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Grand Forks County seeks emergency volunteer responders

Kari Goelz is the director of the the Grand Forks Emergency Management office, which coordinates the county's response to emergencies and natural disasters. In her work, Goelz said she has a hard time with "emergent volunteers," or those who chec...

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Kari Goelz is the director of the the Grand Forks Emergency Management office, which coordinates the county's response to emergencies and natural disasters. In her work, Goelz said she has a hard time with "emergent volunteers," or those who check on neighbors and the injured after helping themselves in an emergency.

"As much as we love to have it, now we have all these people who want to help and don't know what to do," she said.

That's why Goelz's office of four is starting a Citizen Emergency Response Team, or CERT, for the county. "If we train (volunteers) now, in quiet time ... that will make our response go so much smoother and efficiently," Goelz said.

Her office will spend the summer gathering volunteers and fielding questions about the program. It will also take this time to find funding. A teen CERT will receive support from the Department of Emergency Services, which the Emergency Management office reports to, and for the first year Goelz said the DES will support all the county's teams. After that, adult teams will need funding for equipment and training, through a combination of community and philanthropic grants. The office is planning on an informational meeting in August, before training citizens in the fall.
CERT, a national program, started in 1985 with the Los Angeles City Fire Department. Today, it boasts of 2,700 programs nationwide, with more than 600,000 trained volunteers since FEMA made training nationally available in 1993.

All CERT programs follow the same national curriculum of 20 hours of content, broken up into seven modules, including search and rescue, first aid and fire suppression. Goelz plans on having first responders help teach basics.

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Goelz and Assistant Emergency Manager Donna Anderson began talking about a county CERT program in 2016, shortly after Goelz moved here from Minnesota, where she worked with Homeland Security. Years ago, Anderson-who has been with the office since 2001-said the county tried starting a team, but efforts fell flat before volunteers even finished their training.
Intern Gannon Engkvist, a student at UND, said Goelz piqued his interest in the project with a book about CERT earlier this summer.

"It just kind of clicked," he said. "The best way to be prepared is to use the assets we have, and that's the community."

Engkvist and Maddie Ardelean, another summer intern from UND, said they've already gotten approximately 50 responses, 20 to 30 of which say they're interested in training. Ardelean said their feedback runs the gamut-she's heard from city staffers, county employees, people who have worked with other CERTs and students. Goelz said the office will accept volunteers as young as 15 years old, with parental approval, with teens working in their own CERT separate from the adults.

Engkvist said he's aiming for at least one team in every city, each team having approximately 10 volunteers.
"That's ambitious," Goelz said, but she agreed the county needs as many volunteers as it can get. And it needs more volunteers in rural areas, too-Goelz said the office relies on social media for recruiting, making it harder to reach citizens offline.

Goelz looks forward to having volunteer responders, she said, with hopes it will free up first responders, whom she described as a "finite resource" in smaller communities. "They (trained volunteers) can do a lot of tasks that don't rise to the levels of training police officers have," Goelz said.

The program also allows for a certain degree of versatility-after training, volunteers can perform search and rescue, they can handle phones and be amateur radio operators.

But more than anything, Emergency Management personnel said CERT will give power to the people.

"It just makes a lot of sense," Engkvist said. "If the people are going to be the ones impacted, they might as well have the resources to do something."

Related Topics: GRAND FORKS COUNTY
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