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Gimme shelter

To a large degree, an attorney working for one of the largest and most prestigious technology companies in the world must be wired to thrive under pressure. That she would face her most intense situations off the clock, however, surely establishes Katherine J. Fick as not-your-average corporate counsel.

Fick, counsel for IBM’s Software Group, was recently selected as a member of the ShelterBox Response Team, a group of highly trained volunteers who deliver aid to survivors of natural and other disasters around the world.

“As lawyers, we become skilled at making decisions in team environments under considerable pressure; we also learn to adjust our priorities as needed,” Fick says. “This experience was invaluable in training to become an SRT, as was knowing how to negotiate with people who may have very different interests.”

While ShelterBox, an international relief charity based in Cornwall, England, could aptly be described as a humanitarian relief organization, the compassion it doles out to deserving victims belies the harsh treatment to which it subjects its potential members.

Indeed, lest you think completing the SRT application process is merely a cakewalk to frost a corporate lawyer’s resume, think again — candidates must complete a meticulous four-step progression culminating in an intensive, nine-day selection and training course designed not only to challenge the candidates physically but also to test their emotional resolve under the direst of conditions.

The course completed by Fick and 14 other candidates from the U.S., England, Germany and New Zealand was specifically engineered to subject the prospective members to circumstances similar to those they’d face as SRTs delivering aid in the immediate aftermath of a disaster — a environment decidedly different than a plugged-in Boston suburb.

“It involved an assessment round at a remote ranch in central Texas in August, then training in subfreezing temperatures in Cornwall,” Fick says. “We became quite familiar with life in tents, and compasses, packs and windblown ‘yomps’ are not ordinarily parts of life in Boston.”

As a full-fledged SRT, Fick’s next order of business with ShelterBox could very well take her to one of any number of remote and chaotic environments not suited for the faint-hearted. Apart from human tragedy, the infrastructure of the affected area may be in ruins and communications with home limited. Fick and her fellow SRTs must be totally self-sufficient and capable of operating without adding to the burden of the people they are there to help.

“When my more exotic vaccinations are complete, I could be asked to respond to a disaster on one week’s notice,” Fick says.

Talk about a hard deadline.