EL DORADO — The images are striking — a woman in shorts battling a small fire as she is consumed by smoke, a group of people using a blanket to move what appears to be a body. Those images, created by Butler County Emergency Management, grab attention.
But closer inspection reveals that the people within were not responding to a major emergency — for one, most of the people in them were smiling. And then there are the captions — what viewers are looking at was a training exercise.
Just like the photos, the training is a bit different as well. It was not first responders learning how to deal with an emergency — it was average joes. People interested in what is called the Community Emergency Response Team.
“The Community Emergency Response Team is basically a concept that if you train citizens in basic disaster response, then if you do have a major incident where you have stretched your cops, your medics, your firefighters and your emergency responders way to thin and you can’t get help to everyone, you have a sprinkling of folks throughout communities that have some skills beyond your normal first aid or CPR,” said Keri Korthals, director of the Butler County Emergency management. “They can step in and help their friends and neighbors until the first responders arrive.”
The Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) program trains volunteers in disaster preparedness — specific to events that could impact their area. Volunteers are trained in basic disaster response skills such as fire safety, light search and rescue, team organization, and disaster medical operations.
In Butler County, the team has grown over the last nearly decade and a half it has been in existence. Right now there are about 54 people rostered as members of the team.
“There are people we see more often than others just based on the amount of time they are able to give,” Korthals said.” “We have 30 to 40 who are much more active, and then there is that core group that is constantly there when you call. That is about 20 to 30 people.”
CERT is a nationwide approach to volunteer training and organization designed so professional responders can rely on other groups during disaster situations — allowing them to focus on more complex tasks. Through CERT, the capabilities to prepare for, respond to and recover from disasters is built and enhanced.
The CERT concept was developed and implemented by the Los Angeles City Fire Department in 1985. The Whittier Narrows earthquake in 1987 underscored the area-wide threat of a major disaster in California. Further, it confirmed the need for training civilians to meet their immediate needs.
The CERT program was designed as a grassroots initiative and structured so that local and state program managers have the flexibility to form their programs in the way that best suits their communities.
The next training in Butler County will be sometime this fall — likely October.
“It is a pretty big class to put on, so we like to give our instructors a break,” Korthals said.
CERT volunteers are trained to respond to emergency situations, but they can also support their communities during non-emergency events as well.
The CERT Basic Course is taught by a team of first responders and other qualified volunteers.
“Some will take the class and we do not see them again; others will actually join our volunteer team,” Korthals said.