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Emergency training

Monday, March 24, 2008

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Working in teams of two, participants in the Community Emergency Response Team training practice putting out a fire
(Photos by Jill Bock, Staff)
Classroom and hands-on exercises are used to teach local volunteers

PORTAGEVILLE - On April 2, 2006, Stacy Halterman realized just how important his training as a Community Emergency Response Team member would be.

That day, just moments after a tornado tore through Caruthersville, where Halterman lived with his family, he looked out and saw the devastation. First, he assured himself his family was OK, then he gathered emergency gear and began to check on others.

Today, Halterman is working to bring that training to more and more residents.

The director of the New Madrid Area CERT, considered a premiere group by the National Citizens' Corp., Halterman has some 22 active members on his team. The members have responded to not only the tornado in Caruthersville but also when hurricanes devastated the Gulf Coast and locally assisted with disasters like floods and missing persons.

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But the training of some two dozens volunteers won't be enough should a major disaster happen locally, he said.

"You have got to be prepared," emphasized Halterman. "When an earthquake hits - and I'm saying when, not if - you won't be able to get out of town. If it is a major earthquake it may be six to eight weeks before there is any major outside response. How are you going to continue on with life after a disaster like that?"

Those with training through CERT have that knowledge, said Barbara Bonee, who is one of the local CERT volunteers.

Training includes fire safety, light search and rescue, team organization and disaster medical operations. The New Madrid area CERT combines classroom and hands-on-exercises so those taking training can assist others in their neighborhood or workplace following an event when professional responders are not immediately available to help. "What we are trying to do is we want all citizens to be able to take care of themselves.

This takes the burden off the first responders allowing them to do the jobs they were trained to do," said Bonee.

The CERT training is 20 hours. Typically, Bonee said, this can be completed during a weekend or several evening classes. There is no charge for the training.

For Clint Quick, who participated in the most recent CERT training at Portageville, it was an eye-opening experience. He said he was surprised to learn how much the area could be affected by a major earthquake.

"It made me realize how unprepared I was," he said, adding since then he has begun putting together emergency supplies.

The training wasn't difficult, Quick said, but did require participants to pay attention in class before working on the skills in several exercises.

"There is some good stuff you need to know that would save your life or the lives of friends and family," said Quick about the training.

Participants in the CERT program should be 18 although those age 16 and accompanied by a parent can take part in the program. Also there is a teen CERT program for ages 14 and up.

Those who complete the initial training can go on for advanced training. Also refresher courses are offered to keep skills current.

To increase the effectiveness of the program, Missouri has linked local CERT programs together by region. Halterman explained putting CERT organizations together in the regional program enables the teams to prepare and train together. Working together, he said, will enable those involved to be familiar with the same terminology, skills and responses.

The New Madrid area CERT is part of the Region E CERT Alliance which is made up of the same area of Troop E of the Highway Patrol.

Also CERT requires a partnership between community members and local government, emergency management and response agencies. Recently members of the New Madrid Area CERT program met with the New Madrid County Commission to explain the local program.

According to Halterman with the backing of the county, the team could then seek grants and other funding.

The New Madrid Area CERT has earned the recognition of the National Citizens Corp Council which recently asked the group to become involved in efforts to update the national CERT training program. Halterman said they have already completed a survey and as their part will push for expanded training on earthquake preparedness and response.

After all, Halterman said, the key to any disaster response, whether in the Midwest, the Gulf Coast or elsewhere, is preparation.

"People need to get involved in preparation. If there is any lesson that Hurricane Katrina taught us is that if you are going to wait for the government to come in, you will be waiting a long time," he said. "CERT's mission is to teach the community. Then we will be OK because people know how to respond."

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Information about disaster preparation is available through local emergency management directors or available online at such sites as:

www.citizencorps.gov

www.redcross.org

www.fema.gov