ADRN providing emotional and spiritual care to survivors of the West, TX fertilizer plant explosion in 2013.


My first ADRN disaster relief deployment!  Just two months after I had completed my first major training at ADRN, the CISM course to provide emotional and spiritual support to survivors.  CISM assist survivors to move from post-disaster trauma to functional processing of the incident through a series of questions and techniques.  Interested in taking the course with us?  Check out our website for the next CISM class – Austin Disaster Relief Network.

Now back to West.  I wasn’t really sure what to expect, but as it turned out, our director and founder, Daniel Geraci, helped walk me through my first disaster.  The town’s fertilizer plant had exploded, causing a secondary disaster of fire and debris injuries and fatalities.  A large part of this small Texas town was affected, with stories that seemed to be straight out of a military war movie.  The trauma of loosing loved ones or seeing people die in front of you, pushing through fire and debris to escape harm, or having garage doors pin you down from the sheer blast of the explosion.

Our CISM teams walked through the town and set up tables at the local assistance center – but something curious happened.  People weren’t coming for assistance right off the bat.  Where were they?  We later did see crowds of people, but for the first few days, neighbors and families were the first responders to their needs.  This was an amazing community of believers, who stepped up and helped each other.  Some people housed 2 to 3 families in addition to their own.  Neighbors were feeding small armies of people on the block.  Eventually this town saw that help was here and began to make use of the resources that people from all over the country were sending by the 18-wheelers full.

So many God stories came out of that deployment, but among the most memorable are two.  One was my encounter with sweet Nicole.  After a end-of-day briefing, I hung around with my partner (rookie Don who hadn’t used his CISM training yet) to see if anyone needed to talk.  I saw an old man sitting alone at the table, and so we joined him and started to talk.  We were soon joined by his daughter and wife, and it was soon evident that the wife was not processing the event, still looking frazzled and emotionally overwhelmed.  I asked where she was from, and she admitted her English was not great and said she was originally from France.  I responded in French, telling her I was half-French, and that if she preferred, she could share her story in her mother tongue.  She was elated, and out came all of her fears, worries, traumatic stories, questions, and gratitude that she could finally express what was rolling around in her mind.  Now, for her to “randomly” meet up with the only CISM-trained volunteer who spoke French!!  That’s a God-story!!

Another of my favorite God-stories was on my last day of deployment.  Everyone had left for the day except for two of us who were tidying up the site.  A family walks over, and I recognize the son – I had talked with him earlier in the day, and he found much relief after the CISM process.  He had brought his father and mother back with him so they too might find relief for the trauma they experienced.  Only one catch – they didn’t speak English.  I spoke some basic Spanish, and my fellow ADRN volunteer spoke none, so the son went with my colleague and the father to one area and I sat with the mother and her friend, and conducted my very first CISM debrief in Spanish.  God expanded my Spanish and I felt as though I was more fluent than I was, and the mother was able to share the trauma of what she had witnessed and survived: running with her baby grandson under her jacket down the street ablaze, running over debris everywhere, and witnessing injury and fatality along her path.  As we ended our conversation, we hugged, and then hugged again, and then smiled, and then hugged again, knowing that love and compassion really don’t have a language barrier, and that relief is mostly just listening to someone and showing them you care.

West, Texas is an amazing little town, and I will always think back with a smile at all the people I met and their stories from my first deployment.

Pictures on scene

We first set up in a building alongside the medical unit and behavioral health – what an education on how the state responds and who’s involved!
The ADRN CISM site in West, Texas in 2013.
So many folks to help in West!
Survivors can surprise you by how upbeat they can be at times.
ADRN CISM site responding to fertilizer plant explosion in West, Texas in 2013
So thankful to what these two wonderful ladies taught me in the field – thank you Susan Martin and Kim Davis!!

Newspaper articles

World News Today – “After the Explosion”

ADRN Facebook Archive – “ADRN onsite at West, Texas”