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Community response volunteers train for hurricane season

Annual refresher courses prepare Lakewood Ranch CERT members to potentially save lives.

CERT instructor Pat Knowles directs Cynthia Olcott on the proper way to clear an airway during a refresher course May 17 in Summerfield.
CERT instructor Pat Knowles directs Cynthia Olcott on the proper way to clear an airway during a refresher course May 17 in Summerfield.
Photo by Jay Heater
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Cynthia Olcott walked into the crowded living room at her Summerfield home May 17, carrying a Community Emergency Response Team backpack.

Olcott is the team leader of Team No. 8 of Lakewood Ranch CERT and she was hosting an annual refresher course on many of the potential life-saving techniques they are taught to use in case of a disaster situation.

The Atlantic hurricane season has a starting date of June 1 as set in 1965 by the National Hurricane Center.

If anyone needed a reminder that these are not professional emergency workers or paid employees, they needed only to look at Olcott's backpack.

It was covered with secured sticky-type notes to remind Olcott, if she ever finds herself in a high-stress situation, what is in each compartment in the backpack.

Besides different sizes of gauze and bandages and tape, there are medical gloves, dust masks, a flashlight, nylon line, an emergency survival blanket, a portable stretcher, tourniquets, body bags, and more.

While the volunteers might not be experts in rescue operations, they are well trained and they might be the only chance for an injured person to survive in case a hurricane or some other disaster hits the Summerfield neighborhood.

Olcott and her group take this responsibility seriously, even though most have never had to offer life-saving care to this point. Almost all, however, have been "deployed" during the aftermath of hurricanes when the need might well have existed.

Gayle Thurston practices applying a tourniquet on her husband Dave Thurston's arm during a CERT refresher course May 17 in Summerfield.
Photo by Jay Heater

Team 8 members, based in the Woods and Bluffs neighborhoods of Summerfield, go out in groups of two when they are deployed. Olcott's team has only eight members which she stressed isn't enough if Summerfield takes a serious hit from a hurricane. When you combine the fact that some CERT volunteers also are snowbirds, the need for more members is apparent.

"You can't have too many members," she said. "We would like to have more."

Before someone can be a certified CERT member, they must have 20 hours of training as required by FEMA. Then they should participate in the different avenues of training offered by the group as well as refresher courses.

Those refreshers, and tricks such as labeling everything in the backpack are important because rescue techniques and materials change often. Valerie Stafford-Mallis, who was attending the refresher course, said she has been a CERT member since 2001, and noted that things "are very different" than when she started.

Pat Knowles, a chemical engineer who has become a CERT instructor on emergency medical techniques and procedures, taught the refresher course. While the information was serious, he kept the session and light and engaging. It started with a jaw thrust maneuver to clear the airway if someone isn't breathing, and went on to cover techniques to deal with arterial bleeding, shock, burns, anaphylactic shock, insect bites in more.

He went over the materials in the backpacks with some reminders on how to use them.

Is such training important?

Mike Staley talked about his late wife, Pat, who was a CERT member, and how she once came upon a serious accident on State Road 70. Upon arrival at the scene, he said Pat "knew how to take charge and how to respond."

Her CERT training prepared her for that moment.

Olcott said she had a guest who was cooking in her kitchen and sliced his hand badly. She knew how to dress the wound and prevent the incident from becoming serious.

They said the point is that the training, indeed, works.

Anyone who would like to become a CERT member can go to and follow prompts. Many other neighborhoods around East County also have CERT teams. You can go to to find a CERT program near your community.



Jay Heater

Jay Heater is the managing editor of the East County Observer. Overall, he has been in the business more than 41 years, 26 spent at the Contra Costa Times in the San Francisco Bay area as a sportswriter covering college football and basketball, boxing and horse racing.

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