Nearly a year and a half ago, I was approached by a group of individuals in my Lake Arrowhead neighborhood in Cherokee County who were interested in teaming together to form a Community Emergency Response Team (CERT). With little hesitation, I signed up to be a part of the group. Lake Arrowhead is an isolated community that is hard to reach in certain weather conditions, so we knew we needed to be able to respond to an emergency while waiting for responders to get to us. Therefore, we wanted to train and prepare ourselves to respond to a disaster within our community.
I’ve always been aware of the importance of emergency planning and preparedness, but seeing the devastating impact of disasters such as Hurricane Katrina helped motivate me to get more involved. I considered the offer to join CERT an opportunity to make a difference in the community and help my friends and neighbors be better prepared for whatever may come our way.
One way our local CERT team made a difference was by organizing a preparedness fair in July 2011. The event received outstanding support from the Cherokee County Emergency Management Agency (EMA), local first responders, and participating vendors. Cherokee County’s Safe Kids Program brought child safety programs. Cherokee County Fire and Emergency Services and our local volunteer fire department brought equipment. The Cherokee County Sheriff’s Office brought its SWAT Team and mobile command post. Even the Georgia National Guard and Georgia State Defense Force brought teams.
The fair provided a worthwhile experience to the 400 individuals who attended and the vendors, many of which sold out of preparedness supplies and equipment and agreed to participate again. Emergency responders and preparedness experts were excited to interface and share knowledge with the public. Most importantly, the people who attended expressed that they benefited tremendously from the available resources and activities.
The biggest benefit from my CERT involvement is the satisfaction I take in knowing that people in the community are thinking more about getting themselves prepared, taking action to be ready for a disaster, and spreading the word about the importance of getting ready. Events such as the Lake Arrowhead Preparedness Fair help attract more CERT volunteers to play a role in making sure the community is prepared. Our local CERT group grew from four members to nearly 50 active volunteers during the 16 months that I’ve been involved.
Getting involved helps individuals gain a better understanding of what can happen in a disaster and what happens to the availability of professional resources when the county is overwhelmed. That’s why it’s important to become familiar with the steps necessary to respond to potential emergencies and responders – it can be life-saving.
CERT helps you plan for yourself, your family and your community. It doesn’t take much to get involved and isn’t an activity for the “super prepared.” Anyone can join. After a few days of fun but comprehensive training and drills, the average person will know the basics and understand what they need to do in case of an emergency, and more importantly, how to help their neighbors and better work with the professional responders when they are able to get to their community.
CERT is one of the fastest growing types of volunteer organizations in the county. More people are signing up to become a part of emergency response teams in their community. I got involved and you can too. To learn more about CERT in your community, visit the Citizen Corps website.