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. The volunteers recovered two individuals from the rubble.
If something similar happens in southwest Johnson County, similar volunteer crews will be available, thanks to the local CERT program, set to begin a new class on Jan. 14.
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. Delbert Sawyer, who helps spearhead the training, said organizers are seeking volunteers to be trained.
The 10-week program will start at 7 p.m. on Jan. 14 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.
The first three days are critical, Sawyer said.
“We show you how to take care of yourself for three days,” Sawyer said. “If something hits Gardner or Edgerton, the fire department may not be able to get to you for a few days. This class teaches you how to survive.”
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. 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 or other natural disaster, 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, in 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. The Boy Scouts will serve as victims in the final disaster scenario class. The ten week program is available free of charge and meets at 7 p.m. on Tuesday nights from Jan. 14 through March 4, 2014. Final Drill will be held from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Saturday, March 8. Past CERT class graduates are welcome to sit in as a refresher course.
For more information or to sign up for the free class, contact Delbert Sawyer at (913)244-6150.