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Newtown’s CERT Volunteers Can Hit The Ground Running

Newtown’s CERT Volunteers Can Hit The Ground Running

By John Voket

If a major disaster hits Newtown tomorrow, the community’s already robust corps of emergency and fire volunteers would be able to call on 18 newly graduated Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) volunteers to lend a hand. Those volunteers were certified as members of a growing contingent of volunteers from across the state during “graduation” exercises that took place at the Sandy Hook Fire & Rescue Company headquarters on August 11.

Newtown’s Deputy Emergency Management Director Maureen Will, who also directs the local Emergency Communications Department, was on hand observing the activities. She said by her estimation, Newtown’s CERT team could hit the ground running in the event of a large-scale emergency.

The local CERT team, and those who join on in the coming weeks and months, will also not be left wanting for things to do if the region remains blissfully free of natural or manmade mayhem. Ms Will said all current members have been invited to participate in the Connecticut CERT Weekend, September 22 and 23, at the state Fire Training Academy at Bradley Airport.

“They will receive continuing education about traffic control, communications, and the use of the web-EOC,” a web-enabled crisis information management system that provides secure real-time information sharing among responders and agencies during a crisis, Ms Will told The Bee following the local exercises.

The local CERT members will also be on hand at the upcoming Newtown Health & Wellness Fair, September 29, and will have a booth at the Newtown Arts Festival, September 15–16, to help promote and recruit members for the contingent. The local team will also be called to Newtown’s first post-graduation drill in October at the Emergency Operations Center (EOC) at Fairfield Hills, where they will get an overview of the center, and learn about upcoming sheltering classes and phone bank training.

Ms Will also plans to introduce the prospect of scheduling more regional training opportunities when she meets with preparedness officials from western Connecticut next month.

“This will be a chance to begin discussing and organizing regular, ongoing training for all regional CERTs,” she said. “We really want to give them all something to do about every two months.”

Ms Will said that she will try and devise a schedule that will have some cyclical exercises on an annual basis, so newcomers can jump right in and become certified members as quickly as possible. She added that as of August 13, all the Newtown graduates from last Saturday have been added to the state’s roster of CERT responders.

Last year’s double-barreled hit of back-to-back storms that crippled Newtown and the state were the final justification for Newtown initiating its own CERT team, although the community has served as a location for regional CERT training since 2008.

In 95 percent of all emergencies, according to the US Department of Homeland Security, the victim or a bystander provides the first immediate assistance on the scene. Following a major disaster and depending on the number of victims, communications failures, and road blockages, first responders who provide fire and medical services will not be able to meet the demand for such services.

Prior emergency training is not required for a CERT course. During the course of the training participants learn how to identify and anticipate hazards, reduce fire hazards in the home and workplace, extinguish small fires, assist emergency responders, conduct light search and rescue, set up medical treatment areas, apply basic medical techniques, and help reduce survivor stress.

In this area, Bethel and New Milford have town CERT units trained to respond to emergencies, as needed, Ms Will said. The Second Company Governor’s Horse Guard, which is stationed at Fairfield Hills, also has a CERT component.

To learn more, visit www.citizencorps.gov.