In the aftermath of 9/11, Kris Nash was amazed that many of the well-meaning people streaming into New York City could not be used. They had no skills useful in an emergency.
When Westport offered its 1st CERT — Community Emergency Response Team — class in 2003, she realized she could gain those skills right here.
An important — but little-known — volunteer organization that’s a division of the Police Department, CERT supports local emergency service agencies in disaster, crisis and emergency response. CERT also promotes safety education, emergency and disaster preparedness.
CERT does not perform functions normally done by police, fire or EMS personnel. They are simply — and vitally — extra helping hands.
During a big rainstorm a few years ago, CERT volunteers stood near some of the 59 closed roads, warning drivers of downed trees and power lines. Kris — stationed at the corner of the Post Road and Bulkeley — used her 35 years’ knowledge of Westport streets to give alternate directions.
“At the end of my shift I felt wet, cold and happy,” she says. “I felt I had been able to help people in a practical way.”
Luckily, Kris says, most of the helping so far has come in small ways: helping attendees at a crowded flu clinic or First Night; finding parking at the 4th of July fireworks.
A few CERT volunteers march in the Memorial Day parade. The others are working, keeping parade and pedestrian traffic apart.
CERT has not yet faced a true disaster — but they are ready. Regular training includes opening up and managing an emergency shelter. They’ve been part of an anti-terrorism exercise at the University of Bridgeport — simulating a terrorist and hostage situation — with police, SWAT teams and emergency responders from several towns.
They also trained with Metro-North in a scenario involving a train wreck and the shutdown of I-95, and did 2 exercises at the Senior Center (1 simulated running an emergency shelter during a coastal storm; the other involved search, rescue and treatment of victims of a plane crash).
CERT volunteers range in age from 20s to 70s. There are engineers, teachers, artists, writers, builders, medical professionals, real estate agents, business executives, and a veterarian, psychologist and librarian.
The next time you see a Westporter wearing a bright yellow vest, ask him or her about CERT. Or for help. Or directions to the nearest bathroom.
In any event, that’s what CERT is there for.
(CERT offers new training series regularly — the next is set for fall. Basic sessions include radio use, light search and rescue, triage, CPR, first aid, water safety, fire suppression and use of fire extinguishers.