Throughout the country teams are getting ready to act when Hurricane Dorian finally makes landfall in the United States— from the usual police and fire and rescue to the U.S. National Guard—but also Community Emergency Response Teams (CERT) in their own neighborhoods are preparing.
“A number of years ago, the federal government said we needed to get communities and individuals in communities trained to be able to take care of themselves for a period of time after a catastrophic event,” said Steve Bowman, Greene County CERT Coordinator. “The idea was to train citizens and put them in groups so they can help themselves, they can help their neighbors in a catastrophic incident so that emergency services who are going to be very, very overburdened can be relieved of some of the minor stuff that needs to go on.”
The Greene County Sheriff’s Office sponsors the local CERT program. There is a standard training program, offered through FEMA, which teaches everyday citizens team organization, fire safety, first aid and light search and rescue. Bowman said the Greene unit holds training programs locally twice per year.
“We really have one primary mission and two secondary missions,” Bowman said of the CERT volunteers. “Our primary mission is for us to train others to take care of themselves. Our secondary missions are to assist during events, whether it be a parade or something like that, and to attend public events with information and ask people to join us.”
Participants can take the training as high as they wish, from the basic emergency preparations to become shelter volunteer certified.
“One of the things this group has been talking about this year is getting certified in some other areas,” Bowman said. “So, if a shelter should open in Greene County during a flood or whatever there will be three or four people that can be called to assist that shelter.”
Greene County Sheriff Steve Smith said knowing there are numerous volunteers in the community that can care for themselves, their families and their neighbor in an emergency is invaluable.
“There is no doubt in my mind in Greene County if we put out a call for people to help they’d come. The problem is you need to be certified,” Smith said. “CERT is very valuable. They’ve already proven themselves lots of times.”
Kimberly Berglund said the CERT program was a refresher for what she’d learned in the military.
“I think we got a lot more out of it than we ever thought we would, even though it was long nights with going straight from work to the class,” she said.
George Long was in the original course for Greene.
“Most of us didn’t even know if we would carry on,” he said. “We just thought we were going to take training that was useful for us, like how to use a fire extinguisher. It’s amazing how few people know how to do it properly.”
Bowman said people can take the course and not volunteer, though not many do.
“The idea is that you now have some basic skills to help you in an emergency. If public safety officials can’t get to you in a crisis, at least you have some place to start,” he said. “It’s surprising how many people don’t even know how or where to start.”
Greene County CERT is accepting registrations for a fall course through its website at greenecert.org. Organizations can also request a CERT presentation from volunteers to inform the public about what the program is. Class participants need to be 18 years old. According to FEMA there are more than 2,700 local CERT programs nationwide with more than 600,000 individuals trained since CERT became a national program. Find Greene County CERT on Facebook @greenecountyvacert to learn more or email Steve Bowman at firstname.lastname@example.org.