Edmond’s Citizens Emergency Response Program

Volunteers Prepare for an Emergency or Natural Disaster
It was a devastating sight. Families huddled together on rooftops trying to avoid the rising water; belongings floating away on what used to be normal neighborhood streets in Louisiana. Thousands left homeless in an arena that once was full of applause and cheers. Hurricane Katrina left people across the country asking, “How can I help?” or “What can I do to make sure my family is safe if a disaster like that happened here?”

Mike Magee, Edmond’s Emergency Management coordinator, is helping residents answer those questions through the city’s Community Emergency Response Team. CERT is an organization of about 75 trained volunteers committed to keeping the community prepared for a disaster.

“It’s usually not a question of if, it’s when. Due to severe weather in Oklahoma, things will happen,” Magee said.
According to Magee, the CERT program was started nationally in 1994 under the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and is one of five programs under the Citizen Corps Councils. CERT was modeled after a program started by the Los Angeles Fire Department after several untrained volunteers were injured while responding to the Whittier Narrows earthquake in 1987. Recognizing that volunteers were a beneficial resource when properly trained and organized, the LAFD developed the program.

Magee, who started the Edmond CERT program one and a half years ago when he began working for the city, said it’s important to train, equip and organize volunteers. Training doesn’t consist of merely lectures and notes — it’s hands on. “We like people to get dirty,” Magee said with a laugh.

With the help of the fire department, volunteers have received training in fire suppression and rescuing and treating victims during a mock search and rescue, Magee said.

Under FEMA curriculum, training generally falls in the following areas: disaster preparedness, fire suppression, medical operations, disaster psychology, team organization, terrorism and first aid. Initial training can be completed in two long days, or it can be spread out over a four- or five-day period, to accommodate almost anyone’s schedule. Additional follow-up training is offered periodically.

But before training can commence, volunteers go through an application process and background check. Magee said the program hasn’t turned away a single volunteer yet. “Young and robust or mature and wise, we need them all,” he said. “Of course, we don’t expect our older volunteers to run into a damaged building for a search-and-rescue operation, but there are plenty of situations in which we can utilize them.”

One restriction, however, is that volunteers must be over the age of 18, or attend training with a parent.
Once training and the background check are complete, the state will issue each volunteer a badge along with a backpack full of safety gear. Edmond volunteers are divided into three teams, based on their location within the city. Although they are trained and equipped to react by themselves, each group has an assigned leader. This model is beneficial when emergencies arise and volunteers need to be notified.

“One of the first things I can do is call the team leaders and have them notify the volunteers in their area,” Magee said. “I also have the capability to shoot out an e-mail to all the volunteers, giving them reporting information or naming a staging area.”

If the emergency is on a grand scale, Magee can use local media outlets, weather alerts, even a computerized calling system to get word out to his network of volunteers.

When disaster strikes nationally, CERT volunteers can be requested through a program called EMAC, Emergency Management Assistance Compact. Magee said states that have a need for response personnel, like firefighters, police officers and CERT volunteers, can request them through EMAC.

CERT volunteers were called to assist in the cleanup of Hurricane Francis last year in Florida. In fact, more than 200 volunteers from Oklahoma helped. However, no CERT volunteers have been requested for the battered Gulf Coast. Magee said he believes this is because some people don’t fully understand the benefits communities receive through CERT volunteers.

Having a knowledgeable and trained volunteer base is only one step in ensuring that Edmond is prepared for an emergency or natural disaster. Training and preparing the community itself is Magee’s top priority. “It’s my goal to get our Personal Emergency Plan booklet into the hands of every family in Edmond,” he said.

“We also visit with the staff members and teachers at every school in Edmond every two years, on a rotating basis. Schools and classrooms are like small families … we want to make sure they are prepared,” he added. In addition, Magee and his staff speak at local clubs, watch associations and various open houses to get the word out about being prepared.

Magee recommends each family have an emergency supplies stash that consists of water, food, cash and phone numbers of relatives, among other things. Stocking up on extra supplies can strap the wallet, but Magee suggests gradually purchasing survival supplies on a weekly basis, instead of all at once.

After 26 years in the Air Force, Magee draws some parallels between his career then and now. “Both have a distinct command and control system,” he said. “You always have to communicate, coordinate, command and control your resources.”

He credits his success in both careers to his ability to think and work on several levels: strategic, operational and tactical. “It’s important to be able to work at the strategic level and then dive down into the weeds to the tactical level, if necessary,” he said.

Magee also credits the success of the CERT program to his network of volunteers. “I’m very grateful to those who volunteer,” he said. “They will respond not because they are paid to, but because they want to. I feel very blessed.”
For more information or to become a volunteer, contact Edmond’s Community Emergency Response Team at 359-4378.

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