CERT training program seeks loccal volunteers

As the Katrina hurricane has illustrated, people in the midst of a disaster may have to depend on themselves and their neighbors to survive.

In order to help people effectively assist their communities in the face of a crisis, the Federal Emergency Management Agency developed a training program in 1994 for local community preparedness. It allows community-minded folks nationwide to become trained and certified members of Community Emergency Response Teams, or CERT.

About a year before Katrina hit the Gulf coast, Oak Harbor Police Chief Steve Almon learned about the CERT program and thought it could be something that could benefit the community. After all, it wouldn’t take much of a storm or disaster to isolate the island community.

He figured that a group like the volunteer Community on Patrol could help organize the endeavor.

Tuesday, Almon’s idea took a major step forward. More than a dozen interested community members attended a CERT briefing at the police station, put on by Island County Emergency Planner Mike Simmons.

Yet Almon and the other organizers are hoping that many more people will participate in the program, especially now after Katrina.

Simmons explained that the county used to have a CERT program, and some in the community are still trained, but maintaining the program was difficult.

He explained that just about anyone can become a CERT member. You don’t have to be a firefighter or a police officer. In some communities, high school students are involved.

The aim of the CERT program is to educate people about preparing for disasters and helping the community if a disaster does occur.

“It could give you skills to keep you and your loved ones alive,” Simmons said. “You want to be an asset, not a liability.”

Also, CERT teams free up firefighters and other professionals to do more intense or technical work.

It’s a serious commitment. The training involves nine instructional “modules.” Participants attend the two-hour classes weekly over a nine-week period. Hopefully, there will also be refresher classes.

The subject matter is wide ranging. It includes disaster preparedness, fire safety, disaster medical operations, light search and rescue, CERT organization and disaster psychology. The newest module, Simmons said, deals with terrorism.

Even if there’s not a disaster, the effort isn’t wasted.

Members of the team can help the community with things like smoke alarm checks, distribute disaster education material and provide services at special events. Not to mention, building a sense of community.

“You don’t have to have a disaster to have your team work,” Simmons said.

You can reach Jessie Stensland at or 675-6611.

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