Ethelbert Benjamin, operations officer/facilities manager at V.I. Territorial Emergency Management Agency (VITEMA), told Rotarians Thursday that in the event of a disaster, members of the community need to step up and take care of themselves.
People who want to step in and help during an emergency can be certified and trained to become first responders during disasters in the Community Emergency Response Teams (CERT) program.
Participants can train in search and rescue, first aid, fire suppression and homeland security. The program trains people to alleviate chaos and to stick to a system with plans. People are also taught to know their own limitations and how to stay safe themselves in order to help their families and others.
“We have coverage but first responders can become overwhelmed in a catastrophic disaster,” Benjamin told a dozen members and guests of Rotary Club of St. Croix at Gertrude's Restaurant, noting the harsh reality that the government is broke.
“CERT is for people to primarily take care of themselves.” He added people are under the impression that FEMA comes in 72 hours to help. “There is manpower, but no equipment is sent,” he said. “If equipment has to sail in or fly in it isn't coming in until 72 hours after the disaster.”
The Community Emergency Response Team concept was developed and implemented by the Los Angeles City Fire Department in 1985. CERT is a national program that is tailored specifically for St. Croix and its needs. The course takes 24 hours to complete.
David Tourigny, CERT St. Croix coordinator, said the instruction can be done in two hours two times a week for six weeks or it can be completed in a weekend. The program is administered in the territory by VITEMA and St. Croix Rescue Academy.
Benjamin said there are a few adults CERT trained on St. Croix but they aren't currently active in response.
VITEMA launched the Teen CERT program in the Virgin Islands April 2011 at the Seventh Day Adventist High School as part of a pilot program created to educate and train student volunteers nationwide in preparing for disasters that impact their areas. There were 27 students who completed that program.
In February, 40 students from Elena Christian Junior High School became certified. The students got backpacks full of emergency supplies and equipment such as hard hats, reflective vests, gloves, masks, flashlights, sanitizers and more that they keep on hand at all times.
Sandra Gerard-Leung, president of the Rotary Club of St. Croix, said the Rotarians intend to get involved in the CERT program, possibly in August.
Call Benjamin at VITEMA at 773-2244 for information or to register for CERT training. Visit citizencorps.gov/cert/ for more about the program.