By Patty Henetz
The Salt Lake Tribune
SALT LAKE CITY — Earthquakes in Haiti and Chile lend a bit more urgency to the idea of volunteer leadership during crises, especially as the Wasatch Fault continues loom over city neighborhoods most vulnerable to the inevitable Big One.
That's why 9th & 9th neighbors Jeff Yancey and Leann Sudbury decided to organize Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) training classes the past three Saturday mornings.
A trained medic and volunteer who also works for the Huntsman Cancer Institute, Yancey has learned no matter who puts them on or what their purpose, emergency drills always teach participants about how they might respond to catastrophe — and how they likely would have to rely on themselves for a day or two until police and fire departments are able to respond.
CERT training has been ongoing in cities across the nation since 1993. In Utah, cities including Sunset, South Salt Lake, Ogden and North Salt Lake have offered training.
But Yancey says it's unusual for a small neighborhood like 9th & 9th to be organized for the training, which usually takes 24 hours spread over however many days it takes.
Yancey's idea was to put neighbors through 12 hours of training, then tell the Salt Lake City Fire Department of the burgeoning teams.
"The whole idea," Yancey says, "is to see who's interested and build from there."
Kim Ventura, 53, who recently came to the neighborhood to live in her grandparents' old house, is a former pediatric registered nurse. Others who have come to the sessions also have medical training.
While some disaster preparedness focuses inward — putting together a 72-hour survival kit, making family plans, figuring out how to stay warm or cool — CERT training teaches volunteers to use leadership and organizational skills to help keep the social contract stitched together.
"I would love it if everyone on my block would come to training at least once," Ventura says. "If you get to know your neighbors, if everyone knows [how to do] something, then you don't have to know everything."
Yancey, though, says it's important that everyone be able to assume incident-commander responsibilities, which means learning how to sort the situation on the fly, then delegate and communicate.
The first three-hour session was mostly introductory, with brief "tabletop" exercises and "hot wash" evaluations afterward. The second session featured a triage effort, with small individual teams taking turns as victims and rescuers who had to determine who would, and wouldn't, get medical treatment during a disaster.
The drills, Yancey says, often reveal the best natural leaders who will become your block's first responders.
"I don't think you can ever be prepared enough [for a quake]," says Patrick Quinn, a real-estate agent who assumed the role of incident commander during exercises. "All of us need to be as prepared as we can be."
Sudbury already is in charge of the emergency-response plan for her LDS ward. She arranged the use of the ward building on McClelland Avenue for the sessions and walked the blocks bordered by 900 South, 1300 South, 900 East and 1100 East, handing out fliers and taping them to power poles. She also has made sure everyone has copies of the thick training booklets and Rice Krispy snacks.
"It's a nice way," Quinn says, "to get out and meet your neighbors after a long winter."
Neighborhood first responders
The Community Emergency Response Team concept started with the Los Angeles Fire Department in 1985. CERT proved not only useful during huge subsequent earthquakes but also underscored the need to train everyday people to meet their own and neighbors' needs.
The Emergency Management Institute and the National Fire Academy adopted and expanded the CERT materials. The Federal Emergency Management Agency, widely criticized for its haplessness response during and after Hurricane Katrina, has made this training available to residents since 1993.
CERT now is part of the federal Citizen Corps program. According to the CERT Web site — www.citizencorps.gov/cert/ — since 1993, communities in 28 states and Puerto Rico have conducted CERT training. Copyright 2010 The Salt Lake Tribune