City of Seminole Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) Receives National Recognition
Seminole, FL – CERT Assists with Hurricane Irma Preparedness and Response
The Seminole, Florida Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) faced its first major test with preparedness and response for Hurricane Irma.
Started in 2015, the City of Seminole’s CERT was accustomed to responding to firefighter rehabilitation calls, which includes treating first responders for dehydration, smoke inhalation, and heat stroke. After the hurricane, the program now boasts experience in evacuations, emergency operations center (EOC) support, and damage assessment. “We are a young program here in Seminole,” said Brad Dykens, Community Preparedness & Life Safety Coordinator for the City of Seminole Fire Rescue Department. “We have only been around for two years. But, the community embraced CERT very well.”
To date, the program has trained 114 people with a group of 30 very active volunteers. The goal has been to train as many people in the community as possible. In fact, the city’s Mayor even joined the CERT. By the time Hurricane Irma arrived, the team already knew how to run the incident management system in the EOC and was familiar with city’s evacuation procedures.
“They are well trained,” Dykens said. “They are very accomplished. They have a very good little infrastructure going. I am honored to be their program manager.”
Responding to Hurricane Irma
Hurricane Irma hit the city as a Category 1 hurricane causing widespread power outages for nearly five days, fallen trees, and minor structural damage. To prepare for the storm, the City of Seminole activated the CERT to evacuate residents with disabilities and others with access and functional needs. With just 36 hours’ notice, the team called more than 200 residents to confirm whether they needed assistance evacuating. Then they split into four evacuation teams and assisted people from their homes to the emergency shelters on school buses.
“As far as Irma goes, we had a great turnout of assistance,” Dykens said. “In its entirety, Irma was a seven-day event for our CERT program. From gearing up and getting people out to returning people where they needed to be. So, it was quite a lengthy operation.” The CERT members also worked in the city’s EOC during the storm. They helped with data entry and communications. They operated the radio systems including the backup system. The storm cut off the main communications system for 12 hours, so they switched to HAM radio.
“They did so many jobs they were an awesome force multiplier,” Dykens said. “Having all these extra people in place really made a difference to allow the regularly uniformed responders do what they needed to do.”
After the storm passed, the CERT deployed for damage assessments. They helped those evacuated residents determine if their homes had power so they could return. Along with city employees, they set up a mini-point of distribution for ice.
“That was more of a comfort measure for a lot of our residents that had gone without electricity for a while,” Dykens said. “It was very, very hot here and getting ice out to the community was very much appreciated.”
When Florida’s Department of Children and Families created Food for Florida, CERT responded again. Supported by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Disaster Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (D-SNAP), Food for Florida offers emergency food benefits for those affected by Hurricane Irma; it provides food assistance to low-income households experiencing food loss caused by a natural disaster. For five days, CERT members staffed a relief tent for those waiting in line to receive benefits. They provided cold drinks and fans for those overtaken by the heat. “It was something that was needed, and CERT was able to throw that together,” Dykens said. “They basically applied their firefighter rehab skills to help the public for this type of situation.”
Returning to Normal
With power restored, Dykens reports that the community is doing rather well. However, the hurricane postponed at least one CERT activity. Before the storm, they planned to assist the American Red Cross with a smoke alarm initiative at the end of September. “Unfortunately, Irma put a little dent in our planned event,” Dykens said. “But, we will be doing it again in the spring. We basically team up with the [American] Red Cross to get smoke alarms put in the high- risk areas of the community.” The American Red Cross’ Sound the Alarm event will take place once again throughout the Nation this spring. Fro April 28 to May 13, 2018, this initiative plans to install 100,000 free smoke alarms across more than 100 major cities.
The CERT’s response to Hurricane Irma received praise from the Mayor’s office and citizens on the street. It also contributed to a surge of interest in CERT training. “Everyday people come in asking about it,” Dykens said. “Already, I have a waiting list of 20 people that want to take that class.”
To learn more, visit Seminole CERT.
Article republished from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) an agency of the United States Department of Homeland Security (DHS)
Disclosure: The owner of IONTB LLC, Steven Hirschfield, is a active board member and instructor with Seminole CERT