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Bilingual? CERT needs you

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By Lou Elliott Jones, Editor

The Community Education Response Team is a bit like the Marines.

They are looking for a few good men and women to work in the trenches when the going gets tough.

Like the Marines they are picky about whom they accept.

The do background checks.

They want you to speak Spanish as well as English.

The training requires a commitment and 10 Wednesday evenings.

Unlike the Marines, they won't pay you.

The satisfaction of helping your neighbors through what may be the worst period of their lives is all they offer in compensation.

You get to help your neighbors and see them through what may be the worst times of their lives.

Tom Willey, CERT member and trainer, says it's the only place to be when disaster hits.

"I've been involved in CERT since '02," Willey said. The retired minister said he first encountered a CERT-style program in Colombia during the Nevado del Ruiz volcano eruption that killed about 13,000 people in 1984. Willey who was working in Miami for an organization that worked in disaster relief and with refugees, was dispatched to help with the aftermath of the eruption.

"I got there almost a week later and everybody was talking about the pastors from Cali," who helped them after the volcano. "They had a volcano years before," he said. "When Nevado del Ruiz hit they had training in what they needed to help. They saved thousands of lives by knowing what to do."

It also takes timing too.

"That first crucial week is so important," Willey said.

He said the Los Angeles Fire Department, which sent its teams down to Mexico in the aftermath of the earthquake that is said to have killed 9,000 including civilians trying to rescue other survivors, saw the need for training civilians in disaster response to help their neighbors. The Whittier Narrows quake in 1987 spurred the Department to action, training the population to be prepared for disasters and a training program for volunteers to aid their neighbors was started. The idea spread to other parts of the country.

In 2002, the program was taken over by the newly created Department of Homeland Security.

"As soon as I found this program I decided I wanted to promote it," Willey said.

In his ministry there were 50 people who received the Spanish training for CERT. "Well it was really in Spanglish," Willey said with a chuckle.

Willey said he started seeking the training for Spanish-speaking volunteers after a disaster drill left Spanish-speaking victims on the sidelines because workers and the victims could not communicate.

Since then he's retired, left Miami to be closer to family members, and settled in Bronson. And his first stop was at the Levy County Emergency Operations Center to offer his services to Emergency Management Director Mark Johnson and CERT Director John MacDonald.

"I was in here before we closed on the house," Willey said.

Since then he has helped create Levy County's first bi-lingual CERT program.

"Why do we have it? Because we have a large Hispanic community in Levy County," Willey said. "Also they are caring for many who have special needs."

In the 2000 Census, 3.4 percent of Levy's 34,450 residents said they were Hispanic and 6.1 percent of the county's residents responded that they speak a language other than English at home. The state's 2006 estimate of population is that Levy has 39,277 residents.

"We have a lot of people out in the county who are bilingual," Willey said. And while the course Willey teaches is bi-lingual, English-speaking residents should take a CERT course, he said. "It will give you a general knowledge of what you will (need) to protect your family."

Willey uses a Power Point program in English for the training, but the volunteers have handbooks done completely in Spanish. "They are seeing in English what they are reading in Spanish," Willey said. "I teach about half the classes in Spanish."

While the last class of CERT volunteers was bi-lingual, it is not enough to prepare Levy for a disaster. So they are starting a new round of CERT training on Sept. 17. Registration must be completed by Aug. 25 in order to do the necessary background checks.