It wasn’t a surprise to hear Shannon Young say he was out scouting when he called Friday morning. It’s what hunters do. But the longtime manager/marketer for Roger Raglin Outdoors noted that I lived in Bixby and said he was calling to see if I needed help because of the flood.
He was scouting for people who needed help. I didn’t need flood help, but I was looking for a good column subject.
“Scouting” is something he and others do as a part of Outdoorsmen In Action. The group has its origins in Hurricane Katrina in 2005 and a more recent rebirth with the Moore tornado in 2013 and Young’s introduction to the group’s founder, Nick Parsons, director of technology operations for Outdoor Channel.
They’re just a couple of good old Oklahoma hunter-fisher types putting some common sense to the grind wheel when disaster strikes. They have deployed groups to disasters across the country. This time it’s hit their backyards, literally, and help is coming to them from other states.
So far, they’ve been helping people evacuate surrounding areas and organizing and helping at sandbag filling operations — and scouting.
The Moore experience is what set the direction for this new nonprofit, Parsons said.
“We put together a group of 25 and worked two and a half or three weeks at Moore,” Parsons said. “After the first week, Shannon took me to lunch and when we sat down, Shannon said, ‘Just help me kinda debrief here.’ We started talking through everything that happened and we both agreed some of the most effective things we had happen involved a big handful of outdoorsmen.”
When it comes to disaster response of that scale, it can be handy to have guys around who know how to use heavy equipment, run chainsaws, clear land and are used to 16- or 18-hour days in the field, he said.
“They were just very effective in that kind of situation,” Parsons said. “We thought, ‘What if we started targeting these guys and built a volunteer organization based around these outdoorsmen who are extremely qualified?’ And so that’s what we did and that was the birth of Outdoorsmen in Action in 2013.”
The idea took off and Outdoorsmen in Action chapters have popped up across the country. In a situation like the floods now in the Arkansas River basin, the knowledge and skills of outdoorsmen come in handy, Young said.
“I think it’s vitally important to have the good old boys, if you will, because they know every back road, they know every creek that rises 8 foot when it rains 3 inches because they spend all their spare time out there hunting and fishing and they know those areas very well,” he said.
The group coordinates and keeps in communication with local officials and professional emergency response crews, he said. The group is anything but a rogue group of outdoorsmen in airboats.
“We would never want to be seen as going rogue,” Parsons said. But experience in broad disaster areas has shown him that officials can’t be everywhere and volunteers are both vital and plentiful, but volunteers need leadership and direction.
Many times the group steps in to help organize, train others, lend a hand carrying furniture or filling sandbags or filling in gaps for rescues until enough professionals can arrive to meet the demands, he said.
“We kind of story-boarded things out on a napkin in 2013 and that was one of the things,” Young said. “We approach disaster relief very similar to the way we approach hunting or fishing. We’re analysts when we look into how we can catch more fish or how we find the bigger buck. We’re analytical by nature, most of the time, so that’s the approach we take.”
Emergency officials often are inundated with broader issues, Parsons said. “Sometimes it comes down to solving small problems that help everything go more smoothly.”
The group brings experience and training to help volunteer groups as well as individuals. In a disaster, people often turn to their church, but no one at the church has faced a disaster relief effort, especially one that may last for weeks, Parsons said.
“People have never done this before. They don’t know how to fill a sand bag or how to tie it or how they’re really supposed to be used,” he said.
“People ask, ‘What do we do? Where do we get involved?’ So a lot of our focus is trying to wrangle these guys into where they need to be and where they can do the most good. Sometimes it’s the simplest things that can really help.”
Helping might just be going on a delivery run to get water bottles or collect clothing, to haul furniture out of a home or fill sand bags, but the smallest group efforts can run more smoothly with experience, especially when small needs become 24/7 demands.
“A lot of the time it’s a lot of great-hearted people who have just never done it before, so that disorganization can add to the chaos,” Parsons said. “People always want to help, but it’s, ‘What do we do? Where do we go to get involved?’ So a lot of our focus is trying to wrangle these guys and keeping a network of these guys to get them to the locations where things are controlled and where they will be safe and where we know they can do the most good.”