CERT Program Trains Orange County Residents to Respond to Disasters

Public Health & Safety

When Mark Demyanovich and his wife, Karen, moved to Hunter’s Creek a few years ago, they were thrilled to learn their new community had neighbors just like them, who are trained to respond to disasters. Mark and Karen are Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) veterans, having trained for the nationally guided program in Annapolis, Maryland. They discovered Hunter’s Creek has a CERT team with 30 active members.

“We got involved right away” said Demyanovich. “For us, it’s about helping our community and being prepared in case of an emergency. Our son John is a rescue technician/paramedic with the United States Park Police in Washington, D.C., so we’ve always been around a ‘how can I help’ attitude.”

A national program guided by FEMA, the CERT program educates volunteers about disaster preparedness for the hazards that may impact their area and trains them in basic disaster response skills. On a County level, the Office of Emergency Management and Orange County Citizen Corps guide the CERT program.

Training generally lasts for five to eight weeks and equals approximately 32 hours of instruction and hands-on exercises in disaster, first-aid and medical, disaster psychology, CERT and terrorism, CERT organization, disaster preparedness, light search and rescue, and more.

“After any disaster, everyone wants to get involved and help,” said Jason McMillan, Emergency Management Specialist, Training and Exercise Coordinator, CERT Program Manager. “CERT training provides residents with the tools to help right away. An engaged neighborhood is a prepared neighborhood is a resilient neighborhood, and the more of these neighborhoods we have in Orange County, the better off we are.”

McMillan added that CERT teams are meant to be a force multiplier and know how they fit into a response with first responders. When a disaster occurs, first responders will activate the CERT teams if they are spread too thin. Orange County Fire Rescue is well-manned, but they cannot be everywhere at once, especially during a hurricane or wide-range disaster. CERT teams fill the gap between when a disaster first strikes and when first responders can get to a neighborhood.

“Our primary responsibility is to assess ourselves, our families and our neighbors when a disaster hits,” explained Demyanovich. “We can perform triage, identify the most critical victims and hand that description off to paramedics when they arrive. Then we ask how we can help, whether with traffic detouring or crowd control. We’re trained to help and not be in the way.”

Demyanovich added It’s really about peace of mind and knowing you can respond in a positive and trained manner if and when something happens. “It’s nice to know something is in place in our community,” he said.

The County’s goal is to grow the CERT program and get more citizen engagement. To learn more, go to the Orange County Citizen Corps webpage and contact the Office of Emergency Management at 407-836-9140.

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