Emergency response volunteers sought

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By  Tony Briscoe
Entirely East Lansing staff writer

The East Lansing Police Department, in association with the East Lansing Fire Department, is accepting applications until Feb. 15 from residents who would like to take part in the Community Emergency Response Team program.

The CERT initiative was created to train volunteers to assist communities during emergencies. It started on the West Coast in 1985 to help aid in earthquake disaster relief. Now, the program is in cities across the country including nearby areas such as Lansing, Delta Township and the Michigan State University campus.

“It’s been around for a good 25 years, but we are in the process of introducing it] to our community in East Lansing to supplement the programs that are already up and running at Michigan State University and also in the city of Lansing,” said Capt. Kim Johnson of the East Lansing Police Departmeny.

CERT volunteers are required to be at least 18 and cannot participate if they have been convicted of a felony. In addition, volunteers should be physically fit enough to complete a minimum 20 hours of training, which is expected to begin in March. Eighteen hours of training will be devoted to search-and-rescue tactics, first aid, fire safety and what items are necessary to prepare for a disaster. The final two hours will be a simulation of an emergency situation where volunteers will be able to apply the skills they’ve learned.

“It’s a way for volunteers to get involved in times of great need and especially in natural disasters,” said Johnson, who has worked 27 years in the police department. “People who live in the community, they have a tendency to want to help anyway … so having some extra training under their belt could not only help themselves, but also their neighbors in the process.”

Johnson said he believes that a CERT team could have helped during the recent blizzard, which dumped approximately 11 inches on the city.

On top of responding to crisis situations, CERT volunteers also serve as city ambassadors during events like the annual East Lansing Art Festival or the Great Lakes Folk Festival said Johnson.

Officer Steve Gonzalez, who formally discussed the CERT program with members of City Council on Tuesday, Feb. 1, said the program received overwhelming approval from public officials.

“We were really giving City Council a heads-up on the program once it’s up and running,” said Gonzalez. “Part of the purpose of also presenting to City Council is that the city council meetings are televised…which is another way for us to get the word out about the program.”

The ultimate goal, Gonzalez said, is to train volunteers to be proficient in disaster-response assistance in situations such as severe weather conditions, train derailments, building fires or power outages in order to make East Lansing safer.

Those interested in becoming CERT volunteers can get an application online or can pick one up at East Lansing City Hall.

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