Based on Clallam County Sheriff’s Office observations, more than 1,000 trucks transport goods each month to Clallam County along U.S. Highway 101. If a disaster were to disrupt that shipping route, the county could be cut off from supplies for up to a week or more.
In response to this possible scenario and other emergencies, the Clallam County Sheriff’s Office Emergency Management Unit is working to prepare citizens for possible disasters through a series of Community Emergency Response Team or CERT trainings. Program graduates go on to organize CERTs in their own neighborhoods. The teams, trained to Federal Emergency Management Agency standards, act as primary responders during emergencies until professionals can make contact.
According to a release from the Sheriff’s Office, 25-40 percent of businesses without an emergency plan are incapacitated after a disaster. The training will emphasize planning, survival skills, individual preparedness and the need for mutual aid within communities when responding to and recovering from a disaster.
Program coordinator Jayme Wisecup said that the classes have been unusually popular lately. While she typically only gets 15-20 applicants each year, that number spiked to more than 150 in January. To accommodate the jump in interest, she’s trying to get another course organized Sequim in May.
Retired Deputy Police Chief Sterling Epps attributed the rise in enrollment to an increased awareness of just how isolated the county could be during a disaster.
“There are 80 bridges in this county and the majority of them won’t hold up in a quake,” he warned.
The first set of classes took place Jan. 26, Feb. 2 and Feb. 9 at the Parkwood Clubhouse in cooperation with the Parkwood CERT unit; more are planned for the coming months.
Epps said the classes discuss how to deal with emergencies such as fires, floods, earthquakes and other disaster scenarios and emphasize self-reliance and individual preparedness. “A lot of people have fire extinguishers and have never used a fire extinguisher before,” he said.
The nine Clallam CERT teachers have varied backgrounds, including retired office managers, reserve firemen and social workers. Vietnam veteran Bob Mills teaches the fire preparedness unit. A retired Department of Justice administrator, Mills worked to ensure his upper floor Seattle office was prepared for a fire.
“I like teaching the fire module because it’s something very practical,” he said. “It’s something people could encounter any day. Always have two ways to exit a building,” he reinforces to the class, “stay low and keep doors closed.”
He reminds the students to check doors for heat before opening them and teaches how to fight a fire by robbing it of fuel, oxygen or heat.
Larry Morris, 59, works for the Clallam PUD and says the program has helped him as a continuation of his work with Map Your Neighborhood five years ago. He said it’s similar to Map Your Neighborhood, but more detailed.
“I take care of safety for the PUD, so I wanted to know a little more and get a little more involved in emergency preparedness,” he said. “We’re always looking to be prepared.” Morris said that one of the most useful lessons was on triaging — sorting by priority — casualties in a disaster situation.
CERT trainings include basic fire response and escape skills, first aid and light search-and-rescue strategies. Registration is open for the courses on May 4, 11 and 18 in Sequim. Those interested in registering should call Wisecup at 417-2525.