The Maneater

Emergency response team trains for disaster

The team was deployed in 2008 to assist with floods.

Heather Finn / Graphic Designer

In the event of natural disaster and when the Columbia Fire Department is overwhelmed, the city can call on a group of volunteers trained to assist firefighters known as the Community Emergency Response Team.

Fueled by a recent $5,000 grant from the Missouri Office of Homeland Security, the Community Emergency Response Team is entering its 11th year of service to the City of Columbia.

CERT consists of volunteers who are trained in emergency response, search and rescue, triage, and some firefighting. Conceived in 2001, the program is now led by Assistant Fire Marshal Lt. Brian Davison and has 45 active volunteers.

The Los Angeles Fire Department conceptualized the idea of training citizens in disaster survival and rescue skills. The LAFD’s training program, after proven successful, was adopted by the Federal Emergency Management Agency, according to the City of Columbia's website.

Today, CERT has gone national and Missouri boasts 80 programs throughout the state, 41 of which are within 100 miles of Columbia, according to citizencorps.gov.

Phil Amtower, the emergency management coordinator for Christian County in southwest Missouri, said the goal of CERT is to train people to be better prepared to respond to emergency situations in their communities and to take care of themselves in the event of a disaster.

“It is one of the best programs the federal government has ever put out," Amtower said.

In order to become an active volunteer, one must attend a 20-hour training session. These sessions usually occur over the weekend and are offered two to three times a year, Davison said. Training sessions teach the essentials from first aid to disaster psychology to basic firefighting.

Volunteers are expected to log 10 hours per month and they do so by helping at home football games and this weekend’s Roots 'N' Blues 'N' BBQ Festival. Their job is to provide basic medical assistance to those who need it and to be an extra set of eyes. In the event of an emergency, it is expected that they will help, Davison said.

For Columbia, CERT has many benefits.

Columbia is a growing community and as that growth continues, it’s a challenge to keep up with local emergency responders, Davison said.

“CERT is a great way to bolster our ranks,” Davison said.

It also benefits the community as an added resource by helping in incidents when the local fire department is overwhelmed, Davison said.

“It allows us to provide the highest level of care and response possible,” Davison said.

Columbia’s CERT has only been deployed once to help with the severe floods in 2008, but members are trained and ready to go whenever called upon, Davison said.

Other response teams around Missouri have helped with natural disasters such as the May 22, 2011, tornado that hit Joplin. Amtower led the volunteer response for the tornado and currently manages 200 volunteers.

Amtower said his CERT crew logged about 3,000 hours at Joplin and found all but 10 missing people on a list of 300 from the American Red Cross.

In the event of a natural disaster, volunteers end up doing most of the relief work, Amtower said. The paid responders help with the initial response, but then it is up to volunteers. Amtower said cities have two choices: they can have an unorganized effort or have a trained volunteer response team such as CERT.

"I think it's a great program and provides assistance to the community," Davison said.

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