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If disaster strikes, are you ready?

When a catastrophic disaster strikes, neighborhoods are on their own during the early stages.

Knowing what to do and how to do it could make all the difference in the world for you, your family and neighbors.

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 Halifax County Emergency Services Coordinator Kirby Saunders.

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 Thursday, Jan. 30, and continues every Thursday night from 6:30 to 9:30 p.m. through Thursday, March 20.

Applications are currently being accepted for the CERT training program. The deadline is Friday, Jan. 24, at 5 p.m., Saunders said.

The final exercise and graduation will take place on March 22.

CERT training is required to become a CERT member. Attendance at all classes is required for a certificate of completion, Saunders 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,” Saunders said.

The Halifax County Emergency Servies 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 emergency services 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, Saunders said.

Once trained, a response team will be able to increase their neighborhood’s disaster readiness, assess damage after a disaster, extinguish small fires and teach fire safety, 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.

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

 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.

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

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

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

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

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

As part of continuing education, Saunders 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.

Individuals completing the training may be affiliated with the following teams:

 Neighborhood CERT: 10 or more neighbors serving an immediate residential neighborhood

 Business or Government CERT: Co-workers serving places of business and surrounding areas or county or municipal or state agency employees

 School CERT: School faculty and staff serving school and surrounding area

 Faith-Based Cert: Teams based at a house of worship serving the immediate neighborhood or travel into areas that need assistance

 Youth CERT: Organized service-oriented groups, such as Civil Air Patrol, Fire or Police Explorers or school-based clubs

“Anyone who is interested in helping his or her neighborhood prepare for a disaster and provide assistance afterward may join a team,” Saunders 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 Deputy Coordinator Chad Loftis with Halifax County Emergency Services at 434-446-6973.