The fourth annual Rural County Summit drew participants from near and far - and from a wide range of agencies - who were all interested in learning more about emergency management and disaster relief from professionals who have dealt with some of the most harrowing scenarios on recent record.
These speakers came from as far away as Colorado and Texas.
The opening ceremony July 9 was performed by color guards from the Tallahassee Fire Department and the State Forest Service. Kenneth Tucker from the northern Florida district of the U.S. Attorney’s office served as an introductory speaker.
Medol of Honor recipient Army Staff Sgt. Ty Carter talked to the participants Friday morning, sharing the story of the 12-hour firefight in Afghanistan when the Taliban attacked and invaded the outpost where he was stationed, and how he came to grips with the post-traumatic stress he faced after the fighting stopped.
“I really liked the firsthand comments, narratives from the individuals who experienced different disasters,” said Steve Cutshaw, manager of Torreya State Park. “You could feel their pain - their energy. You think, ‘Wow, I’m glad I wasn’t put in that situation.’”
After the summit, Cutshaw said that feeling lingered.
“It always makes you reflect,” he said. “Some of these things could happen here.”
Select speakers from these sessions stayed to present truncated versions of their full talks during the all-volunteer sessions July 12.
Tanya Holloway, an American Red Cross volunteer, attended the July 12 sessions. Holloway, who traveled from Bay County, helps her organization operate in a six-county region, which includes many rural areas.
This year was Holloway’s first connection with the Rural County Summit - and she reported a rewarding experience. She was particularly pleased with the summit’s recognition and sensitivity regarding cases of post-traumatic stress.
“It’s not just military that’s affected,” said Holloway.
The Red Cross volunteer said the most useful aspect of the summit for her, however, was learning more about the operations of other agencies with which her organizations interacts - an experience Hollow said will provide her a better understanding of how to more successfully engage and coordinate with these partnered agencies.
Marvin Corbin from Florida Baptist Convention was another volunteer at the Saturday session. Corbin, along with a handful of other people from his organization attended the summit to learn more about the broad range of disaster relief with which their national organization works.
In a separate Times interview, his reaction to the summit echoed Holloway’s response.
“We’re learning how the other organizations work with the volunteers - things that we could do,” said Corbin.
Maj. Shawn Wood of Gadsden County Sheriff’s Office, contextualized the volunteer sessions by calling attention to what he sees as general indifference among young people, a lack of investment in community that leads to little sense of duty and few volunteers. Wood said the responsibility to instill this value, however, rests on the shoulders of an older generation - a generation that primarily filled the hall at the summit.
After the summit’s conclusion, Wood said he was pleased with how the county worked together to make the event a success.
“It made Gadsden County look great, state-wide,” said Wood. “We looked good in front of our peers.”