By Daniel Silliman
It's 20 hours of training, but Stacy Pate-Kirkwood can sum it up with one word: Preparedness.
"It's about being prepared in general," said the Homeland Security Operations Officer with Clayton County Emergency Management. "Disaster preparedness. But, not only to be prepared in your own home, in your own home with your own family, but this teaches you to be prepared in your own community, starting with your own neighborhood and branching out from there."
The Clayton County Emergency Management Department is starting up a preparedness training class in January, after a five-year hiatus. The class, Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) training, is designed and sponsored by the Federal Emergency Management Agency and taught by the county's expert firefighters and paramedics.
The training teaches people the "basic response and organizational skills" to use in disasters, the sort of events that could overwhelm "first responders," and also could occur during daily emergencies.
The CERT training will teach 24 Clayton County citizens how to take steps to prepare themselves for a disaster; immediately respond to an emergency; fight fires; give first aid; perform a head-to-toe assessment; set up a treatment area; search and rescue; extrication; and the realities of triage.
"The training has been developed by the federal government, so they're really trying to cover all the bases," said Beth Durmire, the county's emergency management operations officer.
The county tried to offer the class in the past, but the program didn't really take off. After the tornado hit northern Clayton County back in May, the importance of community preparedness was highlighted.
Pate-Kirkwood said community assistance was crucial to the Emergency Management department, when they responded to the tornado-struck neighborhood.
"Who are the 'first responders'? Well, there are some things you can do to help before the firefighters and the EMTs get there," Pate-Kirkwood said. "When the tornado hit, back in May, there were a lot of trees down on the roads, blocking the fire trucks. Well, volunteers were out cutting away trees, so the trucks could get in, and they were going to check on their neighbors. We were very fortunate. Nobody died. It could have been much worse ... so look at how good it would be if even just five or six people from a neighborhood took CERT training. They will have the tools they need."
Durmire said it is a priority for the county department to help citizens be prepared, even if there's never another tornado.
"A lot of emphasis needs to be placed on personal preparation," Durmire said. "We need to ensure that the citizens are prepared to take on whatever it happens to be. We need to make sure that we let them know how to prepare."
CERT training classes will run for three hours every Tuesday and Thursday evening, for the month of January. The classes will be held at Station No. 13, 264 N. Main Street, in Jonesboro, and will conclude with a mock disaster and live training exercise.
For more information or to sign up for the free classes, call (770) 478-8271.