2005-03-11 / Columnists

On The Bayfront

By Elisa Hinken

Over the course of the last year, I’ve been hearing more and more about CERT training courses in various communities from Glen Cove to the Five Towns, as well as all of New York City.

What is CERT training you ask? CERT training was developed by The Emergency Management Institute (EMI), an education branch of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) that serves as the national focal point for the development and delivery of emergency management training. This training enhances the capabilities of the Federal, state, and local government, volunteer organizations, and the private sector to minimize the impact of disasters on the American public. EMI curricula, including the Independent Study Program (ISP) courses, are structured to meet the needs of this diverse audience with an emphasis on how the various elements work together in emergencies to save lives and protect property. The Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) is a federally funded, community-based program that provides training and on-going education to better prepare communities and individuals to respond to emergency situations. When an emergency or disaster happens, CERT members can give critical support to first-line responders and provide immediate assistance to their community within a coordinated, collaborative, and organized effort. CERT members can also help with non-emergency preparedness projects that help improve the overall safety and quality of living in their community.

CERT began in Los Angeles with the intention of better protecting residents living and working in the areas that are earthquake prone. Currently, the program has been launched in 28 states and is supported by FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency), EMI (Emergency Management Institute), and National Fire Academy (NFA), and New York State Emergency Management Office (SEMO).

Post 9/11, these programs have been popping up all over the place in an effort to locally mobilize volunteers and to educate the public in a small community-by-community basis. If anything good came out of such a tragic event on 9/11, it showed how vulnerable and ill prepared we are in cases of emergencies, whether terrorist-driven or in cases of natural disasters. CERT is the modern day version of the Civil Defense in the days of World War II, all the way up to the mid 1960’s (remember hiding under the desk in elementary school during drills conducted?). I guess the Vietnam War, civil rights protests and the feminist movement took the steam out of the Civil Defense exercises. However, we did let our guard down as we now remain extremely vulnerable on a local level and need to get together to educate ourselves, as well as coordinate emergency responses better.

As a nurse and EMT, I have devoted many years to public service to care for the sick and injured. One of the greatest tools I’ve learned in helping others is education. Preventative care and disease management enables a person to take control of their illness and outcomes rather than to feel they are at the sole mercy of the medical system to coordinate and disseminate care.

CERT training does just that for a local community when disaster strikes, rather than to wait for the Red Cross or Army to respond. If you remember, in those crucial hours and days post 9/11, medical supplies could not get to area hospitals fast enough because all the airplanes were grounded and bridges were closed except for emergency vehicles. It took one day to get a government plane into the air to deliver supplies. It took a week for naval ships to arrive. In the meantime, bottled water, masks and work gloves were wiped out of every store in the areas most in need of them, especially at ground zero.

One of the greatest capabilities of CERT training is the feeling of empowerment rather than feeling helpless when a hurricane strikes, a plane crashes or a power failure ensues. What if (G-d forbid) an entire building in the Dayton Towers community needed help? CERT volunteers are front-line providers who are coordinated to respond to aid his or her fellow man. No experience is required – only the desire to help. The Office of Emergency Management or the Red Cross acts as coordinators rather than front-line providers. They aren’t the first on the scene anyway – the community is!

CERT training is free. It is available upon request through your local Community Board. Local colleges are participating in such training. There are many courses involved, some of which does not apply to an urban area such as Rockaway (for instance, we don’t need “livestock management” at this time). Our local volunteer ambulance and fire departments are perfect venues for such a program. This course is also available through the Internet at: http://training.fema.gov/EMIWeb/.

Everyone can be involved, including our senior citizens, disabled and school children. The next time disaster strikes, maybe we won’t feel so helpless.

On a separate note, just a reminder to those who are interested in tree and shrub planting. The DEC’s annual sale of tree and shrub seedlings is underway. The sale will continue through May. DEC’s Saratoga Nursery will have a variety of shrubs and seedlings available, including conifers, hardwoods, container stock, and wildlife shrubs. Wildlife shrubs provide food and shelter for birds and mammals and make a good buffer between open and forested areas.

To order seedlings, call the Saratoga Nursery weekdays between 8 a.m. and 4:30 p.m. at (518) 587-1120. Call early for the best selection. Mail orders are also accepted and can be sent to Saratoga Tree Nursery, 2369 Route 50, Saratoga Springs, NY 12866. Seedlings are shipped in mid to late April. Plan with a neighbor because there are minimum orders on these.

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