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Federal Way's emergency preparedness momentum

In an ongoing effort to keep Federal Way citizens safe, April will be celebrated as emergency preparedness month.

Interest in emergency preparedness has increased since the City of Federal Way, Lakehaven Utility District, South King Fire and Rescue, police and school board representatives traveled to Emmitsburg, Md., last August to participate in Federal Emergency Management Agency training. Relationships between current volunteers and professional emergency responders have also improved, emergency management coordinator Ray Gross said.

The professionals are familiar with Federal Way’s emergency volunteers. They know each person’s skill set and expertise, he said. The challenge now is to get even more Federal Way residents attracted to emergency management.

“The main focus now is putting the community back into it,” Gross said.

In an attempt to generate curiosity in emergency preparedness, an advanced training course is being offered. Community Emergency Response Advanced Team (CAT) training is primarily for volunteers who are interested in learning life-saving skills, such as triage, the process of assigning medical priorities. The course puts residents in charge of taking care of other residents in one of four city quadrants, divided by South 320th Street and 1st Avenue South.

CAT volunteers are first responders during an emergency. Before an emergency strikes, they identify a meeting spot within their assigned quadrant. Following an emergency, they first take care of their own families, then meet at the identified location to help care for others. They coordinate with professionals stationed at the city’s emergency operations center at City Hall, and let responders there know where medical aid is needed, what infrastructure is damaged and what actions are required to further ensure residents’ safety. CAT members stay on location until professional help arrives.

“It’s saving time; that eventually saves lives,” Gross said.

CAT volunteers are generally residents who have participated in the city’s other basic emergency management training courses. However, this is not a necessity.

Emergency preparedness in Federal Way usually begins with Neighborhood Emergency Team (NET) training. NET participants tend to be a few individuals or families who all live on the same street or in the same neighborhood. They undergo emergency preparedness training and communicate with their neighbors to see what resources will be immediately available during an emergency. One neighbor may have a generator. Another might have a chainsaw, and so on.

They also share information such as which neighbors have an elderly person or small child living at home who may need extra attention or care during an emergency. By combining resources and looking out for one another, the neighborhood is better prepared as a whole.

Residents looking for a bit more involvement and a bigger challenge generally undergo Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) training. This provides participants with emergency response skills. It offers an opportunity to practice those skills with other CERT members during drills at City Hall.

CAT is the next and final step, Gross said. CAT members do not need advanced CERT training, but must pursue this within one year of embarking on CAT, he said.

“All this is improving the response to the disaster,” Gross said.

Debbie Garrow, of Kent, worked in Federal Way for 28 years and considers this her home. She took a CERT class and wanted to learn more. Garrow is now a CAT member. The classes have taught her basic emergency preparedness skills, such as how to use a fire extinguisher or turn off the gas if a leak is detected, she said in an e-mail. She has also learned search and rescue skills, triage and emergency medical care, she said.

"It's all simple skills that anyone can learn," Garrow said. "It has given me a lot of confidence and peace of mind that I will be able to help in case of disaster."

Garrow urges all residents to take an interest in their own and others' safety. The Pacific Northwest is susceptible to disasters, such as earthquakes and windstorms, she said. Being prepared is easy and the responsible thing to do, Garrow said.

"I like the idea of living in a community where people want to help take care of one another," she said. "Of course, that can only happen if nearly everyone chooses to be responsible enough to prepare ahead of time for disaster."

Get involved

Some of the city's upcoming emergency preparedness courses:

• NET training: 6:30 p.m. April 8 at Federal Way City Hall, 33325 8th Ave. S.

• Urban Disaster Preparedness: 6:30 p.m. April 29 at City Hall.

• For more information or to register, contact FWEM@cityoffederalway.com or call (253) 835-2712.

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