April 18, 2013

Community is enthusiastic about
Emergency Response Teams


Though it’s no stranger to disasters, Hatteras Island seems to have confronted more than its fair share of emergency situations recently. From Irene to Sandy to those random northeasters that sometimes wipe out off-island travels for indeterminate periods of time, islanders have found themselves in several challenging predicaments in the past few years.

County, state, and even national emergency management and disaster relief personnel have responded after these events, but many believe the success of response and recovery efforts are significantly enhanced by—if not dependent on—the work of individuals within the affected communities.

It was a lesson that Kenny Brite, a volunteer with the Avon Fire Department, learned first-hand in the wake of Hurricane Irene, and one of the reasons he is spearheading the creation of the Hatteras Island Community Emergency Response Team (CERT)—an island-wide initiative that provides basic emergency-response training to community members and organizes a team that can facilitate and supplement the efforts of certified emergency management personnel. 

Basically, Hatteras Island CERT will be an organized, community-based army of knowledgeable volunteers who can help emergency response professionals meet the unique demands of islanders in the wake of a disaster.

Or, as Brite puts it, “It’s neighbors taking care of neighbors.”

Brite said the idea came to him in the wake of Hurricane Irene.

“After Irene, we were feeding hundreds of people a day out of the Avon fire house,” he stated. “A thousand plates were going out of [the fire house] everyday, and we only had nine firefighters.”

In the end, two local women—Denise Gaskins and Antoinette Mattingly—stepped up to ensure that the community’s most basic needs were being met, which eased the burden of the already-overwhelmed firefighters.

“I was thinking, we should form an auxiliary to handle this kind of thing,” Brite said. “A cadre of people and a plan already set in place.”

Turns out, Brite wasn’t the only one who noticed the need for a local, community-based response team.

Saltwater Connections, an organization aimed at developing and sustaining the economic prosperity of North Carolina’s coastal communities, recently released a community assessment report in which it recommended the formation of a Hatteras Island emergency management council.

Data for the report was compiled in October of 2011, when a 10-person resource team visited the island and spoke directly with residents, businesses, and organizations on the island. Based on those interactions, the resource team made a series of recommendations to help improve community development.

Among other things, the team determined that, since the villages of Hatteras Island are unincorporated—and thus lack individual representation on the Dare County Control Group as the towns north of Oregon Inlet do—the island should have its own emergency management council to improve communication with the county and more thoroughly assess the impacts of natural disasters in the island’s communities.

When a task force charged with developing a Hatteras Island emergency management council was organized, Brite signed up to participate.  That’s when he started reading about the CERT program.

The CERT program is managed by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), in cooperation with state and local emergency management agencies, and it is designed to educate community members about disaster preparedness for hazards that may impact their area and train them in basic disaster response skills.

The program recognizes the reality that, in the wake of a disaster, when emergency response teams are often overwhelmed, community members will naturally step in to help themselves and others, and the more training those community members have, the more assistance they can provide—and the more effective they will be in doing so.

The CERT training is a 21-hour course—which is offered completely free of charge—that usually takes about six to seven weeks to complete, with members attending once-weekly meetings.

The classes are a mix of direct instruction, open discussion, and hands-on experience, and topics include everything from making an emergency kit to conducting a search-and-rescue mission. The course is open to anyone, even those who don’t want to join the response team once they’ve completed the training. 

After researching it, Brite thought that an island-wide CERT program sounded like a good fit for Hatteras, and when he pitched it to Dare County’s Local Emergency Planning Council (LEPC) and the Saltwater Connections task force, they both agreed with him.

With their blessing, Brite “hit the ground running.”

He completed the “Train the Trainer” course, which allows him to train course instructors. He applied for registration with FEMA and submitted a six-month written plan. Once the registration was granted, FEMA provided him 40 student and 10 instructor manuals.

He recruited nine instructors—at least one from each of the island’s villages, as well as a cardiologist from Richmond—and trained them to teach the class. He also secured $7,000 in program funding, with the rescue squad and all six of the island’s fire departments each pledging $500 per year for the next two years. 

And so far, the community response has been favorable.

“We’re really pleased with the response we’ve gotten so far,” Brite said. “We’ve got 77 people signed up to take the course, and out of the 77 that have signed up, about 50 or 60 want to be on the response team.”

The actual training course will begin on May 1, but Brite has scheduled an organizational meeting for next Wednesday evening, April 24, at the Avon Fire Department at 7 p.m., and anyone who is interested in the program is encouraged to attend—whether or not they are signed up for the course and whether or not they want to be part of the formal response team.

And even though the organizational meeting and the training course will take place in Avon, it’s important to note that this is an island-wide program, and diverse representation would not only strengthen the team’s effectiveness, but also foster community spirit.

Interested residents of each village are actively encouraged to attend the meeting and sign up for the course.  “We really want to emphasize the island-wide mentality as much as possible,” Brite said.


Hatteras Island CERT Facebook Page: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Hatteras-Island-Community-Emergency-Response-Team/358658357578519

For more information on CERT, visit FEMA’s website at 

For more information on Saltwater Connections and their work in the community, visit their website at http://saltwaterconnections.org/.

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