Susy Allen likes to be prepared.
That's one reason the Martinez woman signed on for the Columbia County Community Emergency Response Team.
"It is nice to be able to not just stand by helplessly when there's a problem that arises," Allen said. "I've never been one to lay back and rely on others."
Allen, who co-owns Learning Express Toys in Evans with her husband, county Commissioner Trey Allen, graduated from the eight-week emergency training course in April.
"It has been a wonderful program," Allen said. "I've really enjoyed it."
Registration is under way for the next class, scheduled to start Aug. 10. The training is free and open to all citizens ages 18 and up.
CERT is a volunteer emergency and disaster training course that has produced 318 graduates since it started six years ago, said county Emergency and Operations Director Pam Tucker.
"Columbia County is a lot better for it," Tucker said.
The training covers many emergency response topics, including disaster preparedness, fire suppression, disaster medical operations, light urban search and rescue, team organization, disaster psychology and a disaster simulation exercise.
"I don't know what we'd do without them," Tucker said, adding that CERT members are often recruited for routine emergency management activities such as assisting with public awareness events and helping with disaster exercises. "We wouldn't afford to pay for what we're getting from these volunteers."
And in emergency situations, those trained and authorized volunteers supplement police, fire, medical and other first responders on the streets and also in the Emergency Operations Center and Mobile Operations Center.
"These are people who have regular jobs," Tucker said. "Maybe deep down inside, this was something they liked, helping. Emergency response, you can help in so many ways. This way they can have their full-time job, what they normally do, and also fulfill gaps that we have where we need emergency responders."
That's why Mario Banez joined CERT in 2004. He was a lab analyst at an area chemical plant and a former volunteer firefighter. His wife thought fire-fighting was too dangerous, but he couldn't stand to simply sit back and watch in times of need.
"I like helping people," said Banez. "I don't like sitting around. ... I like helping out in the community."
For Banez, being a CERT member opened up opportunities for much more emergency training. He's a certified emergency manager and has attended rescue specialist training and more at no cost because he's a CERT member.
Banez drove the MOC to Jefferson County in 2008 after tornadoes devastated the area. Jefferson County operated its 911 system through the MOC for three days until communications was restored, Tucker said.
Other CERT members headed to Gulfport, Miss., to help after Hurricane Katrina, the only CERT team nationwide to respond.
Allen said she hopes her training can make a difference closer to home.
"If there is an emergency, I want to be able to protect my family, and my friends, and my neighbors, and anybody else I might run across," Allen said. "It is just the right thing to do."
About 100 CERT members, including Allen, will participate in the county's community disaster exercise in September, Tucker said. They also participated in the recently completed Commodity Flow Study, to determine what hazardous materials travel through the county along Interstate 20.
Local CERT members also starred in a training video, now used by CERT teams nationwide, Tucker said.
The 15 CERT classes, held over seven years, have included a wide variety of citizens including cosmetologists, business owners, retired military and Savannah River Site employees, in addition to doctors, nurses and county employees.
"We've got some talent," Tucker said. "It is so diverse."
Anyone interested in registering for the CERT class can learn more by e-mailing email@example.com, calling (706) 868-3303, or visiting online at www.columbiacountyga.gov and following the links to the Emergency Operations Division and the Community Emergency Response Team.
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