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Rowan citizens take part in CERT program, prepare for disasters

SALISBURY — When a tornado ripped through Nadine and David Potts’ Farrington Meadows neighborhood two years ago, the couple had no time to prepare. The Potts’ and their neighbors were left with downed trees, debris and other damage in the aftermath of the storm. Disasters can happen anytime and emergency responders recommend the best protection against a disaster is being prepared.

A group of local residents spent the weekend training how to be prepared when disaster strikes. The group made up CERT (Community Emergency Response Team), a preparedness program that teaches anyone who enrolls to provide basic life-saving skills when emergency personnel are not immediately available. There were 26 who enrolled in the training, which took place at Rowan-Cabarrus Community College. The classes began Friday and wrapped Sunday afternoon.

On the day of the storm, Nadine had been sitting in her living room and her husband was in his office working. No one was prepared for the April 16 storm. A tornado moved through the area, located off Old Mocksville Road, leaving a trail of trees in its wake. It was mid-June when the couple finally returned their tree-littered yard to a calm existence.

David said they still have a few stumps, but the major clean-up was completed three months after the storm. Thinking back on that day, the Potts’ say they had no way of being prepared and feel as if they wouldn’t do anything different, mostly because they had no warning. In the years since that day, they don’t do anything different, just make sure they have batteries for flashlights, plenty of water and other essentials.

“We try not to worry about things we can’t control,” David said.

Nadine said since the tornado she gets more “antsy” when there’s a storm.

The crux of the CERT program is to “allow lay citizens to be able to help their community in times of major disaster and other events,” said Frank Thomason, director of Emergency Management Services. CERT is a program offered under Rowan County Emergency Management Services for anyone 18 years old and older.

It is a Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) certified course, but does not require any previous knowledge in order to participate. Citizens learn fire safety, light search and rescue and team organization.

The CERT program began in 2002 and is part of a national program, Citizens Corps, which administers Community Watch and Fire Corps.

The group’s training consisted of offering basic first aid to an injured person, understanding the safety steps to use to extinguish a fire before it gets out of control and how to take command of an incident while waiting for emergency personnel to arrive.

Shawn Henderson joined the CERT program as a way to give back, he said. Henderson volunteers at Isenberg Elementary, where his children attend, and said he’s learned that in the event of a disaster how to better manage a crisis situation.

Christine Ball had always known it was important to have food, money and other items if a disaster were to strike, but the program allowed her to think more about disasters in the world. The course has prepared Ball to respond to not just a tornado or hurricane, but freezing weather, a building collapse, or a fire. Her hope is that others decide to enroll in the class, including school officials, whole neighborhoods and churches. The class gets people involved in their community, she said, and is useful.

Lakesha Sloan had heard about the class online and recruited co-worker Brooke Rainey, who is a firefighter and medical responder with Millers Ferry Fire Department, to accompany her. Sloan, who is pregnant, but was able to participate in all of the training, felt better able to protect those around her.

“The more I know to protect my own family, the better off I will be and if I can help my community, even better,” Sloan said.

The training also gave Sloan an idea what friend and co-worker Brooke Rainey has to do as a responder. The two work together at Med Express Pharmacy in Salisbury.

Joyce Yates was the community liaison, who was instrumental in recruiting more CERT members. She was approached about a year ago to help get the CERT program up and running again. It had dissolved and there was renewed interest in getting the program back. The group began as seven individuals and has grown to just shy of 30 members.

“It’s important because the more prepared and the more knowledgeable we are the better we are to take care of ourselves,” she said, “and if we take care of ourselves, we’re able to take care of our family and extend it out to our community,” Yates said.

Fire instructor Jim Young could be heard throughout Sunday’s class asking, “What kind of fires do we respond to?” Incipient, was the response. Young cautioned the group against trying to aid a large fire.

Young, a Forsyth County based fire instructor, led the group through various scenarios that would aid them in stabilizing an injured person. Rowan EMS Division Chief provided instruction on how to properly move an injured person from one point to another. Rowan Fire Marshal Aaron Youngblood and Emergency Services Training Officer Bradley Dean also spoke to the group about how an incident is organized.

“Two years ago, the wind incident off Old Mocksville, they could’ve used a CERT,” Youngblood said.

For more information about the CERT program, www.rowancountync.gov and link to the program via the Emergency Services’ disaster preparedness page.

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