Citizen volunteers with community emergency response teams are busy during forest fire evacuations.
What can the average person do to help in an emergency or disaster? A lot if you are a member of a community emergency response team.
Milwaukie CERT sponsored by Clackamas Fire District # 1. CERT is a national program, started in 1993, that trains volunteers in disaster preparedness for hazards that may affect their area and trains them in basic disaster response skills, such as fire safety, light search and rescue, team organization, A CPR and first aid and medical operations in disaster situations. Some of us are nurses or paramedics, and most of them are not, but all of us can be trained to help with medical assistance in a disaster situation.
Most of the time, we meet monthly and are ready to call for help when needed; We prepare for earthquakes, derailment and natural disasters, and we participate in community awareness. Over the years, Milwaukie CERT has monitored traffic at Milwaukie Umbrella Parade, 9K fundraising for K9, Dogwood Dash, Bikes for Kids, Milwaukie PD fundraising dinner, Operation Santa in the fire department, Milwaukie prescription and document shredding days, in addition to working with Oak Lodge Water District and the Oak Lodge CERT water distribution team to train how water distribution works if water lines are cut after a major earthquake. Disaster psychology and the use of radios to contact the city’s emergency operations center are ongoing exercises. We frame our focus on helping our family and then in our neighborhoods after a major event like the Cascadia Subduction Zone earthquake.
Disaster psychology really got into practice when the Milwaukie CERT was asked on September 8 to help set up evacuation shelters with the Red Cross due to the wildfires. I called the aforementioned person to volunteer at the Mullala shelter and got a call telling me that Mullala was closed because the fire was so close, can I go to Oregon City? I got to Clackamas Community College at around 8:30 pm and found a campus security officer who was directing evacuees in cars and trucks with trailers to the parking lot. Disaster, being disorganized, requires a person to use their critical thinking skills. She identified a location for three other CERT people and two Red Cross volunteers – we were all there at the time. Some Clackamas County workers came to unload bottled water and granola bars for the evacuees.
We, the computer emergency response team members, set up the distribution, and went with the Red Cross to people’s cars to tell them where the open restroom was and about the water and the snacks. Many of the evacuees only had time to pick up a pet and family members, hop in the car and leave. Others have managed to set up camp trailers so they have a place to sleep.
More Red Cross personnel arrived around midnight and took shelter jogging with cribs and blankets in the gym for about 60 people ready to go around 3am. Meanwhile, the Clackamas County Disaster Director, who obtained my number from the shelter organizer, was on contact with me to keep up with the situation at college. My duties made me centered in the wind and smoke-filled parking lot, and throughout the night, I mainly heard stories of people who had to leave their homes at any moment, and would probably never return. Everyone was very sad but strangely calm and were very grateful to the firefighters and for having a safe place to come and sleep through the night. Some said that they went to the parking lot of the stores, but the other passengers were very noisy and did not feel safe enough to sleep in their cars there; We had people come all night.
At 7:30 a.m., the Red Cross got breakfast sandwiches for evacuees, and we Computer Emergency Response Team volunteers transported people from the parking lot we were in overnight to a location closer to the gym. The building was closed with the restroom and the car park was cleaned by 8:30 am and we were able to head to our homes.
On September 10, the CERT was needed again, this time to help sort out food donated to the firefighters at the Fire Training Center. Several firefighters from across the state were there to stock up on food for their platforms and station as well as to shower. Those of us who could go have done that, and we had more volunteers to help on 9/11. I just got an email that we will need it again.
So yes, anyone can make a difference. I have been a CERT member for four and a half years while working full time. Many people want to help but don’t know what to do. CERT training is a great opening up to the huge difference the average person can make to help their neighbors in their time of need and better prepare for their families.
Pam Denham is a member of the Milwaukee Community Emergency Response Team.
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