The Jackson Township Fire Department and Matt Yerkes, executive director of Cultivate and owner of Quick Square Consulting, are working to create a Community Emergency Response Team program in the area.

The CERT program provides volunteers with training in basic disaster-response skills. The volunteers can be deployed to assist if a natural disaster or emergency situation occurs.

Franklin County has a CERT program in place, coordinated in conjunction with the Federal Emergency Management Agency, Jackson Township Fire Chief Randy Little said.

"If we have a disaster situation in our area, the county would deploy volunteers in our community," he said.

Creating a local CERT program would enable that deployment to occur on the local level, Little said.

"We wouldn't have to take the time to go through the county, and in an emergency situation, time is of the essence," he said.

A local CERT program requires a sponsor organization -- usually a fire or police department -- and a program manager, Yerkes said.

Yerkes went through the county's CERT training and also received training as a program manager through FEMA.

He will be serving as the program manager for the local CERT effort.

"The concept behind CERT training is that you receive basic training to allow you to first help yourself and your family, then your neighbors and then be available to help your community," Yerkes said.

"First responders may not always be able to get to you quickly when there is an emergency situation," he said.

"We all should have basic knowledge of what to do in case a disaster happens, from how to provide basic first aid to knowing how to shut off the gas at your house."

Importance of training

When a disaster or emergency strikes, "our first instinct is to want to help," Yerkes said.

"They have good intentions, but volunteers often don't have the proper training to know what they can or should do and what they shouldn't do. They can end up doing more harm than good," he said.

During a disaster, a fire department can be overwhelmed, Little said.

"We only have so many personnel," he said. "A trained group of volunteers could be a huge help during an emergency."

Through CERT, volunteers would be educated to provide basic first aid until paramedics could arrive, handle traffic control or complete an initial assessment at a scene to provide information to help the fire department prioritize where its personnel should be sent first, Little said.

After he completed his CERT training, Yerkes said, he was driving when he came upon a minor car accident that had just occurred.

"There were only minor injuries, but it was nice to know I had the training where I could have provided some initial first aid if needed," he said.

The CERT concept was first developed and implemented in 1985 by the Los Angeles City Fire Department, according to the Franklin County Emergency Management and Homeland Security website. The Whittier Narrows earthquake in 1987 underscored the area-wide threat of a major disaster in California. Further, it confirmed the need for training civilians to meet their immediate needs. As a result, the LAFD created the Disaster Preparedness Division with the purpose of training citizens and private and government employees, the website states.

Jackson Township's CERT program would be the second local effort in central Ohio once it's up and running.

The Whitehall Division of Fire initiated the first local program in 2004, and its CERT effort predates the county program, Fire Chief Preston Moore said.

"There was lot of excitement in those days, this was the post 9/11 days, and a lot of people in our community were looking for ways to get involved," Moore said. "We had a group of concerned residents who asked us to do a training program."

Four city staff members completed a FEMA program and conducted the city's first classes in fall 2004, Moore said. Twenty-three residents participated in the first class.

"That winter, we had a big ice storm and our volunteers were able to help by taking people to shelters, getting food delivered to the people repairing the power lines and answering calls at our fire station," he said.

"They were able to handle a lot of the nonemergency matters that we couldn't get to," he said.

Over the years, the city has trained about 75 residents, Moore said. About 15 people are participating in the latest emergency preparedness training class.

"It's a good feeling to know you have people in the community who are ready to help if we need it," he said.

Getting involved

A planning meeting to launch the Grove City CERT effort will be held April 17.

"We are asking that only people who have already gone through the CERT training to attend that first meeting," Yerkes said.

"I don't know the exact number, but I know there must be dozens of people in our community who have been trained. There were some other Grove City people at the classes I attended," he said.

A monthly schedule of public meetings will be set up and residents will be encouraged to attend those sessions, he said.

To participate as a CERT volunteer, residents would have to go through the county's training program, which includes nine units, each lasting about three hours, Yerkes said.

The topics include disaster preparedness, fire safety and utility control, disaster medical operations, light urban search and rescue, disaster psychology and terrorism and CERT.

The discussion at the planning meeting will cover additional training that could be offered at the local level for those who have already completed CERT training, Yerkes said.

For the near future, volunteers would continue to receive the basic training through the county, but there could be a possibility of someday offering the sessions locally, he said.

Anyone with previous CERT training interested in the April 17 meeting should email Yerkes at matt@ grovecitycert.org or message through the Grove City CERT Facebook page.

The Facebook page also is where residents can get updates on future Grove City CERT events, Yerkes said.

There would be virtually no additional expense in creating the local CERT program since the county provides training at no cost, Little said.

"There might be some incidental expenses for equipment, but those are items we already purchase," he said.

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