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Certifying Safety

CERTifying Safety

CERT training program prepares everyday citizens
to master disaster

November 2004

by Melissa J. Smith

A bomb detonates in a local high school. With the increased threat of terrorism in the United States, a disaster like this could happen. The minutes directly following the disaster are crucial in saving the lives of the critically injured. So what happens during those first critical minutes? At the end of this school year, health careers students at John B. Alexander High School in Laredo will be prepared to answer that question, thanks to some Health Science Center faculty members.

Alexander High School faculty and administrators participated in the Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) Train-the-Trainer Program conducted in Laredo this summer. It will allow them to train students in disaster preparedness.

The CERT training program is part of the Texas Curriculum for Allied Health Response to Emergencies (C.A.R.E.s.) Program. Texas C.A.R.E.s links six education entities and their communities together to prepare allied health students to respond and recover from a possible bioterrorism attack or other public health disaster.

The School of Allied Health Sciences is administering CERT through a two-year, $1.1 million bioterrorism curriculum development grant from the U.S. Health Resources and Services Administration. Marilyn Harrington, Ph.D., dean of the School of Allied Health Sciences, is the principal investigator. She enlisted the collaboration of The University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center at Dallas, The University of Texas at Dallas, Amarillo College, the Health Science Magnet Program at Alexander High School, and the Texas A&M University, College Station, Center for Housing and Urban Developmentís Promotoras Program in Laredo.

Participants receive education and training in basic disaster response skills, such as fire safety, light search and rescue, team organization and disaster medical operations. They also learn how to prepare for disasters and how to look for hazards that impact a specific area.

Using the training, CERT members can assist others in their neighborhood, workplace or school following an emergency when professional responders are not immediately available to help.

Terry Eaton, assistant professor in the department of emergency health sciences, taught hazardous materials information at this summerís CERT Train-the-Trainer Program. The curriculum for the hazardous materials training was developed by the emergency health sciences program.

"Itís important for citizens as first responders to be able to identify chemicals on the scene and protect themselves," Eaton said. "Hazardous materials training also will help them educate their communities about the dangers that can arise from mixing household cleaners."

Alexander High School

Juniors in the Health Careers Program at Alexander High School will benefit from the training administrators and faculty from the Health Careers Program received this summer. Every nine weeks a new group of students will learn about fire suppression, triage and first aid. By the end of the school year, 150 high school students will have completed the training.

"This is a great program for students because it trains them to be first responders if an emergency or disaster would occur in their school," said Gina Sanchez, Health Careers Program teacher and CERT trainer. "It makes them more aware of what is happening around them. Our community is susceptible to terrorism because Laredo is the second largest land port in the country. We want to be prepared."

Sanchez says her students also take the information home to their families. They prepare emergency kits, diagram emergency exits in their homes and run dry fire drills with their families.

"The CERT program educates people so they can effectively help and wonít become victims themselves," Sanchez said.


Colonias are communities along the U.S.-Mexico border created in response to a shortage of low-income housing. Colonias have unregulated lots with homes made of recycled materials and sometimes dilapidated trailers or campers. They have no sewers, electricity or running water. These communities have no paved streets, making it difficult for emergency service vehicles, such as fire and EMS, to get to the location of an emergency.

Promotoras live in colonias and are community liaisons who work for The Center for Housing and Urban Development (CHUD) at Texas A&M University. They link colonia residents to community resources, such as education, health, human services and job training programs.

Norma Cruz, a promotora who serves in the colonias along Highway 359 in Laredo, participated in this summerís CERT training along with seven other promotoras, two Texas A&M Colonias Program volunteers and two administrators.

This fall Cruz will help recruit colonia residents to form a CERT team. These resident volunteers will receive the CERT training from the promotoras. Once certified, each colonia will have trained residents who can help during emergencies before first responders arrive.

"With the training they receive, colonias residents will be able to effectively serve their communities during disasters," Cruz said. "If there is a gas explosion, for example, they will be able to identify the gas, turn off the source and safely remove and treat victims."

Through training, education and materials provided by the Texas C.A.R.E.S grant, the CERT program ensures that high school students and residents of underserved communities will be effective in assisting during emergencies, ultimately saving lives.

"Allied health professionals along with trained community members represent thousands of people who can competently respond in any public health disaster," Dr. Harrington said. "Whether a high school student, promotora or allied health professional, trained and alert people are our best prevention of and response to a disaster."


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