A tornado rips through Columbia County. Telephone lines to 911 are jammed. Police and rescue crews are doing all they can, but it's not enough. People are hurt, some dying.
The scenario is plausible. That's why local emergency response organizations have turned to residents to supplement their ranks in times of need.
The first batch of Community Emergency Response Team members are nearing completion of their training. They have been taking weekly classes since early January to learn basic rescue techniques such as fire suppression, first aid and risk assessment.
The skills the 34-member team have learned in the classroom were put to practical use in a drill Saturday at the Columbia County Emergency Management Agency office in the county's Government Complex.
"We want them to be able to practice some of the things they've learned in a safe environment," said Martinez Fire Department firefighter Jeremy Wallen, who is a CERT instructor.
The drill, led by Wallen, established a mock tornado disaster inside a small factory. Trainees were told to locate and turn off a gas main, check for survivors, treat the wounded and relay information to emergency responders.
"You never know when something bad could happen," said John Harlen Jr., a Greenbrier High School freshman and a CERT trainee. "I want to be ready for anything in case one of my friends is ever in trouble."
Sponsored by the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the county's CERT program is one of 10 in the state. Similar programs are expected to train more than 400,000 volunteers during the next two years.
"After 9-11, President Bush put out the call to citizens to take part in keeping their communities safe," Wallen said. "That's what these people are here for. They're a group of people spread throughout the county that are learning the basic skills they need to help in a disaster situation."
This first group of trainees will graduate in a ceremony during a Columbia County Board of Commissioners meeting March 16 at the government center's auditorium.
Each person completing the training will be equipped with eye protection, reflective safety vests, gloves and head protection as part of CERT kit made possible by a $58,000 Georgia Emergency Management Agency grant.
"I already feel safer just knowing the proper way of doing things," said Dee Dee Jewell, a trainee from Grovetown. "There are not a lot of people living on my street, but if something happens, I now know what to do. I feel like I can better protect my friends and family."
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