For over 24 hours, 19 Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) members in greater Seabrook, Texas, were activated after a four-alarm fire destroyed three buildings and displaced over 100 people. They worked in shifts to help the Red Cross staff find temporary shelter and comfort for those affected. Storm preparedness, search and rescue and disaster cleanup are just some of the things that proactive citizens do who have been certified through CERT.
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It is one thing to drop everything and help your neighbors and community in a time of need, but if you don’t know about first aid, then stand back and hold the flashlight. Let those who know what they are doing take care of gushing wounds and busted bones. In times of emergency and disaster, minutes count and those with specific skill sets are the only ones capable of assisting first responders. The combination of willingness and training is what sets CERT personnel apart from the volunteering crowd.
CERT was an idea implemented by the Los Angeles Fire Department in 1985 with the purpose of training citizens as well as private and government employees. During previous disasters, multitudes of people had spontaneously volunteered, and some, due to their lack of training, were injured or killed. Take the case of the 1985 Mexico City earthquake. Untrained, spontaneous volunteers saved 800 people, but 100 volunteers lost their lives attempting to save victims. These kinds of tragedies are preventable through proper training.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) recognized the importance of prepping volunteers for disaster, and since 1993 it has provided training on a national level. To date, communities in 28 states and Puerto Rico have taken advantage of CERT training. In 2003, “Ready.gov” was launched as an initiative to help create awareness about preparing for an emergency, including wildfires, hurricanes and winter storms. Manmade disasters like chemical spills, terrorist hazards and other emergencies are also covered so volunteers can hone in on the disasters likely to hit them.
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The Ready.gov website offers suggestions on how to create a plan in the event of an emergency, as well as how to build a kit or bug-out bag. The website also offers opportunities for volunteers to get involved with programs in their communities. If you are a business owner, Ready.gov offers advice and tools to protect your business and employees. Making your children aware of the dangers of a disaster is also important, and Ready.gov helps parents explain dangerous concepts to kids.
CERT courses benefit anyone who takes the time to attend and participate in the training program. The program also helps volunteers understand their responsibility in preparing for disaster as well as increases their ability to safely help themselves, their family and their neighbors. Seven sessions make up the entire CERT course, with each session running two and a half hours long, one evening a week over a seven-week period.
Sessions include instruction on disaster preparedness, fire suppression, medical operations, light search-and-rescue operations, disaster psychology, team organization and more. Those who become involved in the CERT courses are better prepared than the average citizen to respond to and cope with the aftermath of a disaster. Communities can also supplement their response capabilities after a disaster by having CERT volunteers act as auxiliary responders. These extra hands can provide immediate assistance to victims in their community, organize spontaneous volunteers who have not had the training and collect disaster intelligence that will assist professional responders with prioritization and the allocation of resources.
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CERT makes you better trained to respond to whatever disaster or emergency events occur in your area. For more information, visit ready.gov.
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This article was originally published in the SURVIVOR’S EDGE™ Winter 2016 edition. Subscription is available in print and digital editions here.