Community members will have the chance to become certified disaster volunteers starting next week through the Community Emergency Response Team training program.
This summer, CERT training will take place from Monday through July 25 at the Emergency Operations Center in Soldotna. The program allows community members to be trained in everything from leadership to medical response so they are prepared for future emergencies or disasters.
CERT is a national program first introduced by the Los Angeles City Fire Department in 1985 under a different name. The Federal Emergency Management Agency adapted the concept and made CERT available nationally in 1993.
Dan Nelson, program coordinator for the Kenai Peninsula Borough Office of Emergency Management, said the program came to the peninsula in 2005. He said participation varies session to session, but that this round of training was set up this summer in the wake of the Card Street fire.
Nelson said because of factors unique to Alaska, instructors tweak the program slightly to make it more relevant.
“That core program is always taught,” Nelson said. “We do a little bit with it because we’ve changed some of the things to make it a little more Kenai-centric. It’s more unique to us because we have a lot fewer supplies than the Lower 48.”
Nelson said training participants are often taken aback at the aspects of the course that focus on issues with infrastructure during an emergency. He said the ability to respond to a disaster is greatly effected if, for example, the disaster occurs in Anchorage or affects the Port of Anchorage, through which most supplies are received.
“I think what a lot of people don’t realize is how our infrastructure is vulnerable to a disruption,” Nelson said. “Most folks haven’t thought that far ahead yet.”
By completing the CERT training program, community members are not only better equipped to personally handle emergencies, but are eligible to be called upon by the Office of Emergency Management to volunteer during disasters.
Becoming a CERT volunteer following training is not mandatory, but is helpful, Nelson said.
“If we need help running a shelter or evacuating a neighborhood … we call these volunteers first,” Nelson said.
Nelson said CERT volunteers can be used for door-to-door evacuations, to man public information sites, answer hotline calls and many other tasks. More than 500 community members have been trained since the program began in 2005, and there are 120 active CERT volunteers on the Kenai Peninsula, Nelson said. He said 15 volunteers were utilized during the Card Street fire.
Kit Pherson is one of the CERT training instructors who got involved with the program in 2011 following years of experience with Ninilchik Emergency Services.
Pherson said the section of the course focused on the ins and outs of incident command is always beneficial to participants. He said CERT volunteers are instrumental when it comes to providing leadership and direction in the face of a disaster.
“I know that emergency services are limited when there would be a big disaster, and I realized the need to train the local population or people who are interested in getting trained in basic life-saving skills,” Pherson said. “In a disaster there’s going to be chaos, and somebody has to step forward for leadership. Someone has to start mitigating and pulling things together, and CERT can help in that way.”
Pherson said his favorite sections of the training to teach are those focused on medical response and search and rescue. He said while being faced with all the information the training has to offer for the first time can be a challenge, getting trained is worthwhile even if a person decides not to become a CERT volunteer.
“Knowledge is power, and if you have knowledge you can save lives,” Pherson said.
Participants can register for CERT training at the Kenai Peninsula Borough Office of Emergency Management website until Sunday, July 12.