Security Studies students fight a fire as part of a CERT exercise.
The six graduate students, including Scott Vautrain, Lise Fischer, Juan Nunez, Jace Reeves, David Russo, and Charlotte Sanders, earned certificates from the Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) for Walker County, part of a Department of Homeland Security initiative to build a corps of citizen volunteers that can aid in times of emergency. The students learned basic disaster preparedness skills in fire safety, search and rescue, team organization and medical operations. They will be available to serve in the Huntsville area for community events or during such incidents as tornados, floods, wildfire, hurricanes or a terroristic attack.
Practicing first aid was part of the drill. The eight-week training sessions, taken as part of their crisis management class at Sam Houston State University, culminated with a live drill at the Walker County Service Center, which simulated the after effects of high winds in a wooded neighborhood. While awaiting the assistance of police and fire, who were delayed by fallen trees in the road, the students had to access the scene, search for and rescue victims, tend to the injured, battle fires, turn off electricity and gas, and identify hazards.
To tackle the scene, the students formed teams, bolstered by veteran CERT volunteers, which included Incident Command, Operations, Safety, Public Information, Logistics and Supplies, and Planning. Utilizing handheld radios for communication, the teams were dispatched to different assignments, such as putting out fires, checking utilities and rescuing victims.
To protect people and property, all utilities are shut off.The group found six victims – two of them fatalities -- including several trapped in a trailer, a man on the ground, and a murder victim. They tended to victims, using basic first aid skills to address their injuries. The teams also identified a potentially hazardous tank at the scene and unblocked doorways jammed by debris. When a murder victim was found in the woods, they secured the scene until police arrived.
“I had my adrenaline going as soon as I heard voices and screams from the trailer,” said Russo, the first on the “scene.”
Students and volunteers prepare for their mission in remote neighborhood hit with high winds. Students donned real life equipment, including hard hats, eye protection, medical masks, CERT vest, and gloves and had access to a trailer full of supplies during the exercise. They put fire out with fire extinguishers, used bandages and gauze to treat injuries, and wielded pliers to turn off utilities. “It was really cool to see it all out here, rather than in the classroom,” said Fischer, who took the lead in attending to victims in the trailer.
The CERT certification was part of an Academic Community Engagement class, which combines community service and academic instruction. It requires students to participate in outside activities in the community as part of the class.
Students worked with CERT volunteers to rescue "victims."“I think ACE courses are really important,” said Dr. Magdalena Denham, a professor at the College of Criminal Justice. “When you are getting into the security field, practical experience is very important. This allows the student to look at theory and then apply it. You learn what the community looks like and how police and emergency medical services operate. You learn how they talk and how they address one another in the field.”
Denham has used ACE elements in other classes to give her students a leg up in the job market. Another class was required to get certification in emergency management and the National Incident Management System, two model program in crisis management offered by the Department of Homeland Security. Another class developed a risk assessment plan for a faith-based, non-profit school in Conroe, making security recommendation based on budgetary concerns.
Students discover a "body" in the woods during the exercise.Vautrain believes the experience will come in handy on his resume and in his future career as an intelligence analyst.
“The Department of Homeland Security enterprise includes federal, state and local agencies and private companies working together,” said Vautrain. “You get to be a part of that homeland security enterprise.”
SHSU students joined the Walker County CERT Team following the drill.The Walker County CERT program, conceived by Emergency Management Coordinator Butch Davis, was launched in 2008. It has grown significantly over the last six years and now includes 129 members, including adult, teen and intercollegiate teams as well as representatives from the deaf and hard-of-hearing community, with six members and two signers.
Among the key leaders of CERT are Joe Connell, Walker County CERT Coordinator; Paramedic Supervisor D.J. Casburn and Medical Paramedic Chase Fryar for medical operations; Paul Alexander of the Disaster Mortuary Operation Response Team for disaster psychology training; and Lt. Charlie Perkins of the Walker County Sheriff’s Office on threat and safety issues involving terrorism and narcotic activities.
Davis has been successful in getting grants to expand logistics in the program, including well-equipped tool kits and simulation equipment (including realistic wound makeup for “victims”), mobile units with a variety of resources, tools for field operations and training.
The incident commanders who oversee the entire scene.Walker County CERT is part of a broader partnership, which includes the local fire and police departments, Citizens on Patrol, and faith groups. Its members have or will be used to support shelter operations; to assist with the setup of points of distribution for medication in large scale medical emergency; to implement identification systems during hurricane; to support the activation of the Emergency Operation Center or to help with special occasions and community events, such as Raven Bike Ride or the Fair on the Square.
As part of its continuing training, Walker County CERT recently observed an exercise by the East Texas Mounted Search and Rescue Team and will participate in a drill at Gibbs Ranch in May on higher level applications of the Incident Command Center.