Residents wishing to lend a hand during disasters need look no further than the Community Emergency Response Team training program.
The program, which receives federal funding from Department of Homeland Security grants, is designed to teach volunteers emergency response skills to help assist with dangerous operations and help those in the community and throughout the country. Instructors are professionals in other departments who volunteer to teach the classes.
"When any disaster happens or even a smaller emergency, it is very typical for citizens to want to do something to help," said Columbia County's Emergency Services Director Pam Tucker. "If you let untrained people come in and help then they're putting not only themselves at risk but other people at risk."
Registration for the Group 11 CERT class recently re-opened with 15 available seats. The class begins Feb. 26 and runs through April 15. The CERT kits and gear will then be distributed April 19, followed by a disaster simulation and final exam. Those who graduate will be presented with a certificate during the May 6 Columbia County Commission meeting.
Kathy Crutchfield, a retired nurse, discovered CERT by looking at her water bill. She and her husband, Bob, took the second CERT class in 2004. They, along with 13 other CERT members, went to Gulfport, Miss., to help Hurricane Katrina victims.
"It's very valuable," she said. "You learn basic things to help other people in an emergency situation."
People interested in the course must complete an application. There are also certain prerequisites, such as a background check and individual online study course, which takes about 20 minutes to complete, Tucker said.
Another CERT class will be offered in August, but that course is full.
"We're volunteer-rich in Columbia County and we're very, very fortunate," Tucker said.
The program started in 2004 as a response to the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks and has churned out 244 graduates certified to assist local, state or national emergency personnel in the event of a disaster.
According to the CERT Web site, training includes disaster preparedness, fire suppression, disaster medical operations, light urban search and rescue, team organization, disaster psychology and a disaster simulation exercise.
"We teach them basic skills," Tucker said. "If you've never pulled a plug on a fire extinguisher to put out a live fire, you're going to do it in this class."
Tucker said that certified CERT members know how to stop bleeding, treat shock and open an airway, which are the three primary killers in emergency situations.
The skills are especially important if an emergency occurs in a neighborhood or at home, Tucker said. CERT volunteers can gather neighbors to give instructions and they keep a bag full of equipment, she said.
The training program also offers opportunities for those who don't want to respond to an emergency or disaster site. Tucker said the emergency operations center always needs help.
"Look at what it offers our county," she said. "If you had to take 244 people and pay them for these skills that they now have and the time that they give, we couldn't afford it."
For information about the Group 11 class or the CERT Program, call the county's emergency services division at (706) 868-3303 or visit columbiacountyga.gov.
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