Learning how to save lives

LIHUE — James Mertens joined the Community Emergency Response Team two years ago to gain knowledge and to be prepared should disaster strike Kauai.

“For us around here, it’s weather and hurricanes that are the most realistic disasters,” the Kapaa man said. “And it’s not if, it’s when.”

He was one of about 70 residents who attended CERT’s annual refresher training at Kauai High School on Saturday. Mertens said he and his wife usually go together, but someone needed to watch their 4-year-old daughter, and it was his turn to train.

“We can’t keep her out here at these all-day events, but our daughter is around it enough and we talk about it enough that it’s in her mind,” Mertens said. “Sometimes she does CERT scenarios with her dolls.”

He said what drives his entire family to be involved with CERT is the desire to be in the know and up to speed with disaster events when they happen.

“I’d rather be on the response side of things than to be a sitting duck,” Mertens said.

John Cornell, CERT coordinator, said it’s that kind of attitude that has resurrected the program from a lull in 2010. The program started in 1999 and it was an infusion of many passionate individuals that kicked the activity up a notch six years ago.

He said the program basically teaches the skills to bridge the gap between the disaster and the arrival of emergency personnel.

“You might be the first person on a scene or in an area where there’s no access for emergency personnel,” Cornell said. “So we teach the skills to stabilize the situation for responders.”

Saturday’s CERT annual training wasn’t open to the general public; it was a reminder course for those who are already involved in the program. In order to be involved in the annual refresher, CERT members have to complete a 24-hour basic training.

“After you’ve completed that basic training class, you’re provided with all kinds of additional training and supplemental training,” Cornell explained. “It’s all free, and this refresher course is part of that training.”

Once the basic training is done, CERT members also get a free backpack, filled with personal protective equipment — things like a hard hat, goggles and gloves. Members also get a CERT identification card.

“In a disaster situation, once professional emergency response arrives, CERT would become a force multiplier,” Cornell said. “They’d work side by side with the first responders.”

Saturday’s training was a circuit-style system, with the CERT members split into groups and categorized by geographical area. They learned things like splinting and bandaging, first aid, search and rescue, safe lifting, and small fire extinguishing.

CERT members also learned how to work with incident command communication style and hand-held radios from Tad Miura, an amateur radio enthusiast who does public service communication with Civil Defense.

“It’s a neat thing to be able to use your skills and equipment to help during a disaster,” Miura said. “It can be a real help in times of need to be able to coordinate relief efforts over ham radio.”

Cornell said if cellphones go down, ham radio is a reliable back-up form of communication.

The Kauai Fire Department, in conjunction with the Kauai Civil Defense Agency, hosted the event.

Elton Ushio, emergency management administrator for the county, said CERT members reduce the burden on emergency management and first responders during disaster situations, but it’s also good for the individual.

“Preparedness begins with each and every individual on Kauai,” Ushio said. “By taking the time to complete CERT training, and to in events, these individuals not only help themselves, but also extend that to their families and communities.”

To join CERT, visit www.kauai.gov/CERT to register for the classes, or email kfdcert@kauai.gov for more information.

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