Fleet and Family Readiness sponsored Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) training held Sept. 9 at the emergency operations center at Naval Support Facility Dahlgren. The CERT program was established by FEMA to provide disaster training to volunteer members of local communities.
The training was provided by Cici Clay, CERT program officer for Washington D.C. “Local volunteers can play a role [in the response to a disaster] by being there before professional responders can arrive. We’re not training people to be firemen or surgeons; we’re training them to be able to help other people before the paramedics get there. You can make a difference in somebody’s life, even if it’s a small thing like first aid.”
Clay provided training that highlighted how concerned citizens could make a difference in their communities during times of crisis. Of course, one can’t help neighbors if they are themselves unprepared for a disaster. Clay emphasized the need for basic disaster preparation, such as storing photocopies of all essential documents in a safe place. “Make photocopies of everything you need to restart your life,” she advised. “Think of the things you need-not just food and water, but communication.”
Establishing an out-of-state check-in can help people stay in touch when local phone coverage is affected by a disaster, said Clay. For instance, if a disaster area is affected by local call failures, a friend or relative out of state can facilitate three-way communication between parties in the affected area.
Clay encouraged participants to think outside the box when it comes to serving others in the aftermath of a disaster. “Your dog needs water, too,” she said. “I always tell people to store extra water for the elderly.”
Understand local hazards and emergency procedures is a vital part of serving one’s community is times of disaster. While there is a national framework for disaster response encompassed by the CERT program, specific plans are changing all the time. “You need to stay up-to-date,” said Clay. “The first thing people want to do [after a disaster] is to throw on the cape and go outside, but you need to stop and assess the situation.”
That tip is especially important for service members, whose frequent moves bring them into unfamiliar areas. “[Service members] are always learning a new area,” said Clay. “The best thing they can do is to connect with the community. That’s why [the city of Washington D.C.] is partnering with Naval District Washington, because it helps build resilience all the way around.”
Service members have much to contribute to communities in the aftermath of natural disasters. “They have so much knowledge,” said Clay. “Our citizens really enjoy being exposed to that knowledge.”
Above all, Clay encouraged the participants to not only practice their emergency plan and familiarize themselves with local first responders, but consider the needs of children, the elderly and people with disabilities. “Have a plan and practice your plan,” she said.