Free CERT program preparing people to help out in emergencies, n - DC News FOX 5 DC WTTG

Free CERT program preparing people to help out in emergencies, national disasters

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By Terri Tolliver and Sherri Ly

When an explosive device went off near the finish line of the Boston Marathon, hundreds of people ran from the blast in fear, but dozens ran to the blast to help.

Are you prepared to act? FOX 5’s Sherri Ly found a program that will help you get prepared and it's free.

In an emergency, life or death can come down to a matter of minutes. The CERT Coordinator for Prince George's County, Calvin Hawkins, says, "Time can either be your best friend or your worst enemy."

We have watched deadly tornadoes rip through Oklahoma, a building collapse unexpectedly in Philadelphia, and a derecho last year that left thousands in our area without power. There is never a shortage of emergencies or disasters.

And now there is no shortage of information and training on how to survive.

"We teach them how to put out small fires, how to deal with medical situations. We teach them how to do medical triage,” says Hawkins.

He runs the Community Emergency Response Team program also known as CERT in Prince George's County. It is a federally funded program taught nationwide for free. Anyone can sign up for the training, which involves eight lessons over 20 hours. It can be a mind-changing experience.

"It empowers you to go from thinking you are a victim to thinking you can assist not only yourself, but others, to respond to any emergency or disaster,” says Hawkins.

Volunteers learn what to do until emergency responders arrive. They are taught in the classroom and with real time emergency drills.

During a CERT emergency disaster drill, volunteers crawled on the floor and yelled out to "victims" placed throughout rooms in a county training facility.

"CERT search and rescue. If you can hear me, please come to me if you are capable," they yelled as they entered the building hit by a mock tornado.

This drill simulated a tornado with a partial building collapse and volunteers acting as victims suffering from very real-looking injuries.

"Help us," one victim yelled.

"My skin is burning," screamed another.

Members of the Delmarva Search and Rescue team helped these CERT teams stay calm in the chaos.

"The way the training is designed, it's taking you from absolutely no experience or education in any sort of disaster response and bringing you up to an area where you can at least be self-sufficient in a disaster," says Michael Hansen with the Delmarva SAR team.

Hawkins adds the training works in lots of different situations. He says members "can take this training wherever they go. Whether they are on a vacation or if they are at church or at their place of business, they can use this training."

That training kicked in when CERT volunteer Dedra Frazier drove up on an accident.

She says, "You go into game mode. You go in prepared to know what you have to do.”

She didn't hesitate to take control.

She described what she did: "Made sure the victims were OK. And then direct traffic so that none of the other people would get hurt or another accident would happen."

She tells FOX 5 knowing what to do gives her an invaluable tool.

"It gives you the ability to trust your instincts," she added.

"It will allow you, not only the knowledge, but the confidence to do what you can," Hawkins agreed.

Because when you are waiting for rescuers to get there, someone's life may be in your hands.

"You never know, you just could just save your own family,” Hawkins says.

And Frazier added, "It takes one to help one. We all have to help one another."

It is an outcome that could very well come down to the very basics.

And to Hawkins, that is "plan to prepare or prepare to fail."


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