When a massive tornado demolished Greensburg, Kan. in 2006, citizen volunteers conducted search and rescue efforts that recovered two survivors.
The citizens were trained through a Homeland Security program called the Community Emergency Response Team (CERT). The program was designed to train individuals to help themselves, their families, neighborhoods and communities in case of an emergency.
Led by local emergency responders, CERT teams from Sedgwick County and Harper County were called in to conduct search and rescue efforts. Teams of local law enforcement had already combed the disaster area for victims two times, but volunteers trained in neighboring communities continued the search.
“They got delegated to make a third pass, and they recovered two individuals,” Delbert Sawyer, a Gardner business owner and local CERT organizer, said. “They were alive, and (emergency responders) had walked right by them twice before.”
The program trains volunteers to identify and anticipate hazards, extinguish small fires, assist emergency responders, conduct light search and rescue, set up medical treatment areas and help reduce survivor stress. The training program comes to Gardner in January, and Sawyer said the Gardner Rotary Club and Johnson County Fire District No. 1, co-sponsors of the event, are seeking volunteers to be trained.
The 10-week program will start at 7 p.m. on Jan. 10 at fire station at New Century. There is no cost to attend. The training really focuses on preparing volunteers to assist during the first 72 hours of a disaster.
“Everyone thinks the government is going to take care of us, but take care of yourself. The first 72 hours are critical,” Sawyer said.
Participants will receive a kit that includes safety equipment including a back pack, a helmet, a pair of gloves, goggles, and even a wrench that can be used to turn off natural gas.
“Not many people know how to turn it off,” Sawyer said. “From there, (participants) can build their own kit – whatever they’re comfortable with.”
He anticipates that the Tuesday night course will take about two hours each week for 10 weeks. Primarily, the volunteers will learn how to respond to a tornado, but the skills acquired can be used in any disaster.
“A disaster can be more than a tornado,” Sawyer said. “It can be an ice storm, a wind storm, or a flood. It can even be a terrorist attack.”
At the end of the course, participants should be able to take care of their families and help their neighbors and communities. According to Homeland Security, 95 percent of all emergencies, the victim or bystander provides the first immediate assistance on the scene.
As a final project, the volunteers will respond to a mock emergency event. Sawyer said he’s looking for additional volunteers who would be willing to serve as victims so class members can set up a search and rescue and a triage area.
For more information or to sign up for the free class, contact Delbert Sawyer at (913)244-6150.