(TNS) -- The Student Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) training that began last year with North and South Decatur high schools expanded to include several other local schools on June 10 this year at the Decatur County Sheriff's Department.
Decatur County Community School Resource Officer Rob Duckworth was instrumental in getting the program started locally. He sought out and secured a grant from Homeland Security to provide the materials necessary for the training. While only the county high schools participated in the three day training program in 2014, this year the program expanded to include Greensburg High School, in addition to North and South Decatur, as well as Jac-Cen-Del, Columbus North, Columbus East and South Dearborn high schools.
Brent Casebolt, school resource officer for Jac-Cen-Del schools, said," I've got a handful of people here who will be juniors this next school year. I want to keep doing this so the following year we will have at least 20 young people trained at our school that could help whenever we need them to."
Duckworth said the Area Health Education Committee (AHEC) of Batesville, an organization tasked with exposing students to different healthcare careers, helped sponsor the program this year and allowed it to be expanded to include more schools. He said that McDonalds, KB Specialty Foods and O'Mara Foods were also sponsors.
"Our hope is to be better prepared for any disaster that comes to any one of our school buildings," Duckworth said.
By providing the same training to all the students, Duckworth said public responders arriving to help in an emergency would be able to get the same response and level of assistance from any of the trained teens. Duckworth said that the students from the out-of-county schools will take the program back with them and continue to grow the pool of students trained to help in an emergency.
"Hopefully, we will be able to continue to expand and make this program available. I think the kids get a valuable lesson in it, both for how big of an emergency things can be at school and how the adults need their help," Duckworth said.
Much like last year, the training was centered around a planned disaster scenario and in keeping with the theme of growth for the program, this year's scenario was far more advanced and intricate, requiring more quick thinking on the part of the students. The scene was set with the aftermath of a tornado, similar to the event that effected Tippecanoe County Schools in 2013 and Henryville in 2012.
Student CERT members were expected to clear debris away before they could even enter the training area, which was fashioned from an empty room at the Sheriff's Department. Old desks were piled haphazardly to simulate the chaos of a tornado strike. The lights were turned off and the blinds drawn before the room was filled with vision obscuring fog from a smoke machine. Once inside, team members had to locate victims, each of which was hidden in the room and had their own injuries of varying degrees of severity.
Each victim had to have their injuries triaged in the building and relayed to the triage center set up a safe distance away. Victims had to be evacuated and treated once they were outside the building. Spontaneous fires erupting required immediate reactions and the team leader stayed outside, calling for assistance where it was needed and managing the CERT team effectively.
However, some mistakes are to be expected when a group of people branches out to learn something new. One team lost a rescuer to (simulated) electrocution when they failed to check if the power was disconnected before touching a wire in the ravaged room. This served to highlight the very real danger first responders face when they show up to save someone. Maintaining accountability is a vital part of the CERT process, Duckworth said.
"That's the biggest thing the students can help us out with -- knowing who's where and who's been taken care of and who else needs assistance as we move forward with any type of drills or disasters," Duckworth said.
Duckworth said he is "very confident" that the students who underwent the CERT training had a good grasp on basic emergency response.
"If we have a community disaster, they can pitch in and help out with things and really realize how capable they can be with just a little bit of training," Duckworth said. "They get paired with a team leader at the school level, a staff member, and work in conjunction with them so they are ready to contribute to any type of disaster we could have at any of the school buildings."
The importance of the training appeared to hit home for the teenagers, who seemed to be taking the training quite seriously.
Kailee Kidd, who will be a GCHS sophomore when school starts, said, "The most valuable thing I think I learned from CERT training is knowing you have the power to help anyone in the community. With this training, I learned first aid and I know I have the ability to help people now."
Jac-Cen-Del's Rueben Benham said the most valuable thing he learned was probably to "do the greatest good for the greatest amount. I think it's a great thing that we're learning to help out in the community."
GCHS's Ian Tressler echoed the sentiment when he added, "I've learned how to help people a lot better and how to respond to natural disasters."
While one would certainly hope that these students never get the chance to show off their newfound skills, it does provide a measure of comfort to know that, should the need arise, they will be ready to respond.
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