The devastation of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita is hundreds of miles away. But seeing the stark images of destruction makes most of us wonder -- Could I survive a disaster? What could I do to help my family ... my neighbors ... my community?
Payson's Community Emergency Response Team can answer those questions.
"We organized about 18 months ago and have trained 80 to 100 residents in what to do in a disaster," said Gary Lamken, coordinator. He said about 20 active members are on CERT -- not everyone who trains has to join the team.
"The emergency personnel are going to be tied up in a disaster, so they may not be available to help everyone right away," Lamken said.
"CERT is the first response when there are no first responders," Lew Levenson of the Payson area Red Cross said. "CERT deals with the disaster, and Red Cross deals with the consequences -- setting up feeding stations and shelters."
CERT must be activated by either the police or fire chief, Lamken said.
With CERT training, civilians can provide first response assistance, or take care of themselves and their families while waiting for professional help to arrive.
"In a disaster, help from the Federal Emergency Management Agency is at least 72 hours out," Lamken said. "FEMA is not a first responder."
Training received includes basic first aid; basic fire suppression; search and rescue, primarily in the event of a building collapse; and emergency communications.
CERT training also provides guidelines for preparing a portable, 72-hour survival kit and instructions for surviving when stranded at home or on the road.
When responding to an emergency, special emphasis is given to keeping team members safe. They will not be put in a situation where their lives are at risk, Lamken said.
CERT was started by the Los Angeles Fire Department. Members of the LAFD had been in Japan and in an earthquake they noticed several people in special vests helping. When they asked about them, the firefighters learned about Japan's CERT program.
Realizing the same kind of citizen emergency response program could work in Los Angeles, the firefighters brought the information back and the program was instituted.
FEMA adopted the CERT program after the attacks on the World Trade Center.
Currently 1,966 CERTs are organized throughout the United States, he said.
New CERT training programs will start soon, Lamken said. The way the classes are offered varies -- participants can meet one night a week for eight weeks; twice a week for four weeks; or two weekends at eight hours a day -- it depends on what fits the schedules of a majority of the participants. He said 15 to 20 participants are needed to hold a class, which is free.
For more information, contact Lamken at the Payson Fire Department, (928) 474-5242, ext. 330.