By Kevin Deutsch
When Coral Springs resident Joe Chalom saw the devastation wrought by Hurricane Ida in Louisiana, he knew a similar storm could someday impact his community, too.
If and when disaster strikes, volunteers like Chalom will be ready to help save lives—not as police or firefighters, but as specially trained members of the Coral Springs Parkland Community Emergency Response Team (CERT), volunteers who help their neighbors, families, and first-responders during local crises.
The force consists of roughly 40 members and typically holds three training academies a year for potential new additions, as well as community members who simply want to receive CERT’s specialized basic training, Chalom said.
The next online information session is scheduled for Sept. 18 at 10 a.m.
“The whole idea behind CERT is to empower people to take care of themselves after an emergency,” said Chalom, the CERT team’s program chief and a CERT volunteer since 2007. “After a hurricane, a manmade or natural disaster, where the professional first responders are just being overwhelmed [is when CERT fulfills its most important function].”
“You can envision what’s happening right now in Louisiana. Could that happen in South Florida? And if it did, what would happen?”
Participants in CERT training learn skills including minor fire suppression, first aid, fire safety, triage, disaster psychology, and light search and rescue, including how to assist with operations to find children and the elderly. Locals who wish to join the volunteer team receive additional training and screening, including a criminal background check.
The philosophy behind CERT training: In a crisis like Hurricane Ida, factors such as the number of victims, communication failures, and road blockages prevent people from accessing emergency services they have come to expect at a moment’s notice through 911. People have to rely on each other for help in order to meet their immediate, lifesaving needs.
CERT volunteers respond to more localized emergencies, too. Team members are sometimes dispatched to local fires and other disaster scenes to provide food, water, and cooling services.
“When you envision a firefighter going into a hot zone, they’re in there for 15 or 20 minutes in 1,000-degree-plus temperatures, and they’re wearing fifty to sixty pounds of bunker gear,” said Chalom. “So they’re coming out totally dehydrated. And part of our function is to make sure that they don’t have to go to the hospital.
“We’re trained to help out at home, in our neighborhoods and our communities, to support local police and fire,” Chalom said of the local program, which has been active 18 years.
Of the upcoming information session, Chalom said:
“Invest an hour of your time and learn about the program, because what it really does, separate and apart from whether you actually want to belong to CERT—whether you want to volunteer one minute, or one hour, or ten days—the program empowers you to help yourself and your family.”
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- Kevin Deutsch is an award-winning crime journalist and author. A graduate of Florida International University, Kevin has worked on staff at The Miami Herald, New York Daily News, and The Palm Beach Post.
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