By Alexa Nagy

Tanner Coles, 24, a first-year M.P.H. candidate at the WVU School of Public Health, has always been interested in disaster training because of his experience working with American Red Cross. He recently completed the Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) training after learning about it from a CERT guest speaker in a graduate seminar hosted by Bobbi Sykes, director of Practice-Based Learning in the School of Public Health.

Coles, of Emmaus, Pa., graduated from Bethany College in Bethany, W.Va., where he majored in biochemistry. Graduating in May 2016, he is now pursuing a master’s degree in the Department of Occupational and Environmental Health Sciences because of his interests in occupational injury prevention and yearning to help protect the workforce.

Coles explained that CERT is a national disaster response. It is a series of classes offered by the local health department and is designed by the United States Department of Homeland Security. The CERT training provides the necessary knowledge to try to protect people in emergency situations, such as house fires, power outages, earthquakes and tornadoes.

“It helps you learn to do the greatest good for the greatest amount of people,” Coles said.

Coles mastered the basic CERT training, which consisted of two eight-hour days on the first two Saturdays in March, a total of 16 hours of CERT training. However, additional classes are offered beyond the required amount if the trainee deems them necessary.

The CERT program will have additional levels of training added to it in the future. Coles explained that they are still being decided upon. For instance, there will be more specific programs, such as a traffic safety program. 

Coles participates in CERT on a volunteer level; although, he may want to become a CERT trainer in the future which requires many years of experience. He has also joined WV REDI, the state response team that works with the federal government when state assistance is needed.   

Certification for the CERT training program will last a lifetime. Although the certification for WV REDI does not expire, the state ID must be renewed.     

Coles stressed the importance of actively participating in the CERT training to be able to properly respond to disaster situations. It is not required, but is strongly encouraged to participate in the activities to receive necessary hands-on experience. For example, the program contains real-life scenarios as practice, such as putting out an electronic fire with an electronic fire extinguisher.

“You won’t realize how helpful the training will be until something horrific happens, like a house fire,” said Coles. “I think it’s important to have people learn to respond to things like this.”

Furthermore, Coles explained that there are about 10 different CERT sections within the program, including disaster preparedness, fire safety and utility controls, disaster medical operations part one and two, light search and rescue operations, CERT organization, disaster psychology and terrorism, and CERT. In addition, there is a disaster stimulation and also a written final exam at the end of the training.

Upon graduation, Coles would prefer to work for the federal government on the injury prevention enforcement department to help make sure companies are meeting federal regulations and keeping employees safe. 

Coles said that he will apply his CERT training upon entering the workforce. It will be useful to be able to respond to emergency situations in case a natural disaster occurs in the workplace. Coles also mentioned that acquiring this type of knowledge will supply a competitive edge that all employers are looking for. 

In 10 years, Coles aspires to be working in the field of occupational and environmental health to help prevent injuries.