By Sue Botos
When members of the Westshore Regional Community Emergency Response Team’s most recent class began their training in October, they probably didn’t think they would be called to action immediately. But that’s just what happened when “Superstorm Sandy” tore through the area at the end of the month.
“We were just graduating a class, and that day (Nov. 3), they registered and some went to help out at the Garfield (Middle School) shelter in Lakewood,” recalled Tricia Granfors, the Westshore Regional CERT coordinator. In a recent interview she said that the storm called for the biggest activation of CERT volunteers since the program was established in the area in 2007. “We’re really blessed around here that we don’t have too many natural disasters,” she added.
Between the evening of Oct. 29, when the storm hit, and Nov. 4, when the Lakewood shelter closed, CERT volunteers logged 536 hours, helping at downed-wire sites in Lakewood and Fairview Park and in emergency shelters set up in Rocky River and Lakewood.
Granfors explained that CERT began in Los Angeles in 1985. “It was recognized that residents were sometimes cut off from emergency services during the early stages of local emergencies and could be isolated during the many natural disasters (the area is subject to),” she said. It was found that with some basic training in disaster preparedness, medical and rescue skills, citizens could assist others until first responders arrived.
Prior to CERT’s beginnings in the Westshore, Granfors said similar programs were piloted in Lakewood and Rocky River. Then-former Westlake fire Chief Dale Kraus pitched the idea of a CERT program to the mayors of the Westshore Council of Governments (WCOG) cities of Bay Village, Fairview Park, Lakewood, North Olmsted, Rocky River and Westlake. At the time, Granfors was working in the North Olmsted mayor’s office, and one of her duties was taking the minutes at WCOG meetings. Hearing Kraus’ proposal for one regional disaster response team inspired her.
“The concept resonated with me,” she told the American Preppers Network (americanpreppersnetwork.com) in an April online interview. “I decided then to complete the training. It made sense to the mayors, also. The Westshore Regional CERT was born.”
CERT membership, which as of April was 240 strong, is open to Westshore residents 18 and older, who pass a background check and complete a 20-hour FEMA CERT basic training course. The seven-week session includes classes on disaster preparedness, control of small fires, first aid, light search and rescue, disaster psychology, and a review and disaster simulation. A full-scale disaster exercise took place at the Regal Cinema in Westlake’s Crocker Park in August. Training sessions are held in March/April and October/November. Team members are also required to attend meetings and take continuing education courses.
Granfors said that the training is free, and while there are some exceptions, most programs do not require team membership to complete the training. “In this regard, it is my feeling that the cost of 20 hours plus driving time is well worth the knowledge, skills and abilities participants gain,” she said.
Funding sources for CERT include grants from Homeland Security, fundraisers and donations from businesses, organizations and individuals. The group netted $9,375.77 in 2011. County Councilman Dave Greenspan’s “Friends for the Community” organized a softball tournament of safety personnel during North Olmsted’s homecoming festivities in August to raise awareness of CERT and the work of safety forces.
Above all, Granfors said that, during the storm, Westshore CERT personnel honored the group’s philosophy of securing one’s own family and neighborhood, then turning attention to the community. She said those who could not get to shelters and other emergency locations helped their neighbors by cutting up trees that were blocking roads. Those with electricity opened their homes as shelters for neighbors and friends whose homes had lost power.
“The best part of the experience was that no first responders or volunteers were hurt,” said Granfors. Of the CERT members, she stated, “I’m honored to know them. It’s a privilege to work with them. Looking at these numbers, I get tears in my eyes.”
SIDEBAR: Most CERT groups are aligned with a city fire department. Westshore residents can contact their city’s fire department or City Hall if no direct information is available on the city website. Granfors can also be contacted at 440-716-4135 or firstname.lastname@example.org.