CERT provides a valuable service for Ashland

CERT (Community Emergency Response Team) has become a vital community resource over the past two years under the leadership of Lucy Edwards and Heidi Gottleib.

At least 368 people have completed basic training, with about 40-50 more trained each year. Assuming an Ashland population of 21,630, the class scheduled for the first two weekends of May should bring the ratio to about one trained CERT volunteer for each 75 residents.

As most trainees are retirees, most remain active for only a few years. Thus, it is important to continually recruit and train new volunteers. Currently, 196 volunteers are active, participating in ongoing activities such as those below.

First, volunteers have been activated thirty times since December 2005. Four have been for sandbagging; the rest to staff emergency shelters for the homeless.

Second, CERT holds monthly meetings featuring invited speakers on topics such as earthquake preparedness, evacuation and incident command. Sometimes, meetings take the form of field exercises to improve radio skills or increase familiarity with vulnerable parts of the city.

Third, CERT organized five emergency response bases with two volunteer coordinators each at the top of phone trees to call out active volunteers. Each has its own radios, maps and first aid, safety and search and rescue equipment and supplies, kept in secured trailer-truck size containers.

Fourth, CERT's 20 licensed ham operators practice communications procedures weekly. This ensures the volunteers know how to work with our professional emergency services. They will prove invaluable in the event phones are out.

Fifth, several volunteers are completing Incident Command Training. Primarily aimed at Jackson County professionals, training gives the latter backup should there be an extended incident requiring shifts.

Sixth, in 2008 and again in 2009, about 25 people completed advanced training at a three-day retreat at Camp Latgawa to reinforce and improve radio communication, search and rescue, first aid and incident command skills.

Seventh, 12 volunteers are participating in a three-day, full-scale, 20-agency Jackson/Josephine county exercise developing coordination, integration of capabilities and problem resolution.

Eighth, reaching beyond its volunteers, CERT has implemented "Map Your Neighborhood." The program prepares self-defined neighborhoods for situations in which the emergency system is overwhelmed. There now are 30 such neighborhoods totaling 400-450 Ashland households that can sustain themselves for three days. More are being organized each year.

Ninth, a volunteer leadership group meets monthly to help the coordinator organize CERT activities such as support for the July 4th parade, basic training, advanced training and "Map Your Neighborhood."

Tenth, in its first eight years, Ashland CERT received a total of $65,000 in grants. CERT has received $65,000 in grants each year since Lucy Edwards became coordinator. The grants paid for a full-time program assistant, our firefighters' and paramedics' participation in training, the advanced training and activities described above, and created a corps of volunteers that now collectively volunteer hundreds of hours per year and are constantly improving their skills.

CERT is a vital, cost-effective community resource that will dissipate without a full-time coordinator to continue improving Ashland's ability to respond to emergencies.

CERT volunteers David Churchman, Laura Daugherty, Valerie Muroki and Eileen Polk authored this piece.

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