05/23/04 — Walnut Creek gets CERT team

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Walnut Creek gets CERT team

By Jack Stephens
Published in News on May 23, 2004 2:06 AM

Ten Walnut Creek residents now can play the role of rescue personnel and firefighters, should a disaster prevent those emergency workers from reaching the village.

The 10 completed a 21-hour course over four weeks to become the first Community Emergency Response Team in Wayne County -- and one of the first in North Carolina.

"The community can be self-sufficient for up to three days, if emergency responders could not get there," said Mel Powers, the class instructor and the county's assistant emergency services coordinator.

Walnut Creek Police Chief Delisa C. Staps explained that only one village employee, Town Clerk Sandy Allen, lives in Walnut Creek. Access for the others, Mrs. Staps said, could be restricted because of floods, such as those in 1999 during Hurricane Floyd.

The team members could respond in an emergency, the chief said, if she and other officers were tied up elsewhere.

"For a small community," she said, "it's an ideal expansion of resources."

"Who knows a community better than the people who live there?" Powers said. "They can be a huge asset."

Many of the 10 residents also were members of the Walnut Creek Crime Watch, including Tom Shaw, the chairman.

"We learned some things on how to handle emergency situations in our community," Shaw said, "like what would happen if we had a disaster, natural or manmade, and Elroy firefighters and rescue could not get here, and we had to look after ourselves."

After Sept. 11, 2001, Powers explained, President Bush wanted people to volunteer so that they could help themselves.

The Walnut Creek team was formed under the Citizens Corps, a broad network of volunteer efforts that harnesses the power of individual skills and interests to prepare communities to prevent and respond to the threats of crime, terrorism and disasters. In North Carolina, the corps is managed by the Commission on Volunteerism and Community Service.

The Walnut Creek team was funded in two federal grants. A $2,432 Citizens Corps grant provided teaching materials for the seven classes. Then a $9,934 grant provided materials for the incident command and practical exercise.

The team members had instruction in disaster preparedness, disaster fire suppression, disaster medical treatment strategies, disaster medical assessments and treatment, light search and rescue, incident command and a practical exercise.

Powers said he was impressed with "the dedication that team members showed during the classes and the exercise."

"They had to take time from their busy schedules to go through this program," Chief Staps said.

"It was a long process," Powers said, "but well worth it." He added that the team members will need follow-up meetings, maybe quarterly, to maintain their skills.

The 10 were Dr. Bryson Bateman, Jerry Carter, Jim Clough, Linda DeAraujo, Darren Howery, Steve Lowder, Tom Shaw, Ann Stephens, Barbara Stiles and Suzi Wharton. Two others also participated but, because of medical reasons, missed classes that can be made up.

Shaw said the course "went fantastic. ƒ Now we know what to do and we can do it. But I hope we never have to use it. I'm really excited about it. It's a real good program. I hope we can get more people involved."

Powers noted that the instructors, including Trey Rhodes from the county emergency services office and Mark Brown, the Area 3 coordinator for Emergency Management, volunteered their services.

Powers said he wants to start a second team in Mount Olive. He said applications for other teams will be included in an upcoming Sunday edition of the News-Argus.