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Citizen volunteers in Community Emergency Response Teams busy during wildfire evacuations.

What can an everyday person do to help in an emergency or disaster? Plenty if you are a member of a Community Emergency Response Team.

Milwaukie CERT is sponsored by Clackamas Fire District #1. CERT is a national program, started in 1993, that trains its volunteers in disaster preparedness for the hazards that may impact their area and trains them in basic disaster response skills, such as fire safety, light search and rescue, team organization, CPR and first aid and disaster medical operations. Some of us are nurses or paramedics, most are not, but all can be trained to help with disaster medical aid.

For the most part, we meet monthly and are prepared to be called on to assist as needed; we prepare for earthquakes, train derailments and natural disasters and participate in community outreach. Over the years, Milwaukie CERT has done traffic control for the Milwaukie Umbrella Parade, 9K for K9 fundraiser, Dogwood Dash, Bikes for Kids, Milwaukie PD fundraiser dinner, the fire department's Operation Santa, Milwaukie prescription-turn-in and document-shred days, as well as working with Oak Lodge Water District and the Oak Lodge CERT team distributing water to citizens in order to practice how water distribution would work if water lines break after a major earthquake. Disaster psychology and using radios to connect to the emergency Operations Center in the city are ongoing trainings. We frame our focus on helping our family and then in our neighborhoods after a major event like the Cascadia Subduction zone earthquake.

Disaster psychology really came into play when our Milwaukie CERT team was asked on Sept. 8 to assist in setting up evacuation shelters with the Red Cross due to the wildfires. I contacted the person noted to volunteer for the Molalla shelter and got a call back telling me Molalla was being closed as the fire was too close, and could I go to Oregon City? I got to Clackamas Community College about 8:30 p.m. and located the campus security officer who was directing evacuees in cars and trucks with trailers into the parking lot. Disaster, being unorganized, requires a person to use their critical thinking skills. I located three other CERT people and two Red Cross volunteers — we were all there were at that time. Some Clackamas County workers came by to drop off bottled water and granola bars for the evacuees.

We CERT members set up distribution, and, with the Red Cross, went to peoples' cars to tell them where the open restroom was and about the water and snacks. Many evacuees only had time to grab a pet and family members, jump in a car and leave. Others were able to prepare their camp trailers so they had a place to sleep.

More Red Cross people arrived about midnight and got a shelter up and running with cots and blankets in the gym for approximately 60 people ready to go about 3 a.m. Meanwhile, the Clackamas County disaster manager, who got my number from the shelter organizer, was in contact with me to keep abreast of the situation at the college. My duties had me stationed in the very windy and smoky parking lot, and over the course of the night, I mainly listened to the stories of the people who had to leave their homes at a moment's notice, possibly never to return. Everyone was extremely distressed but oddly calm and were so grateful to the firefighters and to have a safe place to come and sleep for the night. Some said they had gone to parking lots of stores, but the other occupants were too noisy and they didn't feel safe enough to sleep in their cars there; we had people coming in throughout the night.

At 7:30 a.m. the Red Cross had gotten breakfast sandwiches for the evacuees and we CERT volunteers moved people from the parking lot we were in overnight to one closer to the gym. We had the building with the restroom closed up and the parking lot cleared by 8:30 a.m. and were able to head to our homes.

On Sept. 10, CERT was again needed, this time to help sort donated food for the firefighters at the fire training center. Many firefighters from all over the state were there to stock up on food for their rigs and their station as well as get showered. Those of us that could go did, and we had more volunteers to help on Sept. 11. I just received an email that we will be needed again.

So yes, anyone can make a difference. I have been a CERT member for four and a half years while working full time. Many people have a desire to help but don't know what to do. CERT training is a great eye-opener to what a big difference an average person can make to help their neighbors in a time of need and be better prepared for their own family.

COURTESY PHOTO: JACK TANZ - Milwaukie Community Emergency Response Team members drop off donations to Clackamas Fire on Sept. 10.

Pam Denham is a member of the Milwaukie Community Emergency Response Team.

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