Citizens in Madison County are ready to help after disasters through community emergency response training

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MADISON COUNTY, Ala. - Huntsville and Madison County residents are graduating from a preparedness program called the Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) to help each other during times of disaster.

CERT is coordinated through the Huntsville-Madison County Emergency Management Agency.

Scott Worsham, Emergency Management Officer, said the CERT program began as a response to earthquakes. But it has evolved to include many kinds of disasters.

CERT members train for basic natural disaster preparation, fire safety, first aid, and search and rescue. They also learn more about terrorism awareness, and how to recognize signs something is wrong to protect your community.

"It's a 20-hour course," said Worsham. "They're community members from different neighborhoods, and they're learning how to help their neighbors and their family."

Many minds were on the events in Las Vegas as we listened in on the class taught to trainees Monday.

Teachers reviewed that CERT team members are not paramedics or law enforcement, but they can play a role in recognizing suspicious activity, helping with triage and transportation, or traffic control following situations like the Las Vegas shooting.

The CERT trainees took part in a simulated disaster before they graduated from the program Monday evening. The EMA team prepared a mock gas line explosion. They even simulated injuries so the CERT team would know what a real disaster might look like.

We caught up with Erin Hopkins and her children as a makeup artist applied prosthetics and stage makeup to volunteers like her.

"It kind of turns my stomach a little bit," Hopkins admitted. "It's a little crazy seeing it on your own arm."

She played the part of a person who was burned by a fake fire.

"It does make you think about if something like that were to really happen," she said. "You want people to be trained and able to assess the situation, and hope that you'll be able to handle the situation," she explained.

Looking down at her made-up arm full of red paint she noted, "You imagine the panic and the fear of what must be going through anyone's head in that kind of situation."

Teachers' minds were also on the events in Las Vegas.

"You never want to hear that. It's very tragic news," said Worsham. "I felt disappointed that it happened here. That it happened at all. Probably a little angry, maybe. You run through a whole range of emotions. But I'm determined to do my part to keep that from happening in this area or if it does happen, trying to minimize it as much as possible. Being prepared helps with any disaster."

Worsham said over the years, they have added more terrorism awareness curriculum to the class.

"15, 20 years ago, even 10 years ago when we began teaching the class here, terrorism was more of an international threat. Now, it's evolving to more and more domestic incidents. I think it's hitting home more than it used to," he said. "It's possible now in anywhere, USA."

For those who watched the CERT trainees work, like Hopkins, knowing they're ready in case disaster strikes is comforting.

"I think that knowing they run exercises like this, and have more of a hands-on approach to this kind of training and these kinds of exercises definitely brings comfort," Hopkins said. "We know that tornadoes come through, and we are faced with different situations and things we hope we would never have that need arise. But I feel more comfortable knowing that we have teams that go through this extent to be prepared."

The Huntsville-Madison County EMA trains CERT members 3-4 times a year. The county CERT program has graduated 1042 students so far.

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