By Dedra Cordle
Donna Bogue believes in preparing for emergencies.
Since becoming a lifeguard at the age of 15, she has maintained certification in CPR and other first aid techniques in the event an emergency situation should arise in her presence.
“It has been several decades since I was a lifeguard but it was important that I kept up with that life-saving knowledge,” she said. “I have always been an advocate for safety training – for myself and for others – because you never know what is going to happen.”
With her long-held conviction, it was no surprise when she marked a date on her calendar upon learning that a representative with Franklin County Emergency Management and Homeland Security would be presenting an informational emergency preparedness session in the village of Urbancrest.
“I was excited to learn they were coming here,” she said. “The information these officials can offer is incredibly beneficial.”
The informational session was held on Jan. 27 in lieu of the village’s monthly health and safety meeting. It was presented by the committee members who had invited Christopher Williams, the agency’s operation resource manager, to discuss a program that encourages residents to take a more active role in emergency situations.
The Community Education Response Training (CERT) program, said Williams, is designed to educate residents about disaster preparedness and other hazards that may impact their community.
“It trains them in basic disaster response skills such as fire safety, light search and rescue, team organization and disaster medical operations.”
He said while first responders do a terrific job at responding to emergency situations, there are some occasions where they may not be able to get there for a length of time.
“We know they always do their best at getting there quickly, but in the event they are unable you have to be that first response,” he told the crowd.
The way this training programs works, he said, is through a nine-week course instructed by first responders and other state and federal officials that touches upon a plethora of topics.
According to Williams, the training units include preparedness; disaster fire suppression; medical operations; light urban search and rescue; disaster psychology; CERT organization; terrorism and CERT; and disaster simulation.
He said since the agency began offering the program more than two decades ago, more than 425 citizens have graduated from the program with hundreds of thousands having graduated nationally.
“We do not and cannot replace first responders,” Williams said. “But we can teach people to know what to do in the event of an emergency.”
One such emergency situation brought up at the meeting was the derecho that swept across the central Ohio region in 2012. The event left thousands without power for weeks, including those in the village of Urbancrest.
In response to the event, which village officials called a “complete mess”, the council and administration collaborated to create their own emergency preparedness plan. It was adopted in April 2019 and stresses the importance of residential engagement in CERT.
Alicia Wiggins, a council member who is also on the health and safety committee, has been an avid proponent of the program since learning of it years ago.
“The program is beneficial because the more information residents have regarding what to do in the event of an emergency, the better,” she wrote in an email. “We cannot expect people to act solely on instinct. Having the tools, along with practical application, is key.
“We also have to consider that having this knowledge can possibly help to avert an emergency; knowing what to look for to prevent situations is just as important as reacting to those situations.”
The plan calls for a small team of residents to go through the nine-week course and achieve certification; they will then apply their knowledge in local emergency situations such as weather events or other man-made or natural disasters.
The training program is free but it is also a time commitment with limited scheduling opportunity; the agency holds the program two to three times a year at their headquarters near Gahanna and each of the nine unit sessions in the program is roughly three hours.
Wiggins said she knows that the location can be a bit of a drive for some residents, but she said they were all neighbors and could figure something out.
Williams said the agency is also open to setting up the course in communities but they have to have a firm commitment from at least 20 residents. Wiggins said interested parties can email the health and safety committee at firstname.lastname@example.org
The agency is currently accepting applications and inquiries for the scheduled CERT program dates in 2020 and 2021. They will start a new unit March 26-May 21 and Aug. 20-Oct. 15 in 2020 with tentative dates of March 25-May 20 and Aug. 26 – Oct. 21 in 2021.
For more information, visit www.fcemhs.org. To get a sense of what you will learn in the program in greater detail, visit www.ready.gov/CERT.