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Northwestern Trains New Class of Emergency Volunteers

Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) class includes Evanstonians this year

  • CERT is a training program for Northwestern community members
  • Twenty trainees practice rescuing victims, moving debris, extinguishing fires
  • Second class of student and staff volunteers trained
  • First time Evanston residents also participate in CERT training

EVANSTON, Ill. --- Northwestern University has completed training of the second class of 20 student and staff volunteers -- and Evanston residents, as well -- in its Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) program to assist in campus and community crises.

On April 30, CERT trainers put the volunteers through their final training exercise to practice simulated emergencies, including search-and-rescue operations in adverse conditions, moving and bracing debris to extricate trapped victims and extinguishing fires.

This year, the program welcomed Evanston residents for the first time to join in the training, a partnership started last year between the Evanston Fire Department and the Emergency Services Division of University Police (UP). The class graduated to join one of the first active CERT programs on a university campus in Illinois. Each volunteer earned a certificate from the Federal Emergency Management Institute and one from UP, as well.

“This has been a wonderful partnership between the University and the City, and it’s designed for us to help each other if there is ever a disaster or an emergency in the community,” said Thomas Janetske, division chief for the Evanston Fire Department, who oversaw the final exercise. Janetske brought a number of his officers to assist in the training of Northwestern’s 15 volunteers and the five Evanston residents participating at the final exercise, which took place at the Evanston Recycling Center on Oakton Street.

Trainees worked in pairs to practice extinguishing fires, and they braved a smoke-filled corridor to search for victims in a simulated emergency, including learning how to recognize, rescue and triage victims based on the severity of their injuries.

“We had a lot of interest in the program this year,” said Joseph Frascati, emergency preparedness manager for UP, who organized the program at Northwestern and was one of the first volunteer trainees last year. This year, Frascati helped oversee the final exercise and quizzed the trainees on how they executed procedures they learned in April classes.

The CERT program is a volunteer opportunity and training program for community members to help support preparedness activities, community welfare during major special events and organized community recovery efforts following a crisis.

Andrea Kim, 23, another graduate of last year’s CERT program, was doing the training this year, helping trainees with “cribbing” techniques -- that is, teaching trainees how to lift and stabilize structures and debris safely when digging through rubble for victims of a disaster.

Kim, a 2013 psychology and premed graduate of Northwestern’s Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences who is now working for the Feinberg School of Medicine, took a break from the exercise to explain why she does this. “I was a coxswain on varsity crew at Northwestern,” she said. “I think well on my feet. I felt I could deal with emergencies by having this in my background.”

Danny Han, 23, also a 2013 Weinberg psychology and premed graduate, was working side by side with Kim. Another veteran of last year’s CERT program, Han was helping lead the training this year, and he explained, “We joined after graduating. This was a way for us to keep in touch and stay connected with the Northwestern community. I felt that Northwestern has given me a lot, and I wanted to give something back. This lets me do that.”

Janetske, who serves as Evanston’s emergency preparedness manager, noted that the city has had a CERT program since 2004 with citizen volunteers who have come out day and night to assist police and fire officials in a variety of emergency support roles.

“If there’s an emergency in the community, Northwestern’s CERT program will be very valuable,” Janetske observed. “It’s an added resource of people who are trained to help assist their city and the community, and their contribution to the town-gown partnership will be great.”

This year’s trainees were enthusiastic about what they learned, and they took time to chat about it after going through the final exercise and sharing a dinner of pizza and salad during the debriefing.

Elizabeth M. Brasher, 58, a program assistant in the Northwestern Office of Human Resources’ office of equal opportunity and access, said she took the course because she thought it was interesting and that she could contribute. “I thought I could be of service,” she noted. “I’ve been at the University for 25 years. I learned a lot in this program, and it was kind of exciting.

“I think you walk away from this learning the basics about what to do in an emergency,” Brasher added. “If something came up now, I think I or anyone in this class would be better prepared to deal with it and even stay a little bit calmer in a situation like this.”

Barbara Auerback, an attorney and one of the Evanston residents who participated in this year’s CERT training program, said she was interested in the class, in part, because of her work. “I have a background in disaster recovery planning and business continuity planning,” she explained. “This program seemed a logical extension of that. I can carry it into the field, and it’s a way I can contribute to my community.”

In an earlier interview about the program, Frascati observed: “You form these teams, and you train them in the hopes that you will never actually need to use them. So understand that our goal is to never be needed, because that means that nothing bad has happened.”

In an emergency, CERT volunteers would swing into action in support roles to assist, he said. In addition, there are numerous ways for CERT members to do outreach and contribute to the community besides dealing with emergency situations.

CERT is a national community preparedness program operated under the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and the Department of Homeland Security’s Citizen Corps Council.

The University’s CERT program is a way to involve students and staffers in serving the community and increasing the preparedness of individuals at Northwestern. CERT is designed to improve readiness, help people and serve the community through education, training and volunteer service.

“Throughout the country, states, counties and local jurisdictions, including Evanston, have developed and implemented CERT programs to enhance emergency preparedness and increase community education, awareness and outreach,” Frascati said.

“CERT programs operate within the community like good Samaritans to provide support to first responders,” Frascati said. “A CERT program is not intended to replace Northwestern University’s response capabilities but rather to serve as an important supplement to them.”

CERT program members receive an initial 16 hours of training in basic disaster and emergency response skills from experienced and skilled instructors in the first responder and emergency management professions. Members of a CERT program are initially trained in basic disaster preparedness, fire suppression, medical operations, light search-and-rescue operations, disaster psychology and team organization, terrorism and other CERT program essentials.

CERT was originally developed and implemented by the Los Angeles City Fire Department in 1985. FEMA recognized the importance of the program and adopted and expanded the CERT program and materials to cover all hazards, from natural disasters to terrorist attacks.

Northwestern has signed a memorandum of understanding with the City of Evanston to partner together for the University’s CERT program.

For more information on the upcoming CERT training dates or registering for upcoming classes, contact Joseph Frascati, emergency preparedness manager with the Northwestern University Police Department at 847-491-3065, joe@northwestern.edu or go to the University Police website on CERT.

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