Rules don’t govern how someone responds to disaster. A personal code does.
That’s why Monica Brinkley didn’t consult a handbook before jumping in to help. Instead, she was guided by a question: “What role am I going to play in all this?” Then she called the Liberty County emergency operations center and offered the UF/IFAS Extension Liberty County office as a collection point for donations.
The donations came in by the ton – far more than one woman could handle. Seemingly out of nowhere, three of her county club leaders and their 4-Hers (she is the UF/IFAS Extension Liberty County Director and the 4-H agent) showed up and got to work.
As soon as UF/IFAS Extension Jackson County Director Doug Mayo could get out of his own driveway, he drove as close as he could to 4-H agent Heather Kent’s house. Then he walked in with chainsaw gas and to see what else she needed. No one told UF/IFAS Extension Escambia County Director Nick Simmons to pack up a truckload of hay in Escambia and drive it to producers in Washington and Jackson counties.
Extension Dean Nick Place and Northwest District Extension Director Pete Vergot provided stellar leadership organizing relief efforts. But our front-line employees had the best picture of the needs because of their relationships with their communities and with each other. They knew without being told how they could help.
Research employees shined as well. So many of his crew went to Marianna that Plant Science Research and Education Unit Director Jim Boyer found himself harvesting peanuts in Citra. Others came from Ona, from Live Oak, and from Jay. Like firefighters who travel the nation to help their brethren beat back blazes, our research and Extension employees acted on a code that compels them to respond to colleagues in need.
Students, too, got a lesson in the code. The Collegiate Cattlewomen and Block & Bridle made calls to Panhandle cattle families to check on what they needed. Then UF/IFAS Extension Holmes County livestock agent Kalyn Waters made several trips to Alabama to get it.
The aftermath of Michael was a moment when job descriptions and geographic boundaries didn’t much matter. Everyone was a relief worker. Everyone either worked in the path of the hurricane, or they rushed in from across the state immediately afterward to help.
The disaster demonstrated how tightly we’re connected. It did not change our service ethic. It revealed it.