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‘Doing the most good’

CERT seeks more members to help community when disaster strikes

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‘Doing the most good’
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CERT members gather Monday evening for a meeting. Pictured are, from left, Wallace Watson, Ann Day, Bonnie Isaksen, Susan Sparks, Stacy Hicks and Drew Perry.

The group’s motto may be simple — “Do the most good for the most people in the shortest amount of time.”

Polk County’s CERT organizer Kermit Hargis says his team’s mission may be simple, but it’s also essential to the safety of the entire community, and he’s looking for more people to join the cause.  

Talking about September as National Preparedness Month, Hargis says the facts about disasters are cut and dry. 

 “It’s proven every time there’s a natural disaster,” he says. “It’s actually the private citizens and bystanders who do most of the rescue and the first aid, because they’re there. If they’re going to be put in that situation, let’s train them and make them capable. There are documented cases all over the country of CERT people saving lives in emergencies and disasters.” 

In a true disaster situation, Hargis says help from first responders like police officers and firefighters may not come immediately, if at all. In those moments, life and death may be in the hands of family, friends and neighbors. 

For instance, Hargis says when the EF-5 tornado hit Joplin in May 2011, citizens were working to save their neighbors and clean up their neighborhoods even three days after the event, “because there hadn’t been enough responders there to handle the situation.”

“Isn’t it our obligation to act to keep more people from dying if we can do it?” Hargis says. “It’s all of our responsibility as citizens to do what we can to help each other in times of emergencies and disasters.” 

Hargis adds that the team isn’t only about local response. Members also have opportunities to reach out to other communities, as well. 

Polk County’s CERT team, as part of the five-county regional MoCERT1 team, is a “deployable state asset.” 

 “So that means that we could be deployed under the state of Missouri to work a disaster,” Hargis says. “This could mean there could be a number of jobs we’d be assigned to do.” 

In fact, Hargis says if people have a desire to respond to a nationwide disaster, CERT “is the organization to belong to.”

“When Hurricane Katrina hit, I had tons of people in the community who wanted to go down there and help, but they weren’t with any particular organization,” Hargis says. “Well, you need to be matched up with an organization. CERT can be that point of contact. If you show up as an unaffiliated volunteer, they’ll send you right back home.” 

The most recent events Polk County CERT members have responded to were tornado recovery in McDonald County and flooding recovery in southern Missouri, Hargis says. 

In fact, Hargis says by using CERT members in important functions following disasters, “we ultimately can save states, counties and cities money” by working hand-in-hand with first responders.  

“This team is really an effective way to provide good services and saving taxpayers’ money,” he says. “And who doesn’t want taxpayers’ money to be effective?”

When working with other agencies, Hargis says CERT always defers to the group in charge. 

“When we come in, we don’t take over,” he says. “We come in as a resource to provide some kind of function you need taken care of. We’re there to serve you.”

To become a Polk County CERT member, Hargis says people need to complete a free 20-hour training, as well as a point-of-dispensing course. He added that response in a disaster isn’t mandatory. 

Polk County’s team currently has 35 members, but “the more people we have, the more likely we’ll have to have some people respond,” he says. 

For more information on the group’s next training session, contact Hargis by phone at 399-1303 or email kermit.hargis@polkcountyhealth.org.

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