Concordia emergency response team (CERT) seeks to expand

CERT aims to train more students during first official Campus Safety Awareness Week

With Concordia’s first official Campus Safety Awareness Week approaching, university officials are hoping to expand the Concordia Emergency Response Team (CERT), a group of student volunteers who are trained to assist emergency responders and Concordia’s security staff  during evacuations and other emergencies.

Students will have the opportunity to complete free CERT training sessions during the Safety Awareness Week, which will run from Sept. 25 to 29.

Although the CERT has offered a number of training sessions throughout the academic year in the past, the Safety Awareness Week is a pilot project. If it’s successful, Rachel Nielsen, Concordia’s emergency preparedness officer, is hoping it will become an annual event.

“For students, being prepared for emergencies is not always on the top of their mind,” Nielsen said. “We’re hoping that [the Safety Awareness Week and CERT training] will make sure people are aware of some of the hazards they face and be alert.”

Typical responsibilities of CERT members during emergency situations include leading evacuees to designated emergency exits, assisting disabled students and staff and, when possible, verifying that certain floors or buildings have been completely evacuated. While the group currently has 103 members, there are no set shifts or work schedules, leaving it impossible to know which students will be available to respond in an emergency situation.

In the past, the responsibilities of CERT members have mainly included assisting during fire drills and occasional power outages. Last March, the group faced a unique challenge: assisting with the emergency evacuation of several downtown campus buildings after a racially-charged bomb threat. Alison Rowley, a CERT member, said the incident was an important reminder of why CERT’s services are so vital.

“I think a core aspect of being human is the fact that we help each other,” she said. “The reality is that an emergency can happen anywhere, anytime, and that’s why it’s so incredibly important that we be prepared.”

Before attending Concordia, Rowley worked as an emergency medical technician (EMT) in Boston, where she was present for a number of emergency situations. In Rowley’s experience as both an EMT and CERT member, one of the most important aspects of being an emergency responder is minimizing the panic and fear of those she is trying to help.

“As soon as people start panicking, things can get dangerous,” Rowley said. “Even though it can be scary, just do your best to remain as calm as possible.”

Being a member of the CERT comes with a certain set of risks, but Nielsen insisted there is good reasoning behind recruiting student volunteers. If CERT members are already on campus during an emergency, they can often respond to the situation before emergency services arrive. They also have a better knowledge of particular rooms and buildings on campus.

According to Nielsen, the team communicates using a computer safety app called Alertus, which can be used to send an emergency alert faster than an e-mail or text message.

After attending the three-hour CERT training session, students looking to join the team are required to receive CPR, first aid and fire prevention training within one year, as well as fire extinguisher training. According to Nielsen, students can receive these trainings on campus throughout the year through the Environmental Health and Safety department, and the $90 fee is waived for CERT members.

Additionally, Concordia has recently introduced a pilot project offering a financial incentive to potential CERT recruits: all members will receive a special identification card that will grant them a 10 per cent discount on all apparel and school supplies at campus bookstores.

Despite the risks, CERT members, including Rowley, are confident that joining the team is worthwhile and that CERT is a valuable tool to help ensure Concordia is as safe as possible.

“At the end of the day, CERT members aren’t firefighters or police officers that have been trained for years to help others—we’re just humans with an armband and a vest, and yet we can make such a big difference because we’ve been taught how to help,” Rowley said. “Being a part of CERT means you can help others, and there’s no better feeling than that.”

Graphic by Zeze Le Lin

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