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Ref: CERT helping Florida responders prepare

Herald Tribune

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CERTs may make life easier for Fla. first-responders




By Emily Morris
Sarasota Herald-Tribune (Florida)
Copyright 2007 Sarasota Herald-Tribune Co.
All Rights Reserved

EAST MANATEE, Fla. — As the storm season approaches, East Manatee residents are preparing for situations they hope they never have to face.

In the event of a disaster that could delay help from emergency workers, people who live in communities like Waterlefe Golf, River Club, Lakewood Ranch and University Park are organizing to form their own plans.

The developments have started Community Emergency Response Teams, which are groups of volunteers trained in basic first aid and emergency response.


"We are the first responders in the event of a cataclysmic event that has 911 overwhelmed, like a (Hurricane) Katrina situation," said Art Wessan, a CERT volunteer in University Park.

During about 22 hours of training, volunteers take American Red Cross courses certifying them in basic CPR, first aid and the use of a defibrillator.

Firefighters from East Manatee Fire Rescue trained the volunteers in light-rescue operations, such as checking a house for a gas leak before entering to evacuate people and searching a room for victims in a clockwise direction, Wessan said.

Joan Robbins, a CERT volunteer in Lakewood Ranch, said her community started forming a disaster response plan more than a year ago.

"We are a very large community and had no centralized emergency preparedness plan at all," Robbins said. "We are hoping we will never have such a situation, but felt people needed individual training for themselves and their own families even in the absence of a major disaster."

Armed with radios and basic medical equipment, CERT volunteers are trained to organize confusion and stabilize injuries.

"We are preparing primarily for hurricanes, but it could be for any type of disaster, even man-made," said Dr. Lloyd Kramer, CERT coordinator for University Park.

Groups like CERT can be very useful in an emergency, said Lee Whitehurst, deputy chief of administration for East Manatee Fire Rescue.

In an adverse weather situation, when winds exceed 50 mph, rescue operations shut down because workers are unable to operate, Whitehurst said. Winds at that level can also fell trees that block roadways.

"It might take some time for us to get to a location," Whitehurst said. If there is debris in the street, "we are having to blaze a trail. If we arrive at the front gate of Waterlefe and a CERT person is at the gate, they can give us a good size-up without us spending an hour trying to get there ourselves."

While CERT is a good idea for any community, there is only so much they can do.

"It is definitely not a replacement for first-responders," said John Zinn with Manatee County's Emergency Management Division. "It is a way to help yourself out until they get there."


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