• MU FRTI curriculum specialist Erin McGruder during her deployment with Missouri Task Force 1 in response to Hurricane Harvey.
    MU FRTI curriculum specialist Erin McGruder during her deployment with Missouri Task Force 1 in response to Hurricane Harvey.

COLUMBIA, Mo. – University of Missouri Fire and Rescue Training Institute (MU FRTI) curriculum specialist Erin McGruder does more than just write about disaster response. McGruder, a member of FEMA Urban Search and Rescue Missouri Task Force 1 (MO-TF1), deployed to Texas as a technical information specialist in response to Hurricane Harvey’s devastating August landfall.

McGruder traveled with MO-TF1 to San Antonio, Robstown, Corpus Christi and Rockport before driving through the eye of Harvey, which by then was a tropical storm, to Katy. Staging in Katy and serving the greater Houston area for the remainder of the deployment, MO-TF1 was credited with more than 360 evacuations of residents from water inundated homes.

“There are many positions on the team of 50 people that might be hard to understand, but are critical to getting the search crews into the theater of operations,” McGruder explains. “As a technical information specialist, I don’t get to be in the boats and doing the most hazardous work.” Instead, she’s responsible for the information management that gets the team to their assignments, mapping identified search areas, ensuring GPS tracking during missions, documenting mission progress, and reporting back to FEMA of team progress or availability for reassignment.

McGruder says the most memorable moments of the deployment were while establishing a work area in Houston Fire Station 78. “We opened the bay doors and started receiving walk-in reports of missing family members. Talking to the children, siblings, parents, and co-workers—then knowing our crews were going to go to the homes and likely find those people—really reaffirms why we deploy. Especially when just days later the fire station itself was completely flooded.”

McGruder has previously deployed in response to the 2011 Joplin tornado, the 2012 Hurricane Sandy, and 2013 Colorado flooding incidents. In addition to being a volunteer firefighter with Boone County Fire Protection District, she also serves the state of Kansas as a certified disaster search dog handler with two border collies, Cut Throat Kid and Shepherd’s Moon Mighty Mizzou.

Erin joined MU FRTI in 2015 as a curriculum specialist and is responsible for updating existing courses and developing new programming for the institute. MU FRTI Director David Hedrick said, “Erin’s education and writing background, along with her technical experience as a firefighter and task force member, are a great asset to MU FRTI in the development of state-of-the-art training programs.”

MU FRTI is a unit of MU Extension and is charged with providing comprehensive continuing professional education training to Missouri’s fire service and emergency response personnel. The institute provides training to approximately 13,000 fire and emergency service first responders each year. For more information, visit