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MAINE EMERGENCY MANAGEMENT AGENCY
Kennebec County CERT Team Helps EMA "Tick"
February 12, 2008
In 2003, Kennebec County’s emergency managers and first responders acquired a new resource when the county’s Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) was founded.
According to the USA Freedom Corps, the Community Emergency Response Team program educates people about disaster preparedness for hazards that may impact their area and trains them in basic disaster response skills, such as fire safety, light search and rescue, team organization, and disaster medical operations. CERT members will not only be an asset to their neighborhood or workplace, but also their local emergency response agencies, communities and counties when faced with a disaster.
The CERT program was first invented in the mid-1980s, by the Los Angeles Fire Department to prepare in case a major earthquake should hit. In 1993, the Federal Emergency Management Agency made the program available nationally.
When Kennebec County Emergency Management Director Kelly Amoroso took over in 2006, she saw that the county CERT was not being fully utilized. “We decided to take the team and look at different talents that they have, and who wants to have what role on the team,” she said. “We wanted to make it more enjoyable for them.”
With that information, Amoroso and her staff worked to make participation more enjoyable, while improving the services CERT offered to the community.
The CERT is not just an organization – it is in integral part of the county emergency response structure. “We have four people on staff – two of them part time. If we have some kind of disaster, we would rely on the CERT very heavily. We need to know that they are well trained and that we can count on them.”
New members participate in a rigorous ten-class CERT training curriculum. These courses give volunteers decision-making, organizational and practical skills critical to disaster response. In addition, team members may also be trained on operation and use of the County’s Emergency Command Trailer – a mobile command post that provides shelter and organizational space for first responders at incident sites. “We have volunteers that can go with the trailer, deploy it, and troubleshoot any problems,” Amoroso said.
Opportunities for further training are virtually unlimited for team members. “We’ve done other training, like learning how to use the radios and radio etiquette. They’ve also had some traffic control training,” she said, explaining that such capabilities could free up police officers to do other work during emergencies.
“That’s really their role, to either be here supporting us during a disaster or be out there supporting emergency services,” Amoroso said.
The team’s training was put to the test last April during the Patriot’s Day storm. For days, high winds and rain battered parts of Maine – and volunteers staffed the Kennebec County Emergency Operations Center 24 hours a day providing immediate support to local municipalities.
“We were going around the clock for three days -- we had the EOC activated 24 hours a day.” “The benefit of having the team was that we didn’t have to have all of our staff here all the time, so we could rotate our staff as well.”
Team members were responsible for aiding towns requesting additional resources – more sandbags, shelter equipment, or manpower. They also checked in with the towns throughout the storm, and aided in the recovery. “There is a lot of paperwork that needs to be done even before the storm ends,” Amoroso said. “Members were calling town offices reminding them how to do it.”
The team was also tested in October during the county’s full-scale emergency drill. “We had a handful of people in our EOC and we actually didn’t have any staff available, but they did very well on their own,” Amoroso said.
Most recently, when a small private jet carrying two passengers crashed in West Gardiner, members of the CERT team responded. They controlled access to an on-site command post, coordinated the movement of supplies, and covered office telephones for the county emergency managers. “Typically we respond to emergencies, like large storms, where we have some warning,” Amoroso said. “It is comforting to know that we can also rely on our team to respond to a disaster with no warning, also.”
Though the team was created in 2003, “the towns were not aware of the team, so they weren’t being used,” Amoroso said. “We had to get the word out there, and involve them in exercises so the towns can see what their capabilities are.” She said local use of the CERT is still a “work in progress,” but is pleased that the towns realize it is an asset. “They can call us and we can send people to help them.”
The team includes retirees and working professionals, people both young and old. We’ve seen some younger members join now – even some kids under 18 whose parents are on the team,” Amoroso said.
Current CERT membership stands at 30. Amoroso hopes to double that in the future, but will concentrate on making sure members are well trained. “I’d rather have a small group of people that are really committed and well trained rather than a large group of people that I’m not sure I can count on.”
To join the CERT, contact Kelly Amoroso at the Kennebec County Emergency Response Agency, at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Contact:Kelly Amoroso, Kennebec County EMA
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