Centre Region officials aim to bring back public emergency training

The day of the big windstorm that hit the area in June, Beth Hulet attempted to leave her Holly Circle home to check the status of power at her church, but the street was blocked by emergency vehicles and a wire down.

She turned around, called her husband to check in and spoke to her neighbors. She led them in a search for a possible second way to exit the neighborhood, if necessary, and eventually found one.

If not for attending Community Emergency Response Teams training in May, Hulet said she might have just sat in her house, waiting for the power to turn on again.

“I felt helpful,” she said. “I felt like I did something and now our neighborhood has located one way we can get out if we can’t use the main road.”

CERT training used to be available to Centre County residents, but was dropped due to funding concerns, according to Centre Region Emergency Management Coordinator Shawn Kauffman.

The Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency has renewed its focus on CERT programs, and grants through federal government sponsor Citizen Corps will pay for the training, making it free to participants. About 50 local residents in all have been trained through CERT pilot programs.

Kauffman said he hopes a resurgence of CERT will become a broad outreach opportunity, beyond his solo attendance at safety fairs and other events.

“As, basically, a one-person show, it’s hard to get out to most of the community,” he said. “When we provide people with preparedness information, we’re giving them some tools they can actually use during a disaster.”

The 20-hour course teaches preparedness for the types of disasters that could occur in this area: fire safety, such as how to use an extinguisher; medical treatments like opening airways and treating severe bleeding; basic search and rescue; and observation and reporting of potential terrorism.

“The lights started to go on and people started getting excited,” said Stephen Mershon, a resident who, along with Kauffman, is a trained CERT instructor and helped with the pilot programs. “It lessens impacts by essentially putting some kind of order to chaos until professional help arrives.”

That’s a key point, as CERT participants are not expected or trained to replace professional first responders. They learn things like turning off water and gas, and other ways to help their families, neighbors and the community.

Mershon said the training can help people feel empowered to help out in situations when they previously wouldn’t have done so.

Kauffman and Mershon will kick off promotion of local CERT training, which will be available to anyone in Centre County, in September — Emergency Preparedness Month. The Centre Region Emergency Management Council already offered support for the move.

“I would much rather be ready and be a little in the know than in the dark and wonder, what do I do now, who’s going to take care of me,” Hulet said, to Mershon’s point. “I can take care of myself, I can take care of my family. I’d rather be an asset than a burden.”