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Are you ready if disaster strikes?

There’s a new CERT coordinator in town, and she’s ready to help prepare and train volunteers to handle catastrophic disasters when they strike neighborhoods and communities.

Always after a disaster, citizens volunteer to help. However, without the proper training, these people can expose themselves to potential injury and even death, according to newly appointed Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) Coordinator Becky Martin.

Knowing what to do and how to do it can make all the difference in the world for individuals, families and neighbors.

Former Halifax County Emergency Services Coordinator Kirby Saunders appointed Martin, a volunteer, to the position as CERT program coordinator in April.

While it is a volunteer position it falls under Halifax County Emergency Services, Martin said.

To prepare for her role as coordinator, Martin took the first CERT basic course offered in the county. The classes ran from January to March.

She then participated in “Train the Trainer” which qualified her to teach the FEMA CERT course.

Martin was a good fit for the CERT coordinator position having served with South Boston Fire Company as a volunteer with the auxiliary.

Currently a life auxiliary member, Martin is formerly an EMT and still assists as much as possible when her work/family schedule allows.

She also has been instrumental in coordinating and working with National Night Out events in past years.

In her new post, Martin reports directly to the emergency services coordinator, and once a sufficient number of county residents are trained, the county will have 12 CERT teams organized by fire districts.

“Our goal is to train 400 citizens in the next four years for CERT,” said Martin.

That’s why the Halifax County Emergency Services Department is offering to train area residents in a Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) training program that gets underway from 6 to 9:30 p.m. starting Aug. 11 through Oct. 11, with the final exercise and graduation on Oct. 11. 

Attendance at the Monday night classes beginning at 6 p.m. will be required for a certificate of completion, according to Martin. 

The CERT Program educates residents about disaster preparedness for hazards that may impact Halifax County and trains participants in basic disaster response skills. 

“Even if they do not want to be an active member of the CERT team, we want to train citizens to be prepared in emergency situations such as the tornado at Liberty,” she said.

CERT training is required to become a CERT member. Attendance at all classes is required for a certificate of completion, Martin added.

“Experience has shown that basic training in disaster survival and rescue skills improves the ability of citizens to survive until responders or other assistance arrives,” she said.

The Halifax County Emergency Services Department has become a part of the national network of CERT communities and has developed a program designed to help neighborhoods prepare for and respond after catastrophic disasters such as hurricanes, tornadoes and other major emergencies.

The CERT program educates residents about disaster preparedness for hazards that may impact Halifax County and trains participants in basic disaster response skills.

Using the training learned in the classroom and during exercises, CERT members can assist neighbors or fellow employees following an event when professional responders are not immediately available to help.

CERT members also are encouraged to support emergency response agencies by taking a more active role in emergency preparedness projects in their community. 

The course is a combination of classroom sessions and hands-on training in scene assessment, fire safety, emergency medical response, team organizations, disaster medical operations and light search and rescue. The course also provides information on topics including local threats, hazards, county emergency management initiatives, incident command and terrorism, according to the CERT coordinator. 

In 1985, the Los Angeles Fire Department developed the Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) concept to arm citizens with vital training and information necessary to survive in the hours after a catastrophic disaster. The importance of citizens preparedness in the absence of emergency responders was never more clear than during the aftermath of Sept. 11, 2001, Martin said.

Once trained, a response team will be able to increase their neighborhood’s disaster readiness, assess damage after a disaster, extinguish small fires, perform light search and rescue operations, perform triage and provide medical services to the injured and organize procurement of supplies.

The basic course will include those components necessary to get the team started and become capable of performing basic CERT functions.

Each member must complete four four-hour classes in the following areas to become certified.

w Disaster Preparedness: Instructs team members how to prepare themselves and their neighborhoods for the various hazards that may occur.

w Team Organizations and Disaster Psychology: Addresses organization and management principles necessary for a team to operate successfully. Covers critical incident stress for victims as well as workers.

w Medical Operations: Team members will learn how to conduct triage, establish medical treatment areas and provide basic first aid to victims.

w Damage Assessment: Team members will learn how to rapidly assess damage employing a standardized format used throughout the county.

w Disaster Simulation: A small-scale disaster simulation located in the team’s neighborhood also is a part of the basic program.

w Fire Suppression: Team members will learn how to use extinguishers and other equipment to suppress small fires.

w Light Search and Rescue: Team members will learn light search and rescue planning, techniques and rescuer safety.

As part of continuing education, Martin said refresher classes are held several times a year and are open to all teams based on availability and need.

Other available continuing education courses offered include terrorism awareness, communications, CPR/First Aid, animal/pet sheltering and shelter operations.

Large-scale disaster simulations are held once a year where all teams are invited to participate.

 “Anyone who is interested in helping his or her neighborhood prepare for a disaster and provide assistance afterward may join a team,” Martin said. 

Citizens interested in participating in the Halifax County CERT course can find an application on the Halifax County website at www.halifaxcountyva.gov or call Martin at 434-570-1326 or email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.