When the long-predicted, major earthquake hits Cache Valley, hundreds of people not injured in the initial devastation or the fires that follow will be anxious to help their unlucky neighbors. Unfortunately, many of these well-meaning people will themselves be injured while trying to help.

"Whenever there is a major disaster and the police, firefighters and medical personnel are spread thin trying to cope, citizens automatically jump in to help," says Lynn Wright, sergeant and emergency management coordinator in the Utah State University Police Department."Sadly, many of these volunteers become victims themselves because they are not prepared to handle emergency situations. They get into collapsing or burning buildings and can become statistics."

To prepare citizen volunteers for emergency response, Utah's Comprehensive Emergency Management Office in Salt Lake City has started a Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) program. Utah State University is currently certifying 27 people and hopes to begin training about 30 more people each quarter.

Organized into teams, these certified volunteers will be able to assist their fellow citizens in the event of a disaster emergency. The training they receive teaches them how to help the largest number of people in the shortest amount of time.

According to Wright, the volunteers are taught how to recognize and extinguish different types of fires, how to look for and assess structural damage in buildings, how to search for and rescue people and how to give medical aid.

"They are also trained in disaster psychology, because they are likely to see things that are very upsetting," says Wright. "They learn how to prepare for this."

The idea for such a certification program came out of Los Angeles in the mid-1980s after the area had experienced earthquakes, fires and mudslides. Experiences there spawned the idea of training citizens so they are prepared when they want to help.

The idea was adopted nationally through the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). Utah did a pilot program in West Valley City. Wright says the program underwent some adaptations for Utah because the state didn't need tornado or hurricane response training. USU recently sent a group to Park City to learn how to train volunteers.

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Now conducting the training at USU are Jay Johnson, a certified firefighter and volunteer firefighter in North Logan, who handles fire safety; Mark Fishburn, a certified EMT, who provides medical training; Lee Gillenwater, a reserve police officer at USU and member of Cache County Search and Rescue, who teaches search and rescue; and Mark Nafziger, a counselor at USU, who is teaching disaster psychology. Wright teaches about the program in general and organizes volunteers into teams.

"Our hope is to have teams of three to five people at various locations around campus," says Wright. "Some may concentrate on medical assistance, some on fire control, and some on getting people out of buildings, but all will be trained in all areas. Additionally, we will do refresher training sessions twice a year to keep everyone up-to-date."

Wright says he expects CERT training to become more widespread around the state. People receiving the certification are eligible to join emergency response teams anywhere in Utah, he added.

For further information contact Lynn Wright at 797-1967.

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