Manatee County's Emergency Management presents a behind-the-scenes look to Lakewood Ranch's CERT.
Jim and Karen Emanuelson, the president and communications manager, respectively, of the Lakewood Ranch Community Emergency Response Team, know their members are well prepared.
But they didn't know if their members understood the complexity behind Manatee County's Emergency Management response to an emergency.
On March 14, the Lakewood Ranch CERT team met with the Emergency Management personnel at the Emergency Operations Center, on 46th Terrace East in Bradenton, for a presentation covering the inner workings of the department during an emergency.
“I wanted our members to see the breadth of what they deal with in our emergency services department," Jim Emanuelson said. "How comprehensive it is, what they do to keep us protected, all the different emergency support functions, all the agencies involved when an emergency hits."
Jim Emanuelson said some members of his organization thought they should radio every call during an emergency into the Emergency Operations Center. But that center is dealing with much larger issues. Contacting local fire stations is the better plan of action, he said.
The event was hosted by Manatee County Emergency Management Chief Steve Litschauer, who presented a detailed look at all of the facets of the department’s role.
“In a nutshell, what we do is we bring people together — we coordinate and collaborate with everybody,” Litschauer said. “A lot of people think we're the hurricane police. Oh, my goodness, I wish that's all I did. Then I might have hair. But we're worth far more than that."
Litschauer discussed recent events Emergency Management had to deal with, such as the COVID-19 pandemic.
He also noted numerous items that lead to potential emergency situations, such as fires, aircraft crashes, communication and electrical failures, cybersecurity concerns, red tide and civil unrest.
“One thing you might not think about is the holiday weekends at the beach,” he said. “They bring in tens of thousands of people. So for that we put together an incident action plan. There's 13 agencies that work together.”
Litschauer said computers now track emergencies and allow they to send information to appropriate agencies.
He also took the opportunity to showcase the reason for the panel screens in the room, which are used to view simultaneously multiple news broadcasts, maps for displaying incidents and traffic management cameras.
Litschauer thanked CERT for being “our eyes and ears in the community.”
“We have 408,000 residents in Manatee County,” he said. “If just 10% called 911, all in the same morning, it would be 41,000 calls. We don't have 1,000 firetrucks. These storms are so big. It may take health professionals days to get there.”
Therefore, he said, it is important for CERT members to check their neighborhoods after the emergency subsides. Sometimes that could mean going door to door.
“We’ve got to figure out who needs help and where and all that,” he said. “Cell towers get blown down, and the county is hundreds of square miles."
He said CERT members can check the main roads to see if they are passable.
Jim Emanuelson said CERT volunteers are trained in all critical pillars of emergency first aid, including how to keep people breathing, how to apply bandages and how to perform triage. Part of the certification course involves learning to pull a 180-pound dummy from beneath a pile of rubble. “Somebody might be needed to do that in real life when the fire department’s going to be three or four days out,” he said.
Being a member of CERT could even pay off during nonemergency times. Emanuelson said one CERT member potentially saved the life of a chef who had cut himself at a restaurant. The CERT member had his first-aid kit with him.
Emanuelson said visiting with Emergency Management was informative. "I always enjoy coming here,” he said. “It's impressive to see the amount of planning that the county does to keep us safe. As always, it makes me feel good. We appreciate everything the people in emergency management do.”
Likewise, Emergency Management appreciates the CERT volunteers and buys anyone who goes through CERT training a helmet and reflective vest.
“I feel it's valuable for people to know what we do in here so they can better know what they're reporting on and what we do with the information,” said Litschauer.
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