In the midst of hurricane season, about two dozen people are spending this weekend learning how to prepare for and respond to a disaster.
Hurricanes, tornadoes and winter storms were the focus of the class. The thought of hurricanes was at the forefront, as the class is happening while deadly Tropical Storm Erika was dissipating in the Caribbean and just days after the 10th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina.
Cary’s CERT, or Community Emergency Response Team, was formed in the aftermath of Katrina. The group’s president, Tom Hegele, was in the very first class.
“I was in Mississippi a few weeks after Katrina,” said Hegele, who has worked with the U.S. Forestry Service and the Federal Emergency Management Agency. “And I kept thinking, ‘If only they had more CERT people here, it wouldn’t have been as bad.’”
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Graduates of this weekend’s CERT class will emerge with 20 hours of training in a program developed by FEMA.
Training consists of basic first aid, emergency preparedness, using a fire extinguisher, understanding the psychology of disaster victims and even conducting triage – ranking the medical needs of people with injuries.
A triage may seem like a scenario no civilian would ever have to help direct. But several participants said they were taking the class exactly because of situations like that.
Teresa Lavoy, 63, said she wanted to make sure she could react if an emergency hit close to home.
“I used to do some disaster management work with the Red Cross,” Lavoy said. “But that was years ago. It’s good to keep up and learn new skills.”
Cary Fire Department Capt. Chris Hamlin was taking volunteers through drills Saturday with a medical dummy.
“What do you do if there’s no heartbeat, and they aren’t breathing?” Hamlin asked.
“Give them CPR,” guessed one class member.
“No,” Hamlin said. “They’re dead. You go on to the next person. They’re dead, and there are still other people you need to get to.”
Later, the class would also learn search-and-rescue skills and go over tips on how to be prepared for everything from a winter storm to hurricanes or tornadoes.
In the past nine years, through 23 classes, more than 500 people have gone through training in Cary. Cary is one of several Triangle towns with a CERT.
Graduates can stop after the weekend course. Or they can continue to take one hour of training each month, to keep their certification active in case a large-scale emergency might call for their help.
There are about 100 active members of the Cary CERT, Hegele said.
An even higher level of service, the on-call Go Team, has 33 members.
Julie Carlino leads the Go Team. She said she got into CERT because her neighborhood in Cary is frequently blocked off by fallen trees after big storms. She wanted to be able to help her neighbors if there was an emergency and firefighters couldn’t get in.
Cary’s workshop wasn’t just for residents.
Scott Johnson, a 31-year-old former soldier living in Durham, came to the class because he’s thinking of applying for a job as a firefighter.
He said having CERT training would look good on his resume, in addition to his Army background.
But many people taking the classes have no background in the military, law enforcement or emergency response.
Hegele said that’s great because the more people who take the classes, the better.
Doran: 919-460-2604; Twitter: @will_doran
Want to learn more?
Find more information at www.carycert.org.
At www.fema.gov/community-emergency-response-teams there are details on the national program and contact information for other North Carolina teams.
In the Triangle, there are CERT groups in Raleigh, Durham, Cary, Apex, Morrisville, Clayton and Hillsborough.