empathetic, communicating well and being solution-oriented to the team. Also, I am very involved in the local community and I bring this sense of fellowship to the team as well.

Goals: Disasters will happen, it is inevitable, but we can put in the effort to be prepared, so we can respond quickly and efficiently when a disaster strikes. My goal is to gain as much knowledge to be prepared to assist my community, and the region.