Is your neighborhood ready? How CERT training can help communities prepare for emergencies
Jan 13, 2020 10:59AM
By Stephanie Yrungaray
Mavis Glad regularly signs onto her ham radio to prepare for emergency communications. (Stephanie Yrungaray/City Journals)
By Stephanie Yrungaray | [email protected]
“[Emergency preparedness] is like planning for a party that you hope never happens,” said Draper resident Mavis Glad.
We’ve all heard the warnings that the “big quake” is just around the corner. According to recent studies by the Utah Geological Survey and U.S. Geological Survey, there is a 50% chance that Utah will experience a damaging earthquake within the next 50 years. Throughout Draper and the state of Utah, people are at various stages of being prepared for a natural disaster. Some people have hardly begun, while others have stockpiled essential food, water and other supplies.
Many people assess their level of emergency preparedness from an individual or family standpoint, but have you considered what would happen to your neighbors in the event of an earthquake or other natural disasters? Or who would help you if you were unable to help yourself?
Disaster aid expectations
“People often have a misconception about the government’s role in a disaster,” said Joe Dougherty, public information officer for Utah’s Division of Emergency Management. “They think ‘The government will be able to rescue me and rebuild my house.’ Some of those things are possible but they are not guaranteed.”
Glad, a lifelong Draper resident and champion of emergency preparedness, said you can’t depend on someone else to take care of you in an emergency.
“FEMA might be able to help after a couple of weeks,” said Glad. “We need to be responsible for ourselves and our families, we need to have a plan. People aren’t thinking about where their drinking water will come from, or what they will do if they can’t flush their toilets or get rid of waste for two weeks.”
With over 40,000 residents and limited emergency responders, city leaders in Draper are encouraging community preparedness by providing training through the Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) program.
“[CERT is] a great program,” said David Dobbins, Draper city manager. “The more prepared the residents of Draper are, the better off everyone will be in case of an emergency.”
Community Emergency Response Team (CERT)
The CERT program was started in California in 1986 as a way to bridge the gap between a large-scale disaster and the availability of local emergency help. It is now a nationwide program that includes training for residents to learn what to do “during and immediately following major disasters before first responders can reach the affected areas.”
Over 250 residents have been trained through Draper’s CERT program since it started in 2006.
Steve Carn, who has been a resident of Draper for 10 years, recently completed the CERT training in Draper.
“It is very well organized,” Carn said. “I really believe it is a gap filler. It’s a way to get things set up and going right away in order to help your neighbors before the state and federal emergency people can get to them.”
Participation in CERT training in Draper costs $30 and includes instruction on disaster preparedness, fire suppression, medical operations, light search and rescue operations, psychology and team organization as well as a disaster simulation.
While the CERT program educates residents and provides a recommended neighborhood framework, it is then up to individuals to take this information back to their community and establish and maintain a neighborhood or area unit emergency response plan.
One Draper neighborhood shows emergency preparedness at its finest
In the neighborhood near 13300 South and east of Highland Drive in Draper, several individuals have taken their CERT training and created a stellar example of both community and preparedness.
Carmen Roark, who has lived in Draper for 15 years, began her foray into emergency preparedness after being asked to volunteer her time as the communications expert for her local congregation in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. She got her ham radio operator license and completed a CERT class in preparation for her role.
“I felt as though a great responsibility had been given to me,” said Roark. “Technically I was communications but it grew from there because there wasn’t one specific person manning the ship.”
In her CERT training, Roark learned that Draper had divided the city into 10 districts comprised of smaller area units or neighborhoods.
“For the most part you are given this knowledge and everyone has their own assignment and will put this information to use how they want to,” Roark said.
Roark took her assignement seriously and visited the approximately 150 homes located in her neighborhood to gather information. She compiled this information into a binder including the number of people in each household and noting any special needs, skills or equipment. Following CERT and city recommendations, she enlisted the help of 15 volunteer “block captains” who were assigned to monitor between 10–12 houses each.
With the help of what Roark calls an emergency preparedness team, including neighbor Debbie Elggren and Roark’s husband Joe, emergency binders were created for all of the homes in their area unit, with more detailed binders for each block captain. They also included informational magnets listing seven things to do in the case of an area-wide emergency.
Each binder included a set of colored cards for homeowners to hang on their door after a disaster.
“Our zone hands out colored cards that we ask people to store underneath their sink for easy access,” explained Carn. “If there is an emergency, there is a different color for each situation that you place on your front door so volunteers and rescuers can make a quick assessment and don’t have to unduly search homes.”
Through the support of local religious leaders, Roark’s team was also able to purchase first aid supplies and equipment like crowbars and cribbing, which they have stored at three locations in their neighborhood and in a city-provided CERT trailer.
Another impressive element of preparedness in the Corner Canyon Emergency District is their communications set-up.
Glad, who serves as the chair for the district, has several ham radio antennas stretching high above her home, which on a clear day give her the ability to communicate nearly anywhere in the world using her high-frequency ham radio.
Every Thursday Glad, as the district chair, hosts a weekly ham radio check-in or “net.” Roark is one of the regulars for the weekly role call which is done, in part, to keep up skills and prepare for a time when a disaster makes their ability to communicate via ham radio an incredibly valuable asset.
“One of the things people don't think about is the fact that in every major disaster the thing that has failed every single time is communication,” Glad said. “The cell towers may be standing but it doesn't take much to overload and systems shut down. With ham radio we do high frequency and can send information all over. Communication will be vitally important.”
Roark went beyond the ham radio component to ensure that she was in regular communication with her neighbors.
She set up a way to communicate via text with all of the area unit members and sends regular updates with pertinent information.
“I let them know if there is an emergency, mail theft, fire on the mountain, mudslide warnings or any other important things they need to know,” Roark said. “One lady told me she was moving a refrigerator and saw my name on caller ID and put down the refrigerator to answer. She said, ‘If Carmen is calling it is important, she doesn’t do frivolous.’ I was so flattered because I’m so protective of having people’s personal information.”
Jim Chesley said they were amazed by all of the emergency preparation when they first moved into their home. “It has turned out to be a really fantastic thing. I can’t believe how efficient it is. It’s amazing how fast word travels and gets out and makes everybody aware.”
All of the area units in the Corner Canyon Emergency District also have designated walkie-talkie frequencies to use in the event of an emergency.
The plan and the problem
“If there is a disaster the first thing we all will do is make sure our own family and house are okay,” said Carn, who has recently taken over responsibility for the area unit from Roark. “Next we gather the emergency supplies, and if we are able to, we haul the CERT trailer to the nearby church building which serves as our district’s command center. We expect the block captains to assess their area and report. Then as people start showing up to volunteer we give assignments depending on the disaster and how many people are hurt.”
All of the education, communication and preparation has this pocket of Draper prepared for any emergency on a community level. But no matter how prepared the areas and districts are, a huge amount of overal emergency readiness depends on individuals.
“We have all of this compelling information but we can’t make anyone personally prepare,” Roark said.
“I think the biggest challenge is getting people interested and convincing them that there is a need [for preparedness],” Glad said. “There is a ton of information available but it is hard to convince people to be prepared for something that they don't want to happen.”
Dougherty said many people feel overwhelmed with the work and cost of preparing and think in a worst-case earthquake scenario that they might not be around to need emergency supplies.
“Earthquake modeling shows us 99% of people [in Utah] will survive,” said Dougherty. “What quality of life do you want to have in the aftermath? Do you want to be a helper or do you want to be relying on help from others? Remember we are pretty much all going to survive.”
Experts agree that it is a good idea to take on one element of emergency preparedness at a time when preparing yourself or your family.
“With so many options for preparing, the way to have a little bit of sanity is to just do one thing,” Dougherty said. “Start very small with something simple like strapping your hot water heater to the studs so it doesn’t fall over in an earthquake.”
CERT training can be a valuable resource for individuals wanting to organize themselves or their neighborhood.
“CERT helps you learn general preparedness and makes you confident in going out and helping other people,” Glad said. “The outcome of the disaster is determined by your preparation before it happens.”
Working hard behind the scenes in this Draper neighborhood, Roark, Glad, Elggren and Carn may never have to put all of this preparation to use. But they have peace of mind knowing they are ready to help themselves and their neighbors if the necessity arises.
“In an emergency I think that everybody will come together and help,” Roark said.