While most people have never had to negotiate with a terrorist or learn how to properly tie a tourniquet, the graduates of Des Moines Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) pilot class are now equipped to do so when the need arises.
CERT, a federal government program for citizens, educates volunteers about disaster preparedness for the hazards that may impact their area, according to the Department of Homeland Security Ready website.
Once a week for eight weeks, volunteers of the Des Moines pilot program learned basic disaster response skills from fire safety to search and rescue techniques to disaster medical operations. Des Moines’ CERT program is in partnership with Des Moines Police Department and South King Fire and Rescue.
Individuals from the pilot CERT class passed their final exam last Saturday, putting all of their skills into action at a scenario drill at Beach Park Founders Lodge in Des Moines.
The hope is for people to promote safety, gain confidence in their preparedness, and also be the one to willingly step up and help when disaster occurs, said George Delgado, director of emergency management for the city of Des Moines.
“We’re planting seeds, we’re teaching them the real basics,” he said. “We hope in an emergency, people revert back to the training they’ve learned.”
There’s a strong sense of empowerment that comes along with learning how to handle emergencies, said Sarah Yancey, emergency management coordinator for Valley Regional Fire Authority and South King Fire and Rescue.
Although, clear lines are also drawn in the curriculum. These volunteers will be called upon when needed, but this training doesn’t qualify them as first responders, Yancey said.
“There’s no downside to people knowing how to be prepared,” she said. “It’s not supposed to be traumatizing, it’s ‘well what would you do if you had to think on your feet and not be so theoretical?’”
Yancey added a calm, kind and vivacious spirit to each class, answering any and all questions while guiding the class through use of fire extinguishers and how to complete injury assessments on victims.
In emergencies you may feel alone, but CERT is the connection during crisis, said Delgado.
“The ability for a community to rebound from a disaster depends on its citizens,” he said.
The class of 21 volunteers is the first class to graduate as CERT-certified volunteers in Des Moines with ages ranging from 18 to some in their 80s.
Many of the students are from Wesley Homes retirement facility in Des Moines.
Like many cities, the city of Des Moines can face anything from airplane crashes and floods to fires and earthquakes.
When the inevitable big earthquake happens to the Puget Sound area, volunteers are now prepared to jump into survival mode which will, in turn, allow them to grow in strength, Delgado said.
When Delgado gave a recent talk about action during emergencies to elderly citizens at Wesley, someone asked “Well what can we do?”
Delgado asked if there were any grandparents in the room and when a several dozen hands went into the air, he then explained that in emergencies, these people were qualified to go to the elementary school nearby and provide support for students whose parents couldn’t make it in the situation of a potential disaster.
It’s outside-of-the-box thinking that can provide the most help during emergency situations, he said.
When the big earthquake hits, there’s 160,000 constituents to take care of between Des Moines and Federal Way, but only a few dozen first responders on shift.
“We need these people,” said Capt. Jeff Bellinghausen, South King Fire and Rescue community affairs officer. “Everybody has something to offer.”
Delgado said Ray Gross, emergency manager for the city of Federal Way, has been instrumental in helping him adjust into his own emergency management role.
“Ray is a CERT guru, he lives and breathes it,” Delgado said.
Gross’s passion for preparedness has earned a dedicated following, which Delgado hopes Des Moines can replicate in the future.
CERT in Federal Way
Those interested in Federal Way’s CERT program will offer an introduction into emergency preparedness from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday, March 30.
At Federal Way City Hall, community members can learn more about CERT and its role in their city while trying hands-on applications of disaster preparedness at this one-day training course.
For more information on Federal Way’s CERT programs, contact Ray Gross at firstname.lastname@example.org.