American quits government job for Peace Corps and Ghana

Sheri Badger chose Ghana over Pierce County.

After more than two decades working in government, she quit her job  for the Peace Corps in September 2015.

Badger was coordinator of the Tacoma-Pierce County DUI Task Force and public information officer for the Human Services Department before becoming the county’s Emergency Management spokeswoman nine years ago.

She started as a backup, and answered calls after-hours when the Nisqually earthquake struck in 2001. Then she moved on to coordinating for floods, mudslides, fires, avalanches and lahar warning drills.

In 2012, she helped launch the automatic call system for Amber Alerts in Pierce County that sent out 60,000 phone calls when a teenage girl in Tacoma went missing with a sex offender.

She coordinated the emergency center when four Lakewood police officers were gunned down in 2009. She has also responded to several major wildfires in the state.

Badger camped in disaster areas, coordinated hundreds of people at a time and withstood extreme weather. Now she’s given it all up to move to the West African nation and volunteer.

She’ll be briefed on her assignment in Washington, D.C., (hint: It involves agriculture) before catching a 10-hour flight to Ghana on Oct. 5. Next is three months with a host family while the Peace Corps tries to match her with a specific organization.

Badger, who could end up living in a tent and bathing in a bucket, has never camped for longer than a week at a time. She does not speak the native Ashanti language; Twi, but is listening to sound wave files in hopes of picking up a few words.

Her favorite word for now: “excited.”

Question: What made you decide to leave Pierce County Emergency Management and join the Peace Corps?

Answer: I’ve been with the county for 20 years and the Peace Corps is something I’ve wanted to do since college.

I halfway filled out an application then and saw they were looking for people with experience in agriculture. I had a political science major and realized I wasn’t qualified.

Back in February, I decided to revisit it, applied and was accepted in May.

I was at a place where I thought, “What would you do with your life if you could do anything?” and part of it was international relief. What would be a good step to get onto the international platform and that’s where the Peace Corps came in.

Q: What are you hoping to get out of the experience?

A: All of the places I’ve worked in Pierce County have had the common value of helping people in some way. What I’ve desired to do is more of a one-on-one assistance. I enjoy traveling and learning about new cultures, so this a great opportunity to do both of those.

Q: You’ll be based in Ghana, but what will you be doing there?

A: I’ve been assigned agriculture business adviser. There’s going to be two groups of us. One has more experience working directly in agriculture and a second group of us will work with nonprofits and other organizations to make sure they’re able to sell their products and get them to the right market.

Q: Moving to Ghana probably means a major lifestyle change. Do you know yet what the living conditions will be like? Are you concerned about the change?

A: I’m envisioning in my head a hut but it could be a small apartment. It could have running water but I’ve been told most places that need volunteers have bucket showers.

It’ll be like camping for two years. I think a week is the longest I’ve camped.

I’ll be so much out of my comfort zone. The thing I most worry about is not knowing the language. So much of what I do is communicating with people but I figure if I want to eat, I’ll learn a few things.

Q: Do you remember your first callout as a public information officer?

A: The first large one that I really remember was the Lakewood Four.

When we heard about it I went to the scene and met up with (sheriff’s spokesman) Ed Troyer and he said he could really use some help with the joint information center, so we opened that.

We were fielding a lot of the phone calls Ed wasn’t able to in the field. Anytime we saw him do a press conference, we would write it up and send it out to anybody who wasn’t at the press conference.

We had our call center activated for tips coming in. Simultaneously, a team of us were starting to plan the memorials. It was surreal. There were so many people wanting to help.

I worked on a network of PIOs from around the regions for the day of the memorial and sent out one email to my list and had 65 PIOs offer to help.

Q: What emergency or disaster did you find it the hardest to coordinate for?

A: The Lakewood Four just because it was so emotional, but also Oso (the 2014 mudslide that killed 43 people in Snohomish County) because of the enormity of it and the loss of life. And the challenges of communication because we had several different agencies involved.

The interesting part for me is it’s never the same deployment twice. Every time we active the EOC (emergency operations center), it’s never the same incident twice. It’s always different in terms of the needs.

Q: Can you give examples of strange circumstances you found yourself in because of the job?

A: The one that pops to my mind was the silo collapse in Roy because it was so cold. It was 20 degrees outside and we were outside the whole time with the cellphone losing its juice very quickly because it was so cold.

The other was at the Okanogan fires and we lost cellphone, Internet and land lines so there was no communication for about six hours while we were there.

We were trying to do our job of communication when there’s no way to communicate and we thought, “How did they do that in the olden days?” We ended up putting out posters in a variety of places.

Q: What advice would you give to whoever replaces you as the county’s emergency management spokesperson?

A: There will be four backup PIOs that will be rotating turns. Read the newspaper every day. It gives you a great basis for how people write, how information is placed and how people decide what’s important.

 

Source: Stacia Glenn

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