Citizen responders graduate from CERT

CERT students work to assist a young “victim” who has been trapped by falling debris during a disaster drill at Trinity Lutheran Church in Freeland. - Steven George
CERT students work to assist a young “victim” who has been trapped by falling debris during a disaster drill at Trinity Lutheran Church in Freeland.
— image credit: Steven George

Think you’d know what to do if a major earthquake struck Whidbey Island?

Not San Francisco, L.A. or Seattle, but right here at home.

Consider this scenario: An earthquake registering big time on the Richter scale hits. In your neighborhood there are power lines down, electricity out, gas mains damaged, homes destroyed, roadways and streets impassable.

A couple houses on your block are engulfed in flames and while standing in your driveway you hear calls for help — the guy next door pinned under a collapsed roof, a lady down the street trapped in her car by a fallen tree, a little boy scalded by hot water from a broken water faucet.

Emergency workers are busy elsewhere, dealing with the collapse of the bridge over Deception Pass even as the Clinton ferry dock floats out to sea, a total loss.

What do you do?

If you’re lucky someone nearby is a graduate of CERT — the Community Emergency Response Team — a local citizen trained to respond to emergency situations just like the massive Whidbey temblor of 2010.

As of April 5, there are nine new CERT graduates who have spent eight weeks studying disaster preparedness, fire suppression, basic medical operations, team organization, disaster psychology and light search and rescue operations.

The graduation ceremony featured a realistic replication of a natural disaster.

Staged at Trinity Lutheran Church in Freeland, young teens were recruited to act as victims so trainees could practice what they’ve mastered, coordinator David Hollitt said.

“They learn to know what to expect from each other when a real emergency develops,” Hollitt explained.

“The drill was a big success. The ‘victims’ used make-up to simulate injuries and were arranged in situations requiring fast thinking.”

A portion of the church’s classrooms were set up as control points; triage stations were organized in the parking lot to deal with those caught under fallen roofs or burned by fake fires. An “unknown toxic substance” (dry ice) created a cloud of suspicious origin that students had to deal with.

“They get to use everything they’ve learned over the eight-week training period,” Hollitt said.

Freeland’s Marti Crowley agreed.

“The young people were fantastic; they did a marvelous job and were very patient. They really helped us take our work seriously,” she said.

Crowley was nominated by her classmates as Incident Commander for the group. “We back up the first responders, taking care of neighbors and families,” she added. “I’d encourage more people to get involved because you never know what might happen.”

Over the next two years, the CERT program aims to double the number of participants nationally, with more than 400,000 individuals completing the 20 plus hours of training.

The next Whidbey Island disaster preparedness class begins in June. For more information, contact Hollitt at 360-240-5572 or visit

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