Nearly 4,000 residents of Harris County are now CERT-trained, the fourth most behind the entire states of California, New Jersey and Florida. During an 8-week course, they're trained in basic emergency response, things like debris removal and how to take care of their own homes and property. Mark Sloan is the director of the Harris County Citizen Corps.
"Citizens need to understand that they play a role in response, that by taking care of themselves and their families, protecting their property, they will survive whatever it is that we may face. Those citizens will eventually step through that front door and say what can I do to help? Like we saw during Katrina, over 60,000 volunteers came to the Dome to support those from New Orleans and many of them had gone through the Citizen Corps programs."
Sloan says CERT-trained citizens are usually more confident during a disaster and can actually be assets to traditional first responders, like police and fire. He says nobody fails the free CERT course, which takes about three hours once a week.
"This is an awareness course. You are taking responsibility for yourself and your family. That's what we want you do to. We want you to survive whatever it is we may face, from a home fire to a catastrophic event that overwhelms our local responders. You can make a difference. You need to make preparedness a priority within your families."
Because of recent Homeland Security Funding, the CERT program has now expanded to several surrounding counties and continues to grow. Jackie Miller is with the Mayor's Office of Public Safety and Homeland Security and says it only makes sense that citizens be well-versed on how to help themselves and their neighbors in the event of a disaster.
"About 95-percent of the people who respond first to any kind of a disaster, accident, incident is either the victim, a bystander. First responders can't get there fast-enough, it's someone who is right there at the scene. In many cases they're the ones that report to first responders that here's sort of the scene so that when first responders get there they kind of already have the layout."
The CERT training ends with a disaster simulation which allows residents to practice what they've learned. You can find more information about CERT training through a link on our website, KUHF.org.