JENNIFER FIERRO • STAFF WRITER
MARBLE FALLS — Tornado warnings flashed across the television screens during Memorial Day, prompting many Highland Lakes residents to head for cover in their homes instead of outdoor holiday activities.
And as some residents hunkered down with their loved ones and pets, they might have felt fear and wondered if they were doing the right things to protect those important to them.
One way to know for sure is to get the proper training before a natural disaster happens. And that’s where the Community Emergency Response Team training program comes in.
“A lot of people don’t get too concerned about taking the classes until we have a disaster,” said Jim Barho, the Burnet County Emergency Management coordinator. “Our goal is to try to get people prepared in advance.”
CERT was created after a major earthquake in California in 1985 when emergency personnel were faced with some simple truths: They couldn’t get to every resident who needed help quickly enough and residents didn’t know what to do to survive.
Since then, the federal government has helped fund local CERT training programs. The one in the Highland Lakes started after the 2007 flood in Marble Falls, when Mother Nature dropped 19 inches of rain in one night. The floodwaters swept away some of the pipes that pumped water to homes, which made the water unsafe to drink.
Members of fire departments, police departments, the sheriff’s office and the Burnet County judge led the way in forming the local training program, which has had 130 graduates in the past four years.
The next program will begin in a few weeks. The free, seven-week course is limited to 30 students 18 years and older who commit to attending a 7-10 p.m. session each Thursday. The last class allows students to exercise what they’ve learned during a live drill.
“All the students become the response first-aid (team) in knowing how to do the most good for the most people,” CERT training officer Jim Gallagher said. “We come from the side of ‘Do you know what to do in a multitude of disasters?’”
Students will leave with a certificate stating they’ve completed the class and an emergency kit with items valued at $85.
Curriculum is led by volunteer instructors and covers minor first aid training, what to do in a flood or a tornado, how to use a fire extinguisher and more.
Gallagher said part of the training is relearning some things that were common three generations ago but have been forgotten as technology has improved the quality of life.
“It’s a very valuable resource for citizens in our community and county,” Barho said. “My goal is to train citizens. My promise to them is you’ll be able to take care of yourself, family and neighbors.”
Burnet County covers more than 1,000 square miles, and most of the firefighters are volunteer. So during an emergency, personnel might be busy helping one family while another in different part of the county could have the same need.
So CERT volunteers train citizens to survive for 72 hours until emergency personnel can reach them.
“There’s a comfort level in knowing what to do,” Barho said. “All of the sudden, your survival instincts will kick in.”
He acknowledged feeling fear during a potential disaster is human nature.
“The difference is you’re going to be more organized and more confident because of the training,” Barho said. “It’s a natural instinct to be afraid. But if you go into it with training, you’ll be confident. That’s the key.”
Email Barho at firstname.lastname@example.org or Gallagher at email@example.com for more information or to sign up.