In February 2012, Harveyville, Kansas, was devastated by a tornado that uprooted trees and destroyed homes. Ron Snoddy, a Kiwanian from the nearby town of Berryton, Kansas, responded to the disaster. Cutting trees and clearing debris, he helped residents salvage what they could of their belongings. He acted as a trained volunteer member of the Community Emergency Response Team (CERT), which his Kiwanis club formed the year prior.
“I felt like it was something I needed to do,” Snoddy says. “I needed to help the community.”
CERT volunteers are educated about disaster preparedness and trained to assist others when professional responders are not immediately available.
“When disaster strikes, our first task is to make sure our families are safe,” says CERT member and club President Bette Snoddy. “Then, we check on our neighbors and report areas that might need immediate attention. We might be asked to provide light search and rescue to urban or rural areas or provide emergency medical and/ or psychological comfort to neighbors.”
In the instance of fire, tornado or flood, CERT captains assigned to a small area of the community send an assessment to their central command center, which is in turn relayed to emergency personnel.
“We want to make our community safe today and a safe place for future generations,” Bette Snoddy says. “Unfortunately, it seems disasters are occurring at all times where there are folks needing help. Recently, there was a fire involving a single parent with four children. They got out safely. But, afterwards, it’s a shock when reality sets in and they realize what was lost and what the immediate needs are. It’s a comfort to me to be able to help them put things in perspective.”
The CERT’s activities are supported with a variety of fundraisers, including a garage sale and a rubber duck race in a local lake, as well as community grants and resources. The group initially was composed exclusively of Kiwanians. But storm-spotting classes and a Neighborhood Night Out—sponsored primarily by the Kiwanis club and designed to showcase safety in a family-friendly environment—have recruited others.
Volunteers’ individual backgrounds dictate how they make an impact. Those with medical experience often work in triage, search and rescue, while others work administratively, conducting cost analyses of the incidents and recording personnel time.
“Living in the country, I am involved in animal emergency,” says Kiwanian Rich Runnebaum, speaking of his CERT role. “We have to take care of our four-legged friends as well as our neighbors. Mother Nature can be pretty rough on us sometimes.”
Despite the psychological and sometimes physical demands of the work, there are certainly rewards. For Ron Snoddy, those were made clear at a recent blood drive when a woman approached him to make a donation. A short conversation between the two revealed that he had helped to clear the debris of her former home in the aftermath of the 2011 Harveyville tornado. “She was deeply moved to meet him,” recalls Bette Snoddy.–Courtney Meyer
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