Last week Tricia Granfors and I sat down for a little chat which I asked her to tell APN about the CERT program in North East Ohio. CERT is found throughout the US.
APN: Can you tell American Preppers Network what brought you into CERT?
In 2006 I was serving in the Mayor’s office for the City of North Olmsted. One of the duties is taking meeting minutes for the Westshore Council of Governments (WCOG). The Council is made up of the six Westshore mayors (Bay Village, Fairview Park, Lakewood, North Olmsted, Rocky River, and Westlake). Their purpose is to collaborate and cooperate regionally for the benefit of all residents. It was at one of these meetings Dale Kraus, then serving as the City of Westlake Safety Officer, presented the CERT program to the mayors. The cities of Lakewood and Rocky River had started municipal teams; he felt one regional team would better serve the residents. The concept resonated with me. It made sense. I decided then to complete the training. It made sense to the mayors also. The Westshore Regional CERT (WSC) was born.
What does CERT stand for and how did the program get started?
“The Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) Program educates people about disaster preparedness for hazards that may impact their area and trains them in basic disaster response skills, such as fire safety, light search and rescue, team organization, and disaster medical operations. Using the training learned in the classroom and during exercises, CERT members can assist others in their neighborhood or workplace following an event when professional responders are not immediately available to help. CERT members also are encouraged to support emergency response agencies by taking a more active role in emergency preparedness projects in their community” (http://www.citizencorps.gov/cert/).
The Community Emergency Response Team concept was developed and implemented by the City of Los Angeles Fire Department in 1985. It was recognized that residents were sometimes cut off from emergency services during the early stages of local emergencies and could be isolated for some time after a catastrophic disaster. With some basic training in disaster preparedness, medical, and rescue skills, citizens are better able to cope and help others until professional assistance can arrive.
What is your title, and how long have you been involved in the program?
I serve as the Westshore Regional CERT Coordinator. I completed the CERT basic training in early 2007 and then accepted the Administration Chief position with the City of Brook Park CERT. Concurrently I began working with Dale Kraus as Deputy Coordinator to organize and establish the Westshore Regional CERT. Meanwhile, in Brook Park I was promoted to the coordinator position. When Dale Kraus accepted the provisional fire chief position for Westlake, I was appointed team coordinator of the WSC by the WCOG. I resigned from the Brook Park CERT leadership position in 2010 when I decided to continue my education. Managing the team has become part of my job through the City of North Olmsted. All the mayors pay into an account for a certain number of hours per week. I also work in the Department of Planning and Development.
As of early April 2012 there are 240 members and approximately 30 individuals participating in the current basic training class. This class will complete the training on April 14, 2012. Most will become members of the team. Basic training is offered twice per year.
Can husbands and wives join as a team?
Absolutely; many couples take the training together and become team members. The initial training, continuing education opportunities, and team participation provide relevant and interesting activities to share and allows them to be “on the same page” at home with regards to emergency planning.
Is there a downside to joining CERT?
The National CERT 20-hour basic training course, offered by many teams and regional training centers in the Greater Cleveland area, is free. There are exceptions, but most programs do not require team membership to complete the training. In this regard, it is my feeling that the cost of 20 hours plus driving time is well worth the knowledge, skills, and abilities participants gain.
As a member, teams do have minimum participation requirements. Garden clubs, book clubs, quilting bees, and other volunteer organizations all add to a communities’ quality of life and are worthwhile. A CERT member however, could be activated to support professional responders in a local or regional disaster. Due to this, continued education and knowledge of team status is required for the member’s, the team’s, and the public’s safety and to seamlessly integrate with all responders.
Therefore, some time commitment is required. Once again, the donated time is rewarded with free quality training, camaraderie, teamwork, networking within the team, and the satisfaction of giving back to your community in a significant way. Many members also satisfy continuing education requirements for their careers through team membership.
How is CERT funded?
Every few years Homeland Security (through the state and county) provides CERT start-up grants and smaller grants for existing teams. It should come as no surprise that the current economy has reduced the grant amounts. Beyond this modest funding, team support varies. Some municipalities and universities that sponsor teams have the ability to provide financial support to some degree; most do not. The cities of the Westshore support the team through the paid coordinator position, use of facilities, storage and maintenance of the trailers, equipment, and supplies, promotion to the community, postage and document copying costs, support and recognition by the mayors and city councils, consulting, financial and legal assistance, and in many other valuable ways.
However, for ongoing training, equipment, and supply needs, the team must raise funds through grants (both cash and material needs), hosting fundraising events and sales, and seeking cash donations at community events. As a regional organization under the Westshore Council of Governments, the WSC is a tax-exempt 501(c)(3) organization. In the past couple of years District 1 Cuyahoga Council Member David Greenspan has been a great help to both the Westshore and Olmsted CERT in this regard.
Nationally, the CERT program is administrated through Citizen Corps, which falls under FEMA and Homeland Security. First, all teams must abide by the national standards, policies, and procedures. Second, teams follow the laws and ordinances of their sponsoring municipality(ies) or organization. The State of Ohio and Cuyahoga County emergency management agencies, the County Citizen Corps Council, and Cuyahoga CERT Association all share leadership roles as well. Finally, team members follow the guidelines established for that team.
Daily administration also varies by team. I coordinate and manage the WSC and answer to the Westshore mayors. Fairview Park Fire Chief Bud Williams serves as the team’s advisor and representative to the Cuyahoga CERT Association Board of Directors.
What is the opinion of first responders, such as the fire department, police, etc., to CERT?
As regards the Northeast Ohio area, our professional responders have been very supportive of the teams, especially those who have experienced disasters, large and small. As an example, the H1N1 public health emergency of 2009 and 2010 and resulting public vaccination clinics underscored the need for many trained hands and feet. Although area safety administrators are familiar with the CERT program and purpose, the ongoing challenge is that there are still many fire fighters, paramedics, and police officers that are not. As we continue to work and train with our hometown heroes however, that gap is diminishing.
Can you tell us what activations CERT has been called out to offer help on? Do you make a difference to the community? Do local governments support CERT?
Before the Westshore Regional was formed, Lakewood CERT was called out to assist with residents displaced due to a bomb threat. Several years ago Parma CERT, with mutual aid from several other teams including the Westshore, operated a shelter for residents of an apartment complex after the property was severely flooded in a heavy rain event. As mentioned, WSC members as well as CERTs from all over the county assisted in operating 12 H1N1 vaccine PODs (points of dispensing), which were open on four dates with three PODs per date (east, south/central, and west) under the leadership of the Cuyahoga County Board of Health.
Nationally, examples of CERT assistance in the past year include the Bay, TX CERT, which partnered with the Red Cross responding to an apartment fire; members of the Greenbelt, MD CERT assisted with an Eastern Shore search-and-rescue mission; Spartanburg, SC CERT provided support during a brush fire; and the Monterey, CA CERT cleared beaches during a tsunami threat. These and many more examples of CERT activation can be found at http://www.citizencorps.gov/cert/certinaction/index.shtm.
It is the team’s hope to never need to be activated for a large disaster in our area. Like buying insurance before the accident, CERT is valuable insurance for our nation and our neighborhoods. We work to remain prepared for any contingency.
CERT members assist with many non-emergency community events such as manning first aid booths, pedestrian and traffic assistance, perimeter control around downed trees and power lines, providing presentations and materials on disaster preparedness, assisting professional responders with training exercises, and assisting with races and other local events.
What in your opinion is the greatest threat in North East Ohio?
One of the goals of the CERT program is to discuss disasters common or possible in the area and how to prepare for them. In NE Ohio we don’t worry much about tsunamis, hurricanes, forest fires, or mudslides. Our threats include but are not limited to flooding, winter storms, heat-related emergencies, tornadoes and strong winds, power outages, hazardous material spills, airplane crashes, flash mobs, explosions, and pandemics. Although we do experience earthquakes, they are not considered a major threat to the region. It is difficult to say which is the greatest threat. In my opinion a pandemic could affect the most people. A house fire would not be considered a major event, but it certainly is a disaster for at least one family.
The CERT program does not seek to frighten people with possibilities; it seeks to provide peace of mind, confidence, and the ability to cope with the unexpected.
In your opinion what type of people join CERT? How active do you have to be? Are there any special skills one needs to have to join the program?
In my experience, the people who join the team care about their community, have a desire to give back to society and their nation, wish to leave a legacy for their family and community, and all-in-all have the heart of a volunteer. Many members are involved in other civic-based organizations and efforts as well. As attributed to Sherry Anderson, “Volunteers don’t get paid, not because they’re worthless, but because they’re priceless.”
No special skills are needed to join the team. I haven’t met anyone yet that had nothing of value to offer. Our prior life experiences and the CERT training work together quite effectively.
Minimum participation varies by team. For the WSC, minimum requirements include attendance at two general meetings per calendar year (scheduled every other month) and three relevant training sessions of some kind. Training is included at every general meeting, which meets both requirements. Other training on a multitude of subjects is offered by the team, online, throughout the county, and beyond. For those interested in more participation and leadership, there are many projects and leadership opportunities. It is also hoped that members will assist with community events from time to time. Not only does working these events provide valuable support to the city, but also provides practice in various response skills, communications, and teamwork.
The CERT basic training course begins with a basic disaster preparedness class. We need to ensure our families are safe and secure before even thinking of leaving them to assist elsewhere. Other modules include fire safety including hands-on training with fire extinguishers, two emergency medical modules, light search and rescue, CERT organization, which reflects the Incident Command System (ICS), disaster psychology, and terrorism awareness. The last class puts the curriculum together into a hands-on, practical final drill.
Do you have any fun at CERT or is it all work?
It is true that some of the subjects can be sobering. However, CERT is not about digging a hole in the backyard and filling it with MRE’s and ammunition. It is about taking reasonable, realistic, rational precautions and sensible steps to enhance preparedness. While doing this we have a lot of fun. Every graduating class has its own stories and private jokes, friendships are strengthened and new ones are formed, the team camaraderie is strong, and being of service to the community and our professional responders brings a sense of accomplishment and satisfaction.
Let’s say that there is a dangerous train derailment in the area and CERT is activated, what happens? Who is in charge? Who gives the orders?
First, someone (or many) would dial 911; emergency dispatch would get the responders rolling. The first to arrive at the scene is automatically the Incident Commander until relieved by another with more experience and/or seniority. The person/position that ultimately assumes the Incident Commander position would depend on the type of event. In this case, most likely the local fire chief or his/her designee would take control. At the same time, dispatch would be calling for mutual aid from nearby communities as directed by the first responders.
Once the incident has been assessed, the Incident Commander may decide that CERT assistance is needed. This could perhaps be for perimeter control, operating a shelter for adjacent residents if evacuation is necessary, or any number of other tasks. In the Westshore area we use a system called VoiceShot. A voice mail can be recorded and then sent out by phone to all members of the team with instructions. The team can also post news on the website (www.westshorecert.org) and Twitter (@westshorecert) as well as email for extended incidents.
Can you tell us what those mysterious numbers and signs in the circle signify that we saw on the structures after Hurricane Katrina mean?
Search and rescue teams use search markings to indicate the structure is in the process of being searched or has been searched. By looking at the markings, other responders can determine several facts. They will know if the search crew is still inside or have since left. They can ascertain when it was searched (date and time). They can see if any hazards were found. They can also know if there are persons within needing rescue or have expired (sometimes rescue teams follow after the initial search teams). The search markings communicate vital information to other responders and help to avoid duplication of effort. If the structure has been thoroughly searched there is no need to do it again. CERT members are taught search marking skills during the light search and rescue class.
Will the skills that one learns in CERT help them to prepare for a disaster?
It certainly will – that’s what it’s all about! Mitigation is everyone’s responsibility. We need to take responsibility for ourselves, our families and our neighbors.
The final question: how can someone join CERT?
Many Greater Cleveland area cities support Community Emergency Response Teams. Most are considered part of or aligned with the fire department. If no direct contact information is available on the city’s website, calling the fire department or city hall is a good start. Residents of the Westshore communities may contact me for additional information (firstname.lastname@example.org, 440.716.4135). For most area teams I can also assist citizens outside the Westshore reach their CERT representative.
Prospective members must be over 18, pass a background check, and complete the 20-hour FEMA CERT basic training course. Some teams require additional qualifications.