Bitcoin, Cherch of Blerk, and Brave Volunteers Connect During the Destruction of Hurricane Harvey

Sep 08, 2017 at 11:24 // News

The International Cherch of Blerk (IOCB) is a fully registered crypto-based 501c3 and recognized religion. It is a revolution in peer-to-peer charitable giving and volunteer work using cryptocurrency to give aid where needed during times of crisis.

CoinIdol interviewed Cherch of Blerk Founder and Executive Director, who is also an Attorney, Jason Seibert along with Dr. Rhiana Ireland, an Emergency doctor with an emphasis on EMS and Pediatric Emergency Medicine. Jason Seibert describes how the organization emerged and why Bitcoin is an integral part of its operation. 

“This organization was formed at the beginning of August, but it has been in the planning phase for over a year. There are many people that want to do good, but they don’t want to be affiliated with traditional systems – they wanted something that fit them. People want to know that their charitable giving is going to those that need it - what we call Boots on the Ground giving. We don’t do anything without having eyes on the scene to determine the most impact we can make for the situation. For those that like that kind of thinking, BLERK fits them as a charity. If you wish to believe in our religion, Blockchain, great, if not – it doesn’t matter, those that receive the help don’t care if you believe or not. 

Blerk’s model, as an actual religion and registered 501c3 means that the activities of the organization, donations to it, and the eventual mining and currency activities, will all benefit the users of the network as a vehicle for doing good, but will also provide those incentives to give that traditional organizations like the Red Cross enjoy. 

We had a man two days ago that made a large cash donation, but he wanted to make certain that we were truly a real organization (funny name, serious works). I delivered our Texas formation documents and the IRS letter with our Tax ID number on it, and he handed over cash for us to deploy to Port Aransas and Rockport. This is real. 

Bitcoin/Cryptocurrency adds a unique layer of flexibility, speed, and accountability that traditional FIAT systems just can’t provide. With Crypto, we can put boots on the ground without having to ship anything but a human being and a cell phone. Once that point person is on the ground, they survey the scene, make a wish list, and crypto pours into their phone. Working with local exchangers, that crypto can be quickly converted to local FIAT for supplies, services, and goods to get things moving as quickly as possible without the need for lengthy customs checks at the docks, or paperwork that prevents action from happening in the disaster phase.” 

Jason Seibert

International Cherch of Blerk Delivers 

CoinIdol asked Dr. Rhiana Ireland how long she’s been an Emergency physician, what her role is within the ICOB, and how this organization was vital during the Hurricane Harvey crisis and its aftermath. 

“I have been in Emergency Medicine for 11 years. I trained in South Central Los Angeles with a heavy emphasis on EMS and Pediatric Emergency Medicine. From there I was the Pediatric ER attending in East Los Angeles, prior to moving to Texas. I have worked for various agencies here in Texas responsible for disaster response and Ebola readiness for East Texas. I currently work at St Michaels ER in Sugarland, Texas. 

I work with ICOB as the Medical Director and Disaster Coordinator. Each disaster is different, sometimes my work involved being the medical director at the shelter clinics directly treating patients, other times I have been meeting with city and county leadership at the Emergency Operations Center. 

ICOB was vital during Hurricane Harvey. League City Texas had only one shelter for over 100,000 residents and it quickly became overwhelmed with evacuees. The Red Cross had only 3 volunteers in the shelter none of which had any management experience in mass casualty situations. The shelter took all evacuees, many of which had major medical conditions that required immediate medical assistance. There were two pregnant patients both of which due to deliver in less than two weeks, postoperative patients with surgical wounds contaminated by flood waters, and asthmatics who needed immediate breathing treatment. Ambulances were unable to respond due to high call volume and unable to transport patients due to flood water causing hospital evacuations. Without ICOB and the medical supplies we brought, these patients could have died. 

One of the reasons I became involved with Cherch of Blerk is because they believe in having ‘boots on the ground’ during disasters. This means that our members are at the disaster site determining actual needs rather than depending on second or third-hand information. One of the difficulties in Hurricane Harvey was the multiple rumors that spread throughout the shelters, inciting panic. Evacuees heard that levees had been breached and that the water had been tainted. By being there with city leaders we were able to get accurate information and then dispel those rumors.” 

Dr. Rhiana Ireland

Coordinating Disaster Relief 

CoinIdol inquired about his role as the Cherch of Blerk Executive Director and Bitcoin Attorney during the Hurricane Harvey crisis and its aftermath. Surprisingly candid, Seibert explains that he wore many hats during this emergency crisis. 

“Nobody wants an attorney when their house is flooded, they are cold and wet, and don’t know where they are going to sleep. I wore multiple hats. For the most part, I was in the kitchen! I worked with local leadership to let them know I was available, but they didn’t have anyone during the disaster that could coordinate the acquisition, logistics, and protocols to run a disaster kitchen. Dr. Ireland ran the medical and EMS services side; I ran the food and logistics side. I did have to be a lawyer from time to time to resolve conflicts between the Red Cross and local nurses, as well as the Red Cross and shelter leadership, which is unfortunate. The Red Cross has their way of doing things that may be good for a single-family house fire, but as for huge disasters – they really don’t have the training on the ground and in place to handle the situation. It’s been a real eye opener at just how unorganized and incapable the Red Cross is.” 

When CoinIdol asked about how challenging it was to coordinate and create several shelters in Galveston County, Texas along with producing nearly 12,000 meals for four shelters, Seibert shares how the community collaborated by volunteering in the midst of this tragedy. 

“The volunteer effort in the community was amazing. There is a time in any massive effort where you really have to step back and let others serve. For example, T-Bone Tom’s, a local BBQ place made famous by the Food Network, showed up and cooked outside in the storm for 13 hours to make chicken and sausage. A local seafood supplier provided a refrigerated truck so we could keep all the food cold until it was time to prep for meals, members of the community poured in dried goods and supplies. We never had a shortage of volunteers. 

As for victims of the flood – they absolutely wanted to help, but we had enough volunteers that were not impacted so there was no need, and frankly, that was ideal. Flood victims are exposed to all kinds of bacteria and contaminants. We ran a full infectious disease and contamination protocol out of the kitchen. It would be hard to keep those protocols if Uncle Harvey walked into the kitchen to help, covered in raw sewage.” 

Dr. Ireland adds, “The community was amazing. I began posting live feeds from the shelter and as soon as people became aware they showed up to help. People put their entire lives on hold to bring in supplies, dry off hypothermic patients and began pushing out hot meals for hungry evacuees. Money is important in a disaster, but so is someone being there for you, getting you out of wet clothes and bringing you a hot meal. Our community was lucky however, we took primarily flood damage and retained city services. ICOB went to the eye of the storm in Rockport, Texas and no part of the town remained unscathed. The city has no working sewage, power, or cell phone communications which create so many hardships for the citizens who are trying to bounce back.” 

Red Cross Falls Short 

Seibert shared with CoinIdol the effort of Blerk’s volunteers and Dr. Ireland as they assisted in advising local officials on how to proceed during the crisis. Seibert explains that the lack of experienced help from the Red Cross was glaring at this crucial time during which Houston was being inundated by flooding and disastrous winds from Hurricane Harvey. 

“Dr. Ireland is a fully trained Emergency Room Doctor who trains EMS on situations just like this. She was instrumental in getting facilities open, maintaining calm in leadership by having a structured plan to open and close shelters, getting families the help they needed, and, when necessary, being the bad guy by telling shelter residents it was time to leave for their next destination. As a lawyer, when I wasn’t cooking, I advised leadership on their liability in the numerous facilities, best practices under good Samaritan laws, and how to proceed in a humane way while still accomplishing the mission. 

The Red Cross claims they were cut off by the storm. As a fraud lawyer, I’m not sure I’m inclined to believe them; however, that’s really not for us to decide. The truth is the young man from the Red Cross that was running the Bay Harbor Shelter, the only ‘Red Cross’ shelter in the area, was untrained, overwhelmed and completely unprepared. There were two other volunteers from the Red Cross that tried to step up, but they had little experience as well. Bay Harbor is a church, and through Blerk’s advice and strategies, they quickly took back control of their facility and flourished while serving the community. They did a great job." 

Dr. Ireland explained her first-hand experience with the initial Red Cross response. “The initial Red Cross response was inadequate to the scale of the disaster and I cannot say exactly why that was. We know that the Bay Harbor United Methodist Church initially was told they would have 16 volunteers and only take in 100 evacuees. On day one of the disaster only 3 volunteers came to the shelter and the church took in over 700 evacuees. The Red Cross has been plagued with scandals in recent years regarding their handling of disasters and the ProPublica and NPR series on them from a few years ago may give more detail as to the problems with the institution. 

We had well over 50 volunteers between the 4 shelters I helped manage. Some people provided direct care, some donated medical equipment from their own practices and medical supplies.
The HEB in League City, before being flooded out, was able to get us medications free of charge from their pharmacy. I am indebted to them for all of their help.” 

Bitcoin To The Rescue 

Seibert disclosed to CoinIdol how difficult it was to get supplies during the crisis and what challenges the team faced after Blerk’s truck died. 

“Scrounging for supplies was tough at first, but the community response was amazing. We quickly figured out that there was no magic truck of food and supplies coming from the government or the Red Cross. A local grocer was still open. With the limited funds Blerk had (we just opened!) and with community volunteers, we rounded up ‘high profile’ vehicles and made a grocery run after grocery run and filled the refrigerated truck with as many supplies as we could, knowing we were going to have to hang on for at least five days. Also, members of the community made direct donations by purchasing thousands of dollars of food as well. Tookies Seafood and T-Bone Toms were great examples of that. 

As for Blerk’s truck, it was a true champion. It crossed many flooded roads and access ways to get medical supplies, food, and personnel to multiple needed destinations. After it suffered damage from debris, and water in the systems while making one last crossing, our ability to keep medical supplies and food moving was severely limited.” 

Seibert reveals to CoinIdol how Bitcoin played a major role in the solution. 

“We needed another truck. The supply of trucks in the Houston area after the flooding was pretty limited. I put out a call on social media for anyone that knew of an available truck. After calling around, we found the perfect vehicle, a diesel 4x4 chevy truck with a crew cab. It was 70 miles away on the north side of Houston and we were on the south side. After working with the dealer to secure the truck, I realized we didn’t have enough funds in the Blerk coffers to make it happen, I had to make another donation from my own funds. 

I contacted Rob Gonzalez in Dallas (registered FinCEN MSB), and asked him if he could liquidate my assets and wire transfer those funds to the dealer. Rob said, ‘No problem. Oh – wait… it’s after 3 pm on Friday and the banks won’t be open until Tuesday because of the holiday.’ Okay – we switched to cash. Rob worked with another FinCEN broker, Jesse Wilkinson, to get cash on the road and in the dealer’s hands in under four hours. I drove the truck off the lot that night – of course, I had to ride my motorcycle through an awkward route through Houston (flooding), and then load the bike in the back of the truck for the return trip to League City, but it all worked out. If I had to rely on a bank, we would have been shut down for the entire weekend. As a result, we were able to get over to Port Aransas and Rockport (ground zero) and deliver direct aid to the front lines in the form of monetary support and supplies.

Dr. Ireland continues, “Bitcoin has helped the relief efforts by allowing us to rapidly scale up as the disaster presented itself. We lost equipment during the hurricane and were not nimble enough to allow us to buy things late at night and during the weekend. Banking hours are fixed but a hurricane doesn’t care about that. Bitcoin is a 24-hour currency for a 24-hour disaster.” 

How Boots on the Ground, Cherch of Blerk, and Responsive Bitcoin in Crisis Mode Saved People 

Discussing the challenges of this flooding disaster, Seibert explains how each crisis is different and how innovation and personal effort are key as the government and Red Cross did not save them. Lessons learned will be used for future experiences such as another disastrous hurricane. 

“Each disaster is different. Each situation is different. That’s why boots on the ground and targeted efforts are so important. We’ve already been asked to try to find medical supplies and sleeping cots (of all things) in advance of Hurricane Irma." 

As the Cherch of Blerk founder, Seibert reflects on what he has learned from their first disaster. “I formed the Cherch of Blerk, so I guess it makes sense that I’m the Executive Director. I’ve learned that if you are going to wait around for the government to save you, that’s a long wait for something that’s not going to happen.” 

The coordination success of Blerk’s efforts differs from other crises Seibert has been involved in. “It took folks a bit to get used to the idea that someone, where a shirt said “Cherch of Blerk” on it, was an expert on anything. After that barrier was gone, everyone got down to work.” Though the Cherch of Blerk is a registered religion, the word “Cherch” is spelled this way out of respect for more traditional faiths that use “church.” Blerk is at the core of how this religion is defined: BeLiEve in Random Kindness. 

Dr. Ireland also reflects on the inspiration of volunteering during this crisis and people helping each other during a momentous time of need. “I will never forget the enormity of this disaster. It is awe inspiring to see a helicopter, the national guard Humvees and giant dump trucks filled with people just trying to escape from the storm. I remember standing in the rain as a city dump truck arrived with the back loaded with people and pets soaked to the bone in the rain. People were handing us all their worldly possessions, their entire lives in trash bags, passing us their children just needing someone to shelter them from the storm. 

Without Bay Harbor Church, people would have died. It was able to withstand the flood and was the staging ground for food, warmth, and medicine. The volunteers’ generosity prevented the church leaders from getting overwhelmed and allowed them to continue working problems in real time to allow us to scale up to meet the needs of the disaster. Government is good at handling many parts of national disasters but in the beginning, it is volunteers and the community who puts itself in harms’ way to take care of each other.
As a result of this experience, Seibert respects the power of Bitcoin even more and realizes how it can benefit future charitable organizations and causes during times of crisis. 

“We didn’t fully use the power of Bitcoin in this disaster response. We only scratched the surface. We hope to get the token launched (which we delayed so we could focus on Harvey efforts) so we can get our software and services ramped up and out the door. We have so many great ideas based on the lessons learned from this and other disasters. 

But our uses are not limited to just the software side, we are using innovations in hardware as well. We are using lessons in high-density rack design, based on mining equipment, to recalculate power consumption to configure lithium batteries more efficiently to power field refrigerators for medical supplies. Yep – read that last sentence again. Just awesome. Bitcoin mining tech revolutionizes medical delivery. It’s awesome.” 

Hurricane Harvey

Value of the Human Spirit and Lessons Learned from Collective Collaborative Creativity 

CoinIdol asks Jason Seibert and Dr. Rhiana Ireland what lessons they learned from collaborating and operating during a real-time disaster such as Hurricane Harvey. 

“The biggest lesson I learned was that ‘ignorance is the demon.’ There was a time when I was really tired. I think I had been up for 3 days, we were slammed, nobody knew if or when the flooding would stop. I got word that a man on dialysis had been discharged from a hospital and was at the front of the shelter. The shelter had to turn him away and they had no idea where to send him. It was only a matter of time before he would die. 

We always had hot chicken and rice soup on the stove for anyone that walked in the door. I grabbed a bowl and a slice of bread, a few bottles of water and walked it up front myself. The man was frail and hunched over in his wheelchair. I placed the bowl in front of him and he looked up at me and smiled. I shook his hand. I walked back into the kitchen and went to the sink to wash my hands, but just shut down. I couldn’t move. ‘Did I just give that man his last meal?’ I was overwhelmed with the disaster and the tragedy. I started to sob. Bay Harbor is a Methodist Church, and its leader, Pastor Paul, saw me and asked me how I was doing. ‘I just need to reset,’ I said. He invited me to visit the Church’s sanctuary. I did. 

In that moment, I realized that I could not know or own what happens to every person that walks through the door. We can only serve those that are right in front of us the best we can, and then allow them to be served by the next. If we focus on the thought of ‘what will happen to that person next?’ we will never be able to help the person that is right in front of us. It took me a few minutes to resolve, reset, and get back in the game. 

As for human spirit, creativity, and inspiration, it thrived for four days as the community fixed its own issues. League City is in the phase called, ‘return to normal.’ That means that the disaster is over, recovery is nearly complete, and folks are getting back to their lives. But just a few miles away, there are houses still under water. We have a lot of work to do.” 

Dr. Ireland shares the lesson she learned by being a witness, volunteer, and Emergency doctor when people were in desperate need of help during a grand scale crisis. 

“The most important thing I realized from this was that people are the most important resource in a disaster. Some people truly rise to the occasion in stressful situations and those people become indispensable in an emergency.”

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