Residents trained for disasters
When Nicole Zatzkin learned about Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) training in December 2009, her first reaction was, why not?
"I took the course to find out what it's like, but I didn't realize I would be the first deaf person to take the CERT course in Houston," the Cy-Fair-area resident said. "The experience, honestly, had me in awe. I learned so much about being aware of my surroundings, helping others and even staying calm in an emergency. It was well worth it."
CERT, developed by the Los Angeles Fire Department in 1985, is designed to prepare people for the aftermath of a disaster. The eight-week program is offered today in more than 3,400 communities throughout the United States, including neighborhoods in Houston and Harris County.
Course topics include fire safety, disaster medical operations, search and rescue, organization and disaster psychology, and terrorism. Training culminates with a disaster simulation.
"The course teaches citizens emergency response so they can take care of themselves and their family first, then the community," said Terri Pope-Mobley, president and training facilitator for Cy-Fair CERT. "It really teaches people to be self-sufficient."
The 15th training course for this area is under way at Lone Star College-CyFair, 9191 Barker-Cypress Road. Approximately 40 students are participating, and 60 are on a waiting list.
The free training will be available again in early 2011.
A number of the host communities, including Cy-Fair, maintain CERT teams for program graduates, who remain on call in times of emergency.
"Our Cy-Fair group has a lot of follow-up training," Pope-Mobley said. "We have people from all age groups and all abilities."
Marty Samson, a 57-year-old Copperfield Southcreek resident, was among the students to take the first Cy-Fair CERT course. It originally was scheduled for August to October 2005, but there was a break in the schedule because of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita.
"All of us in the class were asked to go volunteer wherever we could, which for many of us ended up being in shelters set up at the Astrodome and the George R Brown Convention Center."
Samson said taking the training made him more confident that he can care for his family and community in the case of a large-scale disaster.
"Over the past five years, I got very involved in Cy-Fair CERT as planning committee chairman, vice president, president, communications and supplies container chairman positions," he said. "As with any disaster preparation program, probably the most important element is to continue your training and periodically test your skills."
Zatzkin, 34, said the training had a similar impact on her. She took the course with the help of a Lone Star College interpreter.
"It made me realize that I am able to help when disasters occur, despite my deafness, not only in my area but especially in the deaf community," she said. "It taught me so much that I decided to establish a team of my own, a DEAF CERT team that would allow us to inform and aid other deaf people in the community."
The DEAF CERT team has seven members.
Cy-Fair CERT, meanwhile, has been active in supporting the community, Pope-Mobley said. It attends annual statewide drills for CERT participants in February and hosts an annual recognition breakfast for Cy-Fair firefighters and EMT responders. To sign up, contact Pope-Mobley at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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