Shawnee set to train first community emergency response team

By Michael Terry
Shawnee Dispatch – April 24, 2014

In an emergency situation, seconds count.

A delayed response can lead to catastrophic consequences.

In an effort to bolster the response of Shawnee’s emergency responders, the Shawnee Fire Department in coordination with the city’s Office of Emergency Management is gearing up to establish the city’s first Community Emergency Response Team, also known as CERT.

Emergency Management Coordinator Terrence Kegin said the CERT training is designed to teach residents how to prepare and what to do in an emergency situation.

“Creating a CERT team is part of my overall emergency management plan,” said Kegin, who in May became the city’s first emergency management coordinator. “It’s not just us, more cities are starting to realize that you’ve got to have an emergency management person dedicated to doing disaster preparedness.”

Kegin is utilizing his 24 years in law enforcement to get the CERT program up and running.

“I think sometimes around here we forget we are in the middle of tornado alley,” Kegin said. “Just because we haven’t been hit by a tornado in forever, it doesn’t mean it can’t happen.”

While the Kansas City metro area has a plethora of emergency responders, Kegin said if a large-scale disaster were to strike those resources would quickly be overwhelmed.

“The more residents we can get trained to take care of themselves the better off we’ll all be,” he said, adding he would be surprised to find more than one to two families on any street who have a 72-hour preparedness kit ready to go in case of an emergency or natural disaster.

“Those kits help take the burden off emergency responders,” Kegin said, which are designed to give residents everything they need to be self-sustaining while waiting for help to arrive.

“This training teaches people how to take care of themselves in a disaster,” he said, which allows emergency responders to focus on those in most need of assistance.

As the city’s CERT program develops, Shawnee Deputy Fire Chief Sal Scarpa sees the program as an invaluable tool the fire department can utilize in a variety of capacities.

“By standing up CERT, team members can engage in low-risk response activities that can alleviate some of the requested responses for the fire department,” he said. “CERT members can also organize and mobilize community resources to support emergency operations within the city.”

To receive CERT training a resident must be 18 years or older and commit to 24 hours of training over three consecutive Saturdays. The first training class will be May 3 at the Shawnee Fire Department headquarters, 6501 Quivira Road.

Kegin plans to select up to 25 residents to participant in the inaugural CERT training class.

“We have 10 applications so far,” he said, adding the applicants come from all walks of life.

Some of those backgrounds include ham radio operators, nurses, former volunteer firefighters and members of Civil Air Patrol in addition to those who have no background in emergency services.

“We’re looking for a person who has an interest in helping their community, helping their neighbor,” he said. “The more people who go through CERT, the more people we can get prepared.”

Following the initial training, Kegin plans to hold additional training classes later this year to continue growing the city’s CERT program.

Ultimately, Kegin would like to use those with CERT training to develop a canteen-type group that can go out in the community, and even neighboring communities, to assist in a variety of support capacities.

“I hoping to assemble a core group who wants to be actively involved,” he said. “If you keep them engaged, that’s how you keep your CERT team together.”

Kegin said he is excited to get the program started and thinks the ranks of the city’s CERT program will grow quickly.

“We may not have that big disaster in my lifetime, but it’s going to happen,” he said, adding the time to start preparing is now.

Gwen Romine, KSFFA Webmaster