After recognizing a citizen’s need for disaster preparedness, the Los Angeles Fire Department developed a basic training program more than 30 years ago, still beneficial and used widely today.

The Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) concept was developed when the LAFD realized that many would likely be on their own in the initial stages of a catastrophic disaster and decided the survival and rescue training would help improve a person’s likelihood of making it through until first responders could arrive on scene.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) made the program available to communities nationwide and now, anyone with a desire to become better prepared to help can join, including a recently group of faculty and staff at the University of Central Arkansas.

“When disaster strikes the UCA Community, will you be prepared?” an email sent on May 8 by UCA’s Tyler Lachowsky, CERT teacher, reads. “As faculty and staff on campus, students look to us to lead in a time of crisis. CERT Training will teach you skills to assist those nearest you when an emergency happens.”

More than 20 people from across the university felt that call and signed up to be a part of this summer’s training on campus, which began June 7.

In addition to Lachowsky, Nelson Landers, UCA’s Environmental Health and Safety Officer, will teach the fire safety and utilities control portion of the class and Annette Gartman, an instructor with the UCA Nursing Department and member of the Greenbrier CERT Team, will teach the medical portions of the class. 

“While our building emergency plan program trains staff and faculty to aid building occupants in taking protective actions during an emergency, teaching CERT skills will give staff and faculty the ability to help students after an emergency has occurred,” Lachowsky said.

On Tuesday, the Log Cabin Democrat had the opportunity to join the group and hear a little bit about what they’ve been learning.

“I like to say that CERT members fill in the gap between when a disaster occurs and when professional first responders arrive on scene,” Lachowsky said. “It is in our communities and in our neighborhoods where we can have the biggest impact in helping our friends and neighbors after a disaster, because we’re already there — roads may be blocked preventing first responders from getting there, but CERT members are already on scene because that’s where they live.”

According to the Arkansas Department of Emergency Management, over time the roles of CERT volunteers have changed and grown, proving to be “an active and vital part of their communities’[s] preparedness and response capability,” allowing them to go from distributing and installing smoke alarms to assisting with evacuations and traffic control to acting as victims in training exercises.

Lachowsky, a former firefighter who has been teaching CERT classes since 2015, said the training teaches:

• Fire safety and how to extinguish small fires.

• Light search and rescue.

• Disaster preparedness.

• Utility control.

• Disaster medical treatment and triage.

The class runs for three weeks and the group will showcase what they’ve learned during a mock disaster to end the training on June 27.

After, each graduate will receive a UCA CERT bag with rescue equipment to keep in their office and an official certification through FEMA.

“They’ve been a great group [and] we have staff and faculty from all over campus which is what we were wanting,” Lachowsky said.

Apart from this group, the campus has also held trainings for residential coordinators and housing and residence life staff, he said, all of which goes along with UCA’s “already successful” building emergency plan program that coordinates roles in times of emergency.

“We conducted drills in every building on campus last year,” Lachowsky said. “Training faculty and staff in CERT will give them the ability to help students and building occupants after an emergency has occurred and before professional help arrives. This is all a part of our all-hazards, all-hands approach to disaster resiliency at UCA.”

As for this summer class, the CERT teacher said it’s split 50/50, half lecture and the other half hands-on training.

“This class has been enthusiastic about getting to do the practical portions of it,” Lachowsky said. “They’re in this class because they care about our campus community and want the skills to help in an emergency.”

In 2011, a massive tornado his Vilonia. At the time, Lachowsky was a member of the Highway 286 East Volunteer Fire Department. He recalled responding that night to the devastation in the Black Oak Subdivision.

“As we were coordinating a plan to search the neighborhood, a Faulkner County CERT member showed up with the CERT gear ready to help,” he said. “At the time, I had no idea what CERT was or anything about it, but you could tell that this was someone who knew what they were doing and was committed to serving their neighbors.”

Lachowsky said he’s heard stories about the second Vilonia tornado, ones about victims showing up at local emergency rooms strapped to doors and plywood.

“That’s something we teach in CERT class, so I have no doubt that CERT members were helping their neighbors in the wake of those disasters,” he said.

Lachowsky quoted the CERT student manual.

“CERT Training is designed to prepare you to help yourself and to help others in the event of a disaster,” it states. “Because emergency services personnel will not be able to help everyone immediately, you can make a difference by using your CERT training to save lives and protect property.”