CERT seeking to train local volunteers

By Annie Gentile - ReminderNews
Somers, Ellington, Vernon - posted Sat., Jan. 14, 2012
Many people attended the CERT orientation at the Vernon ambulance building on Jan. 7. Photos by Annie Gentile.
Many people attended the CERT orientation at the Vernon ambulance building on Jan. 7. Photos by Annie Gentile.

If 2011 will be remembered for anything in Connecticut, it will be for the intensity of large-scale disasters that struck the area. From the early 2011 heavy snowfall that caused widespread roof collapses, to tropical storm Irene, to the unprecedented October snowstorm that tore down tree limbs and electrical wires, leaving residents without power for more than a week, local emergency management personnel had their hands more than full.

In such emergencies, few local emergency managers could handle the volume of work involved alone, and this is where Community Emergency Response Teams (CERTs) come into play.

On Saturday, Jan. 7, at the Vernon ambulance building, CERTs for the communities of Somers, Ellington and Vernon held an orientation meeting to recruit new volunteers. On hand were CERT instructors representing all three towns, who provided an overview of the program and answered questions.

“We’re not so-called ‘first responders,’ so we don’t expect you to be police, fire or EMS personnel. Rather, we’re a resource for them to use,” said Al Sheridan, Vernon CERT coordinator.

After successfully completing a free 24-hour initial emergency preparedness training program, CERTs may then be activated by local emergency managers to volunteer their time during emergencies to man emergency shelters, distribute commodities, screen calls in emergency operations centers, assist with search and rescue operations, and do damage assessments, among many other things. The tasks they take on are very important, not only for what they do, but also because they free up first responders to be able to handle more specialized responsibilities. Besides helping out during emergency situations, CERT members also provide support to local police such as crowd control during parades and other major town events.

“Emergency managers will never put you in a situation that will hurt you, and you will never be asked to do something you didn’t train for or are uncomfortable doing,” said Peter Debrino, Somers CERT coordinator.

Beyond the initial training, Debrino said CERT members may also receive additional training in a variety of areas, including ham radio operation, which has been used by the Red Cross as a major communication tool during power outages. While ham radio communication is an old technology, Debrino said Somers utilized it after the October storm to keep in contact with their emergency shelter.

“Sometimes old-school is the best school,” he said.

Sheridan said volunteers are not required to be at every CERT activity, and they welcome new recruits even if they can only give a small amount of their time.

“We want people to know it’s okay if you can’t show up immediately. Take care of yourself and your families and neighbors first, then come out to help your community,” said Sheridan.

There are more than 4,000 certified CERTs in the state, with several towns hosting more than one team, but the Somers, Ellington and Vernon CERTs are believed to be the first multi-town collaborative CERT effort in Connecticut. Additionally, CERT training is valid anywhere in the country, enabling members to volunteer to help out wherever they might be needed.

For example, some Ellington CERT members volunteered their time in Middletown after the Kleen Energy Systems power plant explosion in early 2010, handling administrative tasks and security detail, said Ellington CERT trainer Kenlyn Striver.

Striver said some towns in the state have not felt the need to establish a CERT and suffered for not having enough trained volunteers when the October snowstorm struck. For this reason, she said it is always important to keep up with the recruiting process.

CERT training for all three towns will be held on three Saturdays - March 31, April 14, and April 28 - at locations to be determined. Anyone interested in the training, or with questions about the program, should send their inquiries to VernonCert@yahoo.com. 

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