Ashland CERT will be there when you need it

By Mary Coombs

Posted May. 13, 2015 at 2:00 AM

The Ashland Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) is one of a number of citizen corps programs throughout the nation to engage volunteers to work with professional emergency responders such as police and fire. The Ashland organization began shortly after the 1997 flood, when many citizens offered their assistance, but there was no structure to use volunteers and channel the volunteer energy to best help solve community problems.
Ashland CERT uses the national model developed by the Federal Emergency Management Agency, but enhances and adapts it to meet local needs. Among its missions are search and rescue, firefighter rehab (providing support during major fires to firefighters during required break times, with water and checking of vital signs before they return to active firefighting), evacuation assistance for elderly or disabled residents, and community education for preparedness, such as family communication plans (where family members are not together at the time of an emergency/needed evacuation) or disaster supplies kits. (You may have seen CERT tables with such information at local growers markets or the Fourth of July post-parade.)
Some CERT volunteers already have a needed skill set, such as nurses, doctors or former volunteer firefighters. But most are lay volunteers who undergo training provided by the CERT program. These volunteers are trained in specific skills, such as (1) two-way radio communication, (2) fire extinguisher training, (3) disaster medical operations (how to triage to ensure the most effective use of available personnel and resources when not all victim needs can be timely met), and (4) incident command systems (a method to ensure that each person in a system of responders knows what she can and cannot do and to whom she should report to ensure appropriate communication and coordination; I was not surprised to discover that this training system was set up after the Hurricane Katrina debacle). CERT training is different than CPR, although CERT volunteers receive a discount if they also wish to obtain CPR training.
The training is not just of new, individual volunteers, but of a cohort. The idea is that in responding to a significant event the volunteers, together with paid professionals, will work as a team, using each person’s skills effectively. As the coordinator, Terri Eubanks, said, they can work with volunteers with varying skills or physical limitations as the team works as a team. For instance, a volunteer who couldn’t squat or bend could take on the task of managing the two-way radio communication. Children as young as 14 can become CERT volunteers, although 14- to 15-year-olds must have a parent or other adult take the training with them.
The training is fairly extensive — in addition to “classroom” training, the participants take part in several short simulations of disaster scenarios (Sea Cadets and SOU nursing students have volunteered to play the roles of the various victims). It takes place twice a year over two successive weeks with training sessions Thursday and Friday evenings and all day Saturdays. To make the cohort training work, you are expected to attend all the sessions. The next training will be October 1-3 and 8-10. If you can clear your calendar for those weekends you could join some people who have already signed up for that fall training.
What sorts of things might you do one you are a trained CERT volunteer? You may be called when there is a need (a search and rescue or a fire or other event) and you should say “yes” if you reasonably can. There are also other opportunities to serve or to maintain and enhance skills: monthly training/information meetings; community education events; and “map your neighborhood” programs where a volunteer with other CERT personnel helps create a plan for emergency response among his or her own neighbors.
While there is currently no particular obligation to apply your training, Ms. Eubanks and a committee of active volunteers are working to see if there are ways to ensure that those who sign up and train as volunteers maintain some level of continued engagement and skill maintenance.
We all hope that a major disaster like the 1997 flood or a massive earthquake along the Cascade Subvention Zone does not happen. If it does, it’s nice to know that there are community CERT volunteers there to help.
If you’d like to know more, you can look at the website or call the program coordinator, Terri Eubanks, at 541-552-2226.
Mary I. Coombs’ column on local nonprofit organizations appears every three weeks. Email questions and suggestions to [email protected].

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