By Laurelle Walsh
To prepare for future large-scale emergencies, Twisp Police Chief Paul Budrow says his community needs to be able to survive for three days before outside agencies come in with assistance. Last summer’s fires “brought the issue into the forefront,” Budrow said.
Not only should every family have an emergency plan, stored water and a 72-hour “comfort kit,” but Budrow also wants to create a Community Emergency Response Team — or CERT — that can respond quickly to neighborhood needs before police, fire or medical first responders can get there.
“We need people in the community who have the training to help out,” when communications failures or road closures may prevent access to the immediate emergency services that people have come to expect by calling 911, Budrow said.
And, as the Methow Valley learned during last summer’s wildfires, certain disasters may stretch on for days or even weeks.
CERT is a program designed by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) that trains citizen teams to provide immediate assistance to victims, organize volunteers, and gather information to help first responders prioritize and allocate resources following a disaster.
Basic CERT training includes disaster preparedness, fire suppression, first aid and CPR, search and rescue, disaster psychology and team organization. Trainees also take part in a disaster simulation.
A CERT team might run a phone tree or deliver door-to-door evacuation notices during a fire, or check on elderly neighbors during a power outage, Budrow said.
Budrow has heard from a number of community members interested in being part of a CERT team, and has a course tentatively planned for March and April of 2015, he said.
“I don’t want people already involved in fire, law enforcement or EMS [emergency medical services] work,” Budrow said. “I want regular citizens who don’t already have other emergency responsibilities.”
Budrow trained a CERT team for the Upper Skagit Tribe when he was director of emergency management and chief of police there. He will be in charge of training the Twisp team.
The police chief and his fellow officers are currently studying for their ham radio licenses, which will enable them to communicate with “outside entities” during an emergency, using radio frequencies outside of law enforcement. This will allow them to send messages up and down the valley via the “huge base” of amateur radio operators already operating from home stations, Budrow said.
The Okanogan County Department of Emergency Management began a CERT program in 2006, with 18 individuals completing the CERT Basic Training Course at that time. The county’s CERT team has since been incorporated into the sheriff’s department’s Search and Rescue program, according to Emergency Management Specialist Glenda Beauregard.
There are 71 CERT teams currently registered in the state of Washington, managed by cities and counties, schools and colleges, Indian tribes, fire districts, and institutions such as Seattle Children’s Hospital and the Woodland Park Zoo. There are even teen CERT teams. Training is standardized by FEMA, which supplies training materials and maintains a directory of teams.
For more information on Twisp’s proposed CERT program, call Budrow at 997-6112.