By STEVEN NALLEY
Through a grant from the Mississippi Office of Homeland Security, the Mississippi State University Extension Service has launched and trained a Campus Community Emergency Response Team, or C-CERT.
Ryan Akers, assistant extension professor and MSU C-CERT coordinator, said the C-CERT is a group of volunteers trained in disaster assessment, response and recovery, including treatment and prevention of certain injuries. From Nov. 15-17, he said, MSOHS trained 29 volunteers, carefully selected from a pool of engaged employees and students.
“These teams are already engaged in the communities that they represent, so they have the ability to assess and respond to situations before local response officials can arrive,” Akers said. “This timeframe can prove critical to preventing further injuries and perhaps saving lives. Members have a distinct daily relationship with this campus in that they spend the majority of their day here and are intricately involved its livelihood and prosperity. It only makes sense that there exist a number of volunteers that would offer their assistance in times of need.”
The final team was chosen on the basis of prior emergency management experience and training, Akers said, including first aid/CPR and defibrillator training, and National Incident Management System certifications. He said the team includes two volunteer firefighters, a member of the State Emergency Operations Center and MSU staff with specialties ranging from radiation safety to the layouts of MSU’s buildings. The team also includes six students, he said.
“(Students) are the largest population of this campus and must be included,” Akers said. “Like it or not, they are often more in tune with the happenings of this campus than many faculty and staff. It would be irresponsible not to include them. Besides, we are an institution of higher education. It is our hope that these students will take those skills and that knowledge and passion and apply it through service to their communities when they leave MSU.”
Whatever background the team members brought to C-CERT, all of them studied specific threats including ice storms, pandemic influenza, disaster psychology and even nuclear plant emergencies. Akers said the training will be augmented with monthly meetings starting in December, and the MSU Meridian campus will hold training for its own C-CERT Nov. 28-30.
“We will be bringing in different speakers and trainers for our monthly meetings that will help us accomplish our goals in the most efficient manner,” Akers said. “We will continue to be proactive in forming partnerships with MSU and local responding agencies in advancing our training and in preparing for all emergencies, not just from inclement weather, though that is certainly something that we place considerable focus on as it is our most probable, consistent threat.”
Akers said while the 2010 and 2011 seasons did expedite the need for a C-CERT team, there was no specific time when the C-CERT concept was first considered at MSU. He also said MSU’s C-CERT is far from the first of its kind.
“The number of Campus CERT teams across the nation has increased over the last decade as we have witnessed what seems to be an alarming number of threats to our communities,” Akers said. “Many of these threats come in the form of inclement weather and extreme atmospheric/climate conditions, and C-CERT teams have assisted in the response and recovery efforts. However, even though we do concentrate on these incidents, natural disasters are not the only incidents that C-CERT members are trained to assist.”
While at least one member of C-CERT is also on MSU’s Crisis Action Team, the C-CERT and CAT are distinct from each other, Akers said.
“We are not responsible for the university’s general communication plan with stakeholders in the event of a crisis, other than following it,” Akers said. “We are also not responsible for executing essential tasks within the university’s emergency response plan, other than following it. Obviously, we are not the Police Department, Fire Department or Emergency Management Agency. By definition, we do not self-deploy. However, what we can do is support those units and organizations through specialized training.”
Akers said other C-CERT teams around the country have been written into other colleges’ emergency response plans, often integrating them into emergency drills and full-scale exercises.
“My hope is that this is what MSU C-CERT will become, and I have complete confidence that it can happen,” Akers said. “I have established contact with university CAT team officials so that we can examine how MSU C-CERT can assist in times of need and to essentially define its role.”