Amherst aims to train cadre for emergencies

Had a Community Emergency Response Team been in place at the time, such a weather event would have been an opportunity to activate a network of civilians trained to help in such emergencies.

Things will be different next time.

Soon, the town is expected to have volunteers ready to help public safety personnel.

Volunteers are still being recruited for the Community Emergency Repsonse Team, known as CERT, who will be trained to help firefighters and police officers during both town wide and neighborhood emergencies.

Fire Chief Walter “Tim” Nelson said the residents who become part of CERT will be adjunct to the professional emergency responders and work under the incident command system.

“It’s a way for citizens to help in times of incidents and disasters,” Nelson said.

Nelson recently appointed Michael Williamson, an emergency medical technician, to act as the recruiter and an instructor for these volunteers.

Williamson said CERT will be a great asset and resource

“It’s neighbors helping neighbors, but doing it in a safe, trained way,” said Williamson, the retired director of Information and Technology Communications Services at Springfield College and a member of the Berkshire Mountain Search and Rescue Team.

Williamson said the concept is being promoted by the Federal Emergency Management Agency, with grants available through the Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency.

The first training begins April 9 at 6:30 p.m. at the UMass police station at 585 East Pleasant St. Each training, which will run for six to eight weeks, lasts two to two and half hours, and will cover topics such as first aid, CPR and other life-saving procedures and basic damage assessment, Williamson said. The trainings will give the volunteers a professional understanding and the ability to be called on and act under the guidance of the professional staff.

Williamson will do some instruction, but also bring in firefighter paramedics to show the residents how to help someone until an ambulance arrives and police officers to instruct them on how to direct traffic.

Nelson said he expects that most of the time will be used during weather-related events and be a force multiplier. During the snowstorm, the cadre deployed could have done assessments after the storm and dealing with the effects. Tornadoes, hurricanes and man-made emergencies, such as train derailments and terrorist acts, will also be covered by CERT. Volunteers may also teach people about sheltering in place and the supplies necessary in case of emergency.

The first 25 volunteers who go through training will get a backpack with a radio and other equipment, valued at about $100, paid for through a MEMA grant. There is also a $20 textbook for the classes, the cost of which may be waved because of another grant.

“My goal is to make this easy and have everyone succeed,” Williamson said “That’s what I’m going to try hard for.”

If this is successful, it will expand to other communities who can be partners in emergency responses.

Nelson said he is sure that Amherst will benefit from having the CERT-trained residents.

“This gives people a chance to give back to their community and to take care of their neighbors,” Melson said.

To sign up online, or obtain an application that can be printed, go to

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