Community Emergency Response Team training begins in Stafford

By Annie Gentile - ReminderNews
Stafford - posted Tue., May. 7, 2013
People at the CERT training broke up into random groups for a team-building exercise. Team 2 consisted of Jody Steppen, Barbara, Kim Post and Lois Goodin. Photos by Annie Gentile.
People at the CERT training broke up into random groups for a team-building exercise. Team 2 consisted of Jody Steppen, Barbara, Kim Post and Lois Goodin. Photos by Annie Gentile.

When Mother Nature rears her ugly head, she can cause quite a stir. Who can forget the October 2011 snowstorm that caused massive power outages for days on end? The unprecedented storm forced the town of Stafford to open an emergency shelter for residents for the first time in years, and it was a catalyst for establishing a Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) in town.

On Wednesday, May 1, at Hope Springs Church, a 20-hour, 10-session training program for the town’s first CERT began in earnest.

The program was organized by local resident Natalie Clark, a member of the Eastern Connecticut State University CERT.

Sgt. Frank Prochaska, Stafford’s emergency management director, who attended a portion of the first meeting, said that until a few years ago, he might not have felt the need for a CERT in Stafford, but after the October 2011 storm and the subsequent opening of a shelter in town, he realized he really could have used the help of many more volunteers to staff the shelter and take on a multitude of tasks. “We could also use CERT members for hands-on, non-emergency events like SummerFest and the Memorial Day parade,” he said.

First Selectman Richard Shuck was one of about a dozen people who attended the first session. “Public safety is a top priority for me, and I’m here because I need to know how this operation works,” he said.

Training throughout the course is being led by Bill Nelligan, a CERT trainer who is a member of the Wesleyan University CERT team.

“This is your first step into the world of emergency service as a community member,” Nelligan said, and while he cautioned that attendees would not have the same authority as first responders at an emergency, the basic training they receive will be intensive, with the opportunity for CERT members to specialize in many other areas. The basic training consists of several modules that cover areas such as emergency preparedness, triage, fire safety, light search and rescue, and disaster psychology.

Nelligan said the CERT program is a national program, funded by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), and so participants in CERT training in Connecticut will get the same training that they would if they attended a CERT training in Arizona or anywhere else in the country. Additionally, because it is part of a federal program, there is a level of bureaucracy that must be mastered, including understanding the incident management system and how to properly document losses in order to get federal reimbursements. Additionally, as part of a national program, CERT members learn that they never self-deploy to a disaster site, but rather wait until their CERT is activated and called in. “The state has to approve the use of a particular CERT at an event. The last thing we want is more victims,” said Nelligan.

Part of the first module involved an exercise in which participants were broken up randomly into three groups. Each group was given two pieces of cardboard, 40 sheets of paper, a pair of scissors and a roll of tape, and 10 minutes to strategize how they might use the materials to build a 5-foot-high, free-standing tower, then another 10 minutes to accomplish the task. While none of the three groups was completely successful, the drill demonstrated to participants how they will need to learn to work in unfamiliar environments and at unfamiliar tasks, sometimes with people they don’t know.

“This drill was all about collaboration,” said Nelligan. “You may have started to see roles emerge. Who were the natural leaders in your group? Who were the operational people? What role will you play in the event of an emergency?”

Clark said she is extremely grateful to Hope Springs Church and Pastor Kris Young for providing the use of their facilities for the training, to Second Angels at Home owner Tamatha Race for providing child care, and to Penny Hanley and Howley Insurance Agency for supplying materials. “This truly is a community effort,” she said. For more information about participating in the CERT program, contact Clark at

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