Wednesday, December 5, 2012
POLK COUNTY -- Polk County's Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) is lauded by agencies for the assistance it provides during local disasters or for basic preparedness training for citizens.
Starting next year, it will be CERT that needs a helping hand.
A federal grant that has paid for a coordinator for the group during the last four years expires on Dec. 31 and won't be offered again for the foreseeable future.
To sustain the position until June, the cities of Dallas, Independence and Monmouth are chipping in $2,000 apiece. Afterward, CERT will have to find new revenue sources, be it donations or even dedicated funding from the towns -- provided there's room in their respective budgets -- to support the key position.
While CERT primarily runs on volunteers, the operation is broad enough that it needs at least a part-time manager to be most effective, said Monmouth City Manager Scott McClure.
"For a small contribution, you're getting a fleet of volunteers who are well organized and show up for big and small disasters," McClure said.
"Without a coordinator, eventually, you risk losing your volunteers," he continued. "You have to train them, get them together ... with any good volunteer outfit, you have to have somebody."
Kimber Townsend has been Polk CERT's leader since 2003. She spends about 30 hours a week on management, training, grant writing, website maintenance and other duties. Townsend also sits on a planning committee of the Oregon Emergency Management Agency and will be involved in staging a statewide earthquake readiness conference in 2013.
Polk CERT was formed in 2001, has approximately 70 members and is regarded as one of the most comprehensive programs of its kind in the state.
Generally, volunteers collaborate work with area first responders and do everything from clearing debris in a disaster to teaching basic first aid skills. Polk CERT frequently conducts training for other community emergency response teams.
"Kimber has taken a good program to new levels of excellence," Independence Sgt. Rick Igou said, noting it has branched into preparedness outreach for citizens and even runs a special Teen CERT program.
Each state receives Federal Emergency Management Agency funds and distributes them to counties and their CERT teams based on need and merit. Money for supplies was offered for 2013, but not personnel.
Townsend's position has been funded at $18,000 annually for the past four years via a Homeland Security grant.
"It's something we don't anticipate being available in the future," Townsend said. "We need to look at alternatives to funding."
Townsend said if funding for a coordinator is gone, she'll still work for CERT, though efforts would need to be scaled back.
"We might have to focus more internally on the county and not do as much outreach across the state," she said. "And that would be tough, because networking for a volunteer program is desperately needed."
CERT's major value to local agencies is as leverage to their own staff; volunteers do crowd control at events such as Summerfest, run sandbag stations during flood deployments and augment search and rescue efforts.
"First responders are all facing cuts to personnel," Townsend said. "And we've seen growth in the need for CERT programs in the last five years because of it.
"Agencies realize if they have big events, they don't have enough people to staff them," she added. "They're supportive of us taking the less technical jobs off their plate and filling in the ranks."
For more information on Polk CERT: www.polkcountycert.org. The public is welcome to attend the next monthly training at 6 p.m. on Monday at Frozation frozen yogurt shop, 641 Clay St. in Monmouth, located just off Highway 99W.