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Front Page » August 8, 2002 » Local News » Communities rally for protection
Published 4,367 days ago

Communities rally for protection


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By RICHARD SHAW
Staff reporter

American communities generally leave the defensive posture of the country relating to terrorism to the military and law enforcement authorities.

But many communities at locations across the United States are joining ranks to mitigate damage and following events should such attacks occur.

Community emergency response teams are popping up throughout the nation in light of last September's disaster.

At present, the majority of the communities with emergency response teams are larger cities. But small towns are beginning to jump on the bandwagon.

CERT organizations are not new. The teams began years ago as a bastion of help for areas impacted by natural disasters, long before terrorism in the U.S. was considered a real threat.

But within the last year, the response teams have taken on special meaning.

"CERT programs teach people first aid, some basic rescue techniques and some light fire fighting skills," points out Carbon County emergency coordinator Dennis Dooley. "These teams take over when they are the only ones available, usually in the case of a situation where regular emergency responders are overwhelmed by the scale of the disaster."

The idea of a CERT type of program started in Los Angeles in 1985, primarily due to the work of the California city's fire department.

The LA fire department recognized that trained volunteers could help during catastrophes such as the southern California area had suffered in prior years.

In Utah, only a few major cities like Salt Lake and Bountiful have similar programs. But the numbers are growing steadily and since 9-11 the programs have increased significantly.

In states like California and Florida, the teams have been growing almost faster than the infrastructure to train volunteers can handle.

The situation seems to be a reaction to citizens wanting to do something to prepare for the worst case scenerio, whether it be manmade or natural.

"Generally, these teams consist of six people and some light equipment," indicates Dooley. "In an emergency their job would be to handle some extraction of trapped individuals, battle small fires and do some triage."

At present, Price and the surrounding area have no CERT team, but the situation may change in the near future.

More than 170 communities have already registered response teams with the U.S. Federal Emergency Management Administration.

With many more local governments getting started with the process of forming teams, the program could produce an entire generation of trained rescuers, according to state and federal officials.

It appears that the Sept. 11, 2001 attack on America, coupled with the circumstances surrounding the fire fighters and police, has ignited a spark in U.S. citizens. The spark has taken emergency response training to new heights.

However, CERT teams cannot be formed and adequately equipped without financial support. Nationally, there have been a variety of approaches to funding the programs. Some communities have built the emergency response programs into governmental budgets, while others are charging participants to cover the costs for instructors and course materials

At least one state offers grants to get community response programs started, according to FEMA officials. In a few communities, CERT groups have formed non-profit organizations to conduct fundraisers.

"Carbon County is interested in putting together CERT teams, but we need an instructor to train people," points out Dooley, who went through the training in 1997. "With the right individual who could be trained to train others, the county might be able to help sponsor at least some of the cost."

That's exactly the type of thing FEMA is interested in promoting. CERT requires a partnership between community members, local government and existing emergency response agencies.

It is important to develop a plan that covers training, maintenance and activation standards as well as some way to administrate and fund the program, emphasize FEMA officials.

However, there is more to setting up CERT teams than initial training and money. As with any skill, the procedures a person learns to be come part of a CERT squad requires refreshing periodically.

Many CERT organizations have monthly meetings to update and refresh skills. And at least a once a year, the groups plan a seminar for new ideas as well as additional training. Training exercises that simulate real situations are also a must.

Another important aspect of CERT is that team leadership should have a coordination relationship with the regular emergency responders in a community. Regular personnel need to know what the teams are and are not capable of handling. Coordination in the event of a disaster is also important.

One advantage of local residents belonging to a CERT team is that, in times of disaster, individuals with at least some basic training in skills are needed on the scene almost immediately.

Having a CERT team operating in the immediate area makes response time for individual neighborhoods and locals almost instantaneous.

The civil defense wardens of World War II and section leaders for evacuation to fallout shelters are pretty much a thing of the past.

Pre-emptive information about possible terrorist activities has virtually become the responsibility of all U.S. citizens. Developing, manning and funding CERT organizations appears to play a crucial role in fulfilling the responsibility.


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