When disaster strikes it’s too late to formulate a plan, which is why Southwestern Michigan College is proactively training volunteers to respond to emergencies.
Eight students and staff members attended the first of a nine-week campus Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) sponsored by Southwestern Michigan College and Dowagiac Department of Public Safety (Police and Fire Departments).
CERT is a nationwide program that teaches community members how to assist police, fire and EMS.
This 20-hour training takes place each Monday from 6 to 9 p.m., culminating Nov. 11 with a disaster simulation and graduation.
Denis Burns, campus security coordinator, said, “CERT is a positive program. It’s good for the college to have someone trained to respond. CERT gives them backpacks with equipment such as hard hats, vests and some medical supplies. If we have a catastrophic situation, such as a tornado or earthquake — we sit on a fault — we have people who can assist others. We’re a community of 3,000 within a community.
“What usually happens when something hits Dowagiac is we’re right in line, so all their emergency services are not going to make it here if electric lines are down on Dailey or Cherry Grove. Training goes with them when they’re done with school, and they’re really going to get hands-on training, such as triaging a patient.”
Burns said Michigan is “big on CERT. Indiana doesn’t have it. I wish we did because it’s nice to have more than me and a handful of others who know what they’re doing. If this class goes as well as I think, we’ll repeat it in the spring and run it twice a year, plus at least one RAD (Rape Aggression Defense) class for women.”
Burns, a Walkerton police officer with 30 years experience in security, said his office is in the process of establishing an emergency command center in the College Services Building. He joined SMC Aug. 28, 2010.
SMC started work on CERT last year, before its third residence hall opened.
Chief of Staff Tom Atkinson pushed the project to the forefront when he came to campus after careers with the Cass County Sheriff’s Office and Dowagiac Department of Public Safety, which both have CERTs.
Dowagiac CERT Coordinator Patty Klug and Cass County Emergency Management Coordinator David L. Smith led Sept. 30’s introduction in the College Services Building.
On Oct. 7, Capt. Mike Mattix of Dowagiac Fire Department showed participants how to operate extinguishers using a fire simulator in the parking lot.
“Never respond beyond what you’re trained to do and what you’re equipped to do,” Smith said. “Your safety comes first.”
Dowagiac’s 2010 graduation coincided with tornado damage in Cass and Berrien counties confirmed by the National Weather Service.
Damage was concentrated outside Dowagiac along M-62 between Dead Man’s Hollow and Lindy’s going toward Cassopolis.
There were also pockets of damage on M-51 South in the vicinity of Imperial Furniture and along Cherry Grove Road near SMC and on Peavine Street.
“There were a lot of trees and structures that came down on M-62. It could have been devastating if it hit one of your campus buildings,” Klug said.
Campus emergency procedures can be consulted in the Online Resources Center (ORC).