Citizens can play a significant role in helping their community through a disaster, especially if they have the right training.

A national program to provide that training to Corry-area residents – called the Community Emergency Response Team, or “CERT” – is being offered through the Corry Higher Education Council beginning Wednesday, Sept. 23.

The CERT program is administered by the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s Community Preparedness Division, and is designed to prepare people to help themselves, their families and their neighbors in the event of a disaster.

The free 28-hour program covers a host of topics, including: disaster preparedness, fire safety, disaster medical operations and practices, CERT organization, light search and rescue operations, disaster psychology, terrorism and CERT, and a disaster simulation. Participants also earn CPR certification, and can provide critical support by giving immediate assistance or CPR to victims before emergency first responders arrive on the scene.

Participants, who must be at least 18 years of age, learn a lot and benefit in many ways, said instructor Denise Otteni.

“They become comfortable and confident that they can assist themselves and their neighbors in case of a natural or man-made disaster,” said Otteni. “CERT team members are an organized group of ordinary citizens that can assist in facilitating basic search and rescue, first aid, and basic fire suppression that the emergency response personnel may be delayed or unable to get to in the case of disaster.”

Otteni said the community also benefits by having a Community Emergency Response team, noting the team is part of a larger preparedness effort being undertaken throughout the Corry region.

“This team of trained volunteers participates in community activities by providing information pamphlets concerning emergency preparedness, basic first aid support as well as support at any time for the fire and police personnel,” she noted.

Corry residents Cyndee and Rick Holton completed the first local CERT program last fall.

“We really enjoyed the classes,” Cyndee Holton said. “It trains you in many areas. It really makes you think about how most people are not prepared. It’s a good way to become involved in the community and know how to help others in the event of a disaster.”

On a personal level, Holton said she and her husband prior to the training were not prepared for what to do in the event of a major emergency, “so we went from not knowing what to do, to becoming part of a team that knows how to help yourself and others.”

Otteni and co-instructor Todd Beardsley attend quarterly trainings with other Erie County Municipal Emergency Response Coordinators, and have a combined 40-plus years of experience working as volunteers in the fire and emergency medical support fields.

The Corry program will be held on four Wednesday evenings from 7-9 p.m. and five Saturdays mornings from 8 a.m. to noon. Dates are Sept. 23 and 30, Oct. 10, 14, 17, 24 and 28, and Nov. 7.

Registration is required by noon Monday, Sept. 21, by calling the Hi-Ed Council at 664-9405.

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