‘Help until help arrives’: North Dakota residents opt for disaster preparedness training

Grand Forks County EMO’s call for volunteers met with overwhelming response

Are the people of Grand Forks County a caring bunch?

Kari Goelz has her answer—they CERT-ainly are!

“We had two interns here through the spring and summer,” says Kari Goelz, manager with the Grand Forks County Emergency Management Office, “and they’re the ones who really got this whole Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) thing rolling.

“Of course, I’m sitting back thinking: ‘You’re so cute. OK, go ahead. We’ll get 12 people.’ Well, we had 150 people express interest in the training,” adds Goelz. “I was kind of overwhelmed. It’s been fun, but exhausting.”

Yes, a good problem to have. As part of this CERT initiative, Goelz is helping to train community volunteers from across the 1,800-square-mile county about disaster preparedness.

The EMO hopes to have a CERT team established in all of the North Dakota county’s nine other incorporated cities by Sept. 1, 2020—and Goelz estimates that the initial series of classes, wrapping up by year’s end, will see the emergence of more than 60 graduates.

This 20-hour CERT course is not standard first aid training, notes Goelz. It’s a combination of disaster medical operations, search-and-rescue operations, and logistical support.

That includes triaging multiple injuries under simulated disaster conditions, performing head-to-toe patient assessments, setting up treatment areas, and applying safe techniques for debris removal and victim extrication.

“They’re a force multiplier for our professional emergency responders. You can never have enough responders in the early hours of a disaster or serious incident, because they’re pulled in 100 different directions. CERT teams are the help until help arrives,” she says.

“We had a tornado here in Northwood in ’06 or ’07. Had we a team out there, that could have helped a lot in the early phases of the emergency, in getting their infrastructure back up and running,” she adds. “The more people I can train on how to help us out in the early hours of a disaster, the better off we’re going to be.”

Enbridge is committed to bolstering safety in the community. Our Safe Community program offers grants to first response organizations near our operations for equipment, training and education—and our recent $5,000 Safe Community donation  will help Grand Forks County EMO deliver that CERT training.

Disaster preparedness is not for the faint of heart, notes Goelz.

“Disasters are ugly and painful—and people are going to see things that they can’t unsee, things that most people wouldn’t choose to look at,” she says.

As for that remarkable response after the Grand Forks County EMO’s call for volunteers, though?

“Part of the response we have received is a sign of the times; it’s no secret how many disasters this country has endured over the past few years,” says Goelz. “I think the time is right for them to want to be engaged. A lot of the volunteers told us: ‘I want to give back to my community.’ ”