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Building a culture of preparedness

The Community Emergency Response Team concept was developed and implemented by the Los Angeles Fire Department in 1985.

The fire department created a pilot program to teach a core group of community members about basic fire suppression, first-aid components, search models and evacuation techniques that would later provide evidence of how valuable the pilot program was. The trained community members used their training and demonstrated the effectiveness during the Whittier Narrows earthquake in 1987. The earthquake underscored the area-wide threat of a major disaster in California. Further, it confirmed the need to train civilians to meet the immediate needs within the disaster area where injuries to life and the environment overwhelm the response capabilities of professionals.

CERT became a national program in 1993 offering the training program to communities nationwide through the Federal Emergency Management Agency and Department of Homeland Security. CERT programs are now in all 50 states, including many tribal nations and U.S. territories. Each program is unique to its community and all are essential to building a culture of preparedness in the United States. There are over 2,700 local CERT programs nationwide and more than 600,000 people have trained with the current model since CERT became a national program.

Ashland’s program began soon after the community experienced a major flood on New Year’s Day 1997. The flood caused millions of dollars in damage to infrastructure, closed businesses in the downtown corridor, and left much of the community without running water for upward of two weeks. The perfect storm, some call it, would showcase the affinity of the community to come together and make necessary changes that would improve the quality of life in Ashland for future generations. The Ashland CERT program graduated its first class in 1999 and has trained over 900 citizens since then.

Citizen training includes home safety and preparedness, effective fire suppression and safety, utilities control, hazardous materials awareness, disaster medical operations in the disaster field, the incident command system, urban search and rescue and evacuation techniques, two-way radio communications, and the psychology of disaster not only for those impacted by the disaster but for responders also.

The Ashland program oversees more than 125 active local citizen volunteers through the oversight of Ashland Fire and Rescue. The community preparedness coordinator uses the FEMA curriculum offering two annual free training opportunities each spring and fall. Once citizens complete the 30-hour introductory course they may attend more in-depth training throughout the year to strengthen their awareness and response skills. Future opportunities allow citizens to develop understandings in areas of interest related to disaster preparedness while ensuring the Ashland community and first responders additional capacity in capabilities when the next local disaster strikes.

Volunteers are able to use their training efforts to support the response of large-scale events such as earthquakes, floods and other weather-related events, wildfires and much more through the training they receive. The spring session is filling up quickly, however, another free training session will take place in October. To learn more about CERT and other preparedness information, see www.ashlandcert.org

Terri Stewart is community preparedness coordinator for Ashland.

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