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Disaster funds received, CERT training planned

Upgrades to the county’s early warning capabilities and expanding emergency preparedness training programs are two positive aftereffects of the tornado that razed the Ringgold area in April 2011.

The storms that swept across the region, bringing destruction to the local area, prompted a national outpouring of donations to aid recovery efforts throughout the Southeast, including more than $1.5 million collected by the Salvation Army.

Kimberly George, director of marketing and development for the Salvation Army office in Chattanooga, presented local officials with a $96,500 check at the Catoosa County Commission meeting Oct. 16.

“The Salvation Army makes a promise that if you donate to a disaster, 100 percent of your donation will go to those disaster relief efforts,” George said.

Officials said these disaster relief funds will be dedicated to adding a reverse 911 component to the county’s emergency notification system and developing a secondary emergency management command center at Fire Station 1, near the Ringgold Depot.

For the organization’s help during “our recovery,” Commission Chairman Keith Greene thanked the Salvation Army.

“We pray you’re never in a similar situation, but we are here for any disaster,” George said.

While local government improves its ability to warn residents and manage a countywide response to disasters, the Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) of Catoosa County continues training volunteers to react to emergencies at the neighborhood level.

“I describe the CERT program as being kind of like Neighborhood Watch for disasters,” said Larry Miller, a local CERT instructor. “It teaches you how to aid your family and neighbors without becoming a victim yourself.”

CERT is a national program that distills more than 20 years of “boots on the ground” experience from volunteers nationwide into a training program prepared and regularly updated by the Federal Emergency Management Agency with classes tailored to address the unique needs of a particular region or community.

“This is a neighborhood-based, family unit-based response to disasters,” Miller said. “Advance preparation and training makes a CERT graduate far more effective when they respond to an emergency.

“We do not respond with emergency responders but we know what to do until they arrive. We learn enough to keep ourselves out of trouble and keep trouble from getting worse.”

Miller said 50 local residents have completed the training and gained their certification since the tornado. Those completing the course have said they feel more confident in being able to survive a disaster and in being prepared to help their neighbors.

The class is open to anyone age 18 or older who is interested in attending the classes on two consecutive Saturdays and joining the local team.

Upon completing the class, CERT members are issued a backpack with basic equipment that includes a helmet, vest, gloves, flashlight, other basic and essential equipment.

After becoming certified, team members can continue training in such areas as the mass distribution of supplies following a disaster, taking stormwatcher classes offered by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the National Weather Service, or gaining Red Cross certification in emergency shelter management.

“There is almost no end to training — most is available at no cost and online — but our core mission remains the same: basic disaster response in our own neighborhoods,” Miller said.

IF YOU GO

What: Community Emergency Response Team disaster preparedness and community response training. Disaster preparedness for your home, first aid and triage, light search and rescue techniques, hazard identification and psychological first aid are some of the topics covered.

When: Nov. 10 and 17 from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.. Attendance at both Saturday sessions is required for certification.

Where: Catoosa Fire Station 1 at 5282 Evitt St., across the railroad tracks from the Ringgold Depot.

Cost: Training and equipment is free.

Registration information: Email catoosacert@att.net or call Larry Miller at 423-313-5053.

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