While many people were bemoaning the lack of power or trying to make emergency repairs to their own homes after the May 8 derecho, Tamara L. Waters, was on the job surveying the damage of her friends and neighbors.
The May 8 windstorm left more than a quarter million people without power and damaged homes as businesses in a swath 50 miles long and 30 miles wide. More than 1,300 power poles were broken in the storm and almost 500 homes destroyed. Another 400 had major damage.
“I got an email (even though I had no power, I was able to check my email on my BlackBerry) from Williamson County EMA on Monday after the storm. They asked for all available CERT members to call in that day to let them know of their availability then show up at 9 a.m. the following morning at the EMA office. We were to be briefed when we got there,” Tammy said.
The call wasn’t really a surprise and Tammy was more than ready to put her training to work.
“I was expecting it. We had just completed our certification in April, so it was a little surprising to get called up so soon. I have several online friends and one in Georgia who was going through the CERT training at the same time I was, so I was using Twitter from my phone to report on everything that was happening – from the beginning of the storm until we got power back on. My online friends were sending me encouraging messages through Facebook, and the friend who is also a CERT was excited to read about my experiences,” she said.
Tammy, her mother Lola Morris, and other community members finished their CERT training in April, just in time for the May 8 storm. Four other Williamson County CERT members also reported for duty after the storm.
CERT training is for Community Emergency Response Team volunteers, local people who are trained help out their neighbors and the region’s government response during an emergency. Tammy and Lola signed up for the training after the earthquake in April, 2007.
“I have always been interested in emergency preparedness, but when the earthquake happened last April it sort of woke me up. About that time, my mom (Lola Morris) was working on a grant for the library (Crab Orchard Public) to set up CERT teams in our area. I knew I wanted to get involved when the library got the grant,” Tammy said.
Once the library was awarded the state grant for training, it was simply a matter of finding volunteers and getting the training. The training began in January and was conducted by the Williamson County Emergency Management Agency.
“We learned a great deal about doing initial assessments and triage during a disaster. Our first priority in the event of an emergency (a man made or natural disaster) is to secure our own family and our home, then check on our neighborhood, then if needed – our surrounding area (if we are called up to help). Our job as CERT members is to provide support through a variety of ways, but basically we do whatever we’re told to do,” she said.
Since the May 8 storm did not result in a lot of immediate injuries, Lola and Tammy put some of their secondary skill set to work, assessing the damage to buildings. “We learned about emergency first aid, how to quickly assess the safety of a building before entering, fire suppression and safety, how to assess and move injured victims, tornado safety, earthquake safety, etc., Tammy said. But they called to service to assess the damage in Johnston City.
“Mom and I were sent out with two members from Marion County/Salem ESDA who had come down to help out. We went to Johnston City to do assessments on the damage in that town. We were assigned sections of the town to drive around and make notes on the houses that had storm damage. We wrote down the addresses and notes on the extent of the damage we could see,” she said.
Bu more importantly perhaps, they talked to people who desperately wanted information about what was going on elsewhere in the region.
“I had the opportunity to talk to a few residents who were anxious for any words of encouragement we could give them. All of the people I spoke to had the same questions: How bad is it everywhere else and do you know when the power will be back on? Several wanted to talk about what they had been doing during the storm and I heard several say the same thing: They were so thankful that things hadn’t been worse,” Tammy said.
The assessment the CERT volunteers did was in preparation for a request for federal assistance after the storm. Before the state could submit a request to President Obama for the disaster area declaration, it needed an assessment of the damage from certified people. The request for federal assistance needed information regarding the number of homes and businesses destroyed or heavily damaged in the storm and an estimate of the costs to public utilities and local and state government.
When Sen. Dick Durbin sent a letter to President Obama in early June supporting Governor Pat Quinn’s request for federal aid, estimates indicated the region’s utilities and government entities would spend more $26 million on storm repairs and more than 450 homes suffered at least major damage. If the request is approved, federal government aid may come in the form of direct assistance to local and state governments and tax credits for storm victims.
Tammy admits that last year’s minor earthquake was the impetus for her training, but she ahs always believed in being prepared.
“As a homeschooler, I incorporate preparedness into our daily life and lessons. I talk to my kids regularly about fire safety and we do fire drills. I keep extra food and water (and toilet paper!) stockpiled. I have an emergency box of supplies as well as my CERT kit (which includes emergency supplies and tools). My most important plan for any emergency is to stay calm and think clearly,” she said.
After her first experience with CERT duty, Tammy has some idea about the best and worst things about her training. The best thing, she said, is the confidence that in an emergency she knows what to do and how to help her family, her neighbors and her community. The worst part is knowing that disasters are a part of life.
“I might have to see and experience some real tragedies in my role as a CERT member, whereas I could insulate myself from that if I just stayed home,” she said.
From her training, Tammy expected to be called up in the event of fire, flood, earthquake, tornado or terrorism. On May 8, she was pretty sure “storm” got added to the list.
To volunteer with your own local CERT, check with city or county emergency management agencies or call your local public health department.