Thanks to a partnership between the Hesston College Disaster Management program and Mennonite Disaster Service (MDS), a unique experience will be coming to campus this weekend.
Students and community members are encouraged to visit "The Storm Encounter" mobile theater trailer when it stops in town on July 28.
Visitors to the trailer — which will be located in the northeast corner of the Hesston College campus, near the Keim Center, will participate in disaster trivia and learn about the efforts of MDS before getting to experience the sights and sounds of a virtual tornado.
"You go in and it's a simulation. People will be warned that there will be significant movement of the theater chairs," said disaster management professor Cleo Koop. "There'll be eight people in the trailer at a time. They'll be seated in theater seats and they'll be experiencing what a tornado would most likely feel like. They'll also be visualizing it/seeing it coming at them on the screen, feeling water, wind and (hearing) some of the sounds."
Each "experience" will lost about 30 minutes total, with groups of eight intended to be cycled through the exhibit every 15 minutes.
Hesston College’s Disaster Management program is affiliated with MDS, offering skills, experiences and knowledge for disaster recovery, including physical, psychological, social and spiritual recovery. Additionally, Koop serves on the Kansas MDS board, which helps respond to natural disasters in the region. The board helped get the trailer to make a stop in Hesston — something MDS sees as an opportunity to attract more members to its mission.
"Our church-wide agency, Mennonite Disaster Service, had designed this trailer for promotion and recruitment of volunteers and leadership for volunteer positions," Koop said. "Our focus is on rebuilding houses for people who've been impacted by disasters, primarily natural disasters."
Namely, the bi-national organization is focused on responding to disasters in the two countries it serves — the United States and Canada. Having been hit by a tornado 30 years ago, the Hesston community (where MDS started) is no stranger to that response. It is something Koop goes over in his course — talking about the Hesston tornado and watching clips on it — and he said that images of Hesston after the tornado can be found on the side of "The Storm Encounter" trailer.
While the anniversary of the tornado did not play a role in getting the MDS trailer to come to campus, Koop did state that it brings the message home and may foster a more personal connection for visitors who may have been severely impacted by the tornado.
Generating a personal connection is part of what the trailer is intended to do, as well as spark a call to action among those who take part in "The Storm Encounter," whether through volunteerism or donation.
During a given year, Koop noted, MDS will have 15 to 18 disaster response projects ongoing in the U.S. and Canada, ranging from rebuilding in the immediate aftermath of a disaster to helping local communities with fundraising efforts. For the most severely impacted and socially vulnerable, those are often one and the same.
Considering MDS still has projects in response to 2017's Hurricane Harvey, Koop said he hopes visitors to "The Storm Encounter" take away a heightened awareness of the needs of those victims, as well as the response opportunities available to anyone.
"It's not just the experience," Koop said, "but it's saying, 'What can you do now that you've been made aware of a disaster organization like MDS?' We welcome all denominations, all faiths. You don't have to be a Mennonite to work with MDS."
"The Storm Encounter" trailer will be on campus from 3 to 7 p.m. July 28. Individual or group reservations for the experience can be made by contacting Koop at 316-282-0797. Walkups are also welcome for the free event.