Steve Litschauer, Manatee County's Emergency Management chief, looked at all the emergency vehicles setting up before the Lakewood Ranch Community Emergency Response Team's Celebrate Lakewood Ranch, and explained the importance of the event.
"It's neighbors helping neighbors," Litschauer said at the Greenbrook Adventure Park Jan. 22. "It's the community coming together."
Litschauer said when an emergency response is needed, because of a hurricane, tornado, flood, or other disaster, the government can only do so much.
"They are our eyes and ears," Litschauer said of Lakewood Ranch CERT volunteers.
For CERT, which has 200 members, it was the group's first large public event aimed at attracting more volunteers. CERT's Karen Emanuelson organized the event, which allowed the public to see and touch Manatee County's public safety vehicles in the "touch-a-truck" area. Those who attended also enjoyed live entertainment, food trucks, rescue dog demonstrations and more.
"This is CERT's 15th anniversary and we put this together to honor our members and our history," said Jim Emanuelson, who is CERT's president. "But we also need to recruit more volunteers. Because of (the COVID-19 pandemic), we haven't been able to hold our training classes and we can't recruit."
CERT organizes neighborhood teams with the hope those neighbors will meet and get to know each other. If a disaster does strike, it is important for each neighborhood to communicate whether immediate help is needed.
Litschauer said the county's public safety workers need to know where help is not needed as much as they need to know where to respond. Knowing a neighborhood is all clear helps those responders concentrate on the areas that do need help.
Belonging to Lakewood Ranch CERT is free with only the need for 20 hours of training done in four different days of instruction. The final class is held at East Manatee Fire Rescue's Station 1.
"So much that we teach is common sense," Jim Emanuelson said. "Our first responsibility is to keep our volunteers and their families safe. Only after you know you and your family are safe can you activate."
Litschauer said Lakewood Ranch CERT plays a vital role in the community.
"It's amazing they've been around 15 years," he said. "A lot of organizations lose interest but they are gaining momentum. They keep their members engaged."