By Julie McCay Turner
Although they weren’t called into action after the July 7 microburst, the trained volunteers of Bedford’s Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) are ready to assist first responders in emergencies or planned events should the Town Manager or his designee decide that a coordinated emergency response is required.
Should a town-wide emergency be declared, an Emergency Operations Center (EOC) would be set up in the Police Station conference room; the EOC could activate CERT to set up and manage a shelter.
CERT volunteers gathered for a sheltering exercise at Bedford’s designated shelter in Town Center in late June; they prepared a dormitory and registered a ‘troop’ of volunteer guests left homeless in the aftermath of an imaginary flood.
The guests were played by young men and their leaders from Bedford/Hanscom Boy Scout Troops 194 and 156. Led by OC O’Connor, Rob Sanders and Kimberly Gaston, the Scouts included Jonathan and Bobby Gaston, Quinten Houck and Trenton Sanders. The participating CERT volunteers included Richard Cuti, Sarah Dorer, Martin Klein, Adam Schwartz, Susan Schwartz, Matthew Siegal, Doris Smith, Dan Smythe, and Mary Jane St. Amour.
Bedford’s Shelter at Town Center
On arrival at Town Center, the CERT team set up a command post and secured the Town Center building, limiting access to the back entrance.
A secured section of Town Center’s attic holds sufficient shelter supplies to sustain 90 guests for 72 hours. Simple food and bottled water are available, along with cots, bedding and personal care kits. The cage also holds the tools that CERT needs to operate the shelter. The town has the capacity to shelter 10 dogs and 5 cats in a separate facility.
Team members were dispatched to the attic to bring the appropriate supplies to the Flint Room where other team members set up cots, supplying each with a blanket and personal care kit.
In the lobby outside the Council on Aging, other volunteers set up a check-in area and prepared to register the shelter guests. Had it been an actual emergency, volunteers would have stocked and staffed the kitchen and a dining area.
CERT in Bedford
Bedford’s CERT volunteers are led by Bedford Fire Chief David Grunes, Police Chief Robert Bongiorno, and Health Department Director Heidi Porter.
CERT came to Bedford thanks to a post-Katrina federal grant won in 2005 by then-Chief Kevin McCaffrie of the Bedford Fire Department. According to longstanding CERT volunteer Sarah Dorer the commitment to training was significant for the first volunteers. It included a specific commitment to attend weekly meetings from October through November, although current CERT volunteers now follow a monthly meeting schedule.
Seven of the initial 15 CERT members are still active, along with additional volunteers who have signed on through the years.
In addition to providing occasional mutual aid to surrounding towns, Dorer noted that CERT volunteers support Bedford’s first responders with road closures and traffic control for Pole Capping and the Bedford Day parades, as well as during the PMC Bedford Kids Ride. In 2010 CERT volunteers filled sandbags that were used by residents affected by the Concord River flood along Carlisle Road, and they staffed a warming station after the October snowstorm that left many Bedford households without power in the cold.
All volunteers receive ongoing training in CPR, first aid, shelter management and general preparedness. Early on, there was even exposure to Search and Rescue protocols, with a canine search team at Shawsheen Cemetery.
CERT volunteers staff a booth at Bedford Day where they share preparedness materials published by the Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency (MEMA) and its federal counterpart, FEMA.
How to Get Involved
According to Chief Grunes, CERT will recruit new volunteers on Bedford Day, in an effort coordinated by Captain Mark Sullivan.
“We are transitioning to an a la carte-type training system to attract new members,” said Grunes, “it will allow them to focus on special areas of internist such as sheltering, traffic crowd management, search, emergency supply dispensing, emergency preparedness, etc.”