Training to control chaos after a disaster

“It’s very important for our community to know what to do in the event of a disaster even before something happens,” said Alfred Darling. It is his passion, and he has been training Community Emergency Response Teams around the island since 2004.

Darling is currently in the middle of a six-session training being held at the Kalaheo Missionary Church on Tuesday evenings. He just completed training 30 individuals in Kekaha.

The size of the groups varies depending on the season, Darling said, and some years are busier than others. Each time, no matter the number, there is only a small number who drop out.

“They make the commitment to the 24 hours,” Darling said.

Darling begins each class by asking participants, “What have you changed based on your learning?” He said a lot of people have actively made changes in their lives in order to make their homes better or to be more aware of their environment.

“That’s the purpose of the class,” Darling said.

Linda Harmon likes that the class stresses teamwork. At the third session, she had a cold and said she normally would have stayed home, but because they were doing a team effort, she “felt compelled” to attend.

“I really feel the team spirit,” Harmon said.

Harmon said she lives alone and thought that in an emergency, she would be so alone. Attending the CERT training sessions and working in a team effort, she no longer feels that way.

“It’s comforting,” Harmon said.

Harmon encourages people to take the CERT training.

“It’s very insightful,” she said. “It highlights things that you should recognize like before racing off to help, you should consider your own well-being.” She said Darling gave as an example a car accident where people stopped and jumped out of their cars, jeopardizing themselves and others.

“You should think about how you’re impacting the situation,” Harmon said.

Harmon said she also appreciated the hands-on experiences, like handling a fire extinguisher.

“For years I’ve had a fire extinguisher in the house, but I have not known how to use it.” Now she does.

The training is helping Karen Johnson to think about how she lives.

“I’ve learned the value of making plans,” Johnson said. “I’ve covered a lot of ground just from making a plan,”

Johnson said she signed up for the training because she has always wanted to be of some use.

“I’d love to be of some service . . . if there was ever a need,” she said.

Sandi Sterker said that the President of Lions International put out a directive after 9-11 for members to be trained in emergency preparedness. Fellow Lions Eric Nordmeier and Daniel Nagata were also participating in this round of training.

“It’s our way of supporting the communities,” said Nordmeier.

“Lions were some of the first responders after 9-11, after Katrina and other disasters around the world,” Sterker said.

Darling is the county director for the American Red Cross. Red Cross volunteers are trained in different aspects of preparedness.

“When you put the different trainings together, you have a well-rounded, well-educated, serious minded individual that can actually come across some obstacles and be able to resolve them without creating a crisis within a disaster,” Darling said.

The American Red Cross is a nonprofit agency chartered by Congress to provide assistance before, during and after a disaster. CERT is under the Department of Homeland Security and is supported by FEMA.

On Kaua‘i, the fire department would be the ones to activate the CERTs in case a crisis overwhelms all other personnel on the island.

“We teach them two things — do no further harm and the greatest good for the greatest number,” Darling said.

Darling also said that he wants participants to enjoy the training.

Sylvia Koshi is the assistant pastor at Kalaheo Missionary Church and is facilitating the sessions. She said this is her second training, having participated previously in 2006.

“It’s fun,” Koshi said.

Anyone interested in the CERT training should call Catherine Stovall at 241-4928. She is with the fire department’s community response.

• Cynthia Matsuoka is a freelance writer for The Garden Island and former principal of Chiefess Kamakahelei Middle School. She can be reached by e-mail at aharju@kauaipubco.com

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