First Friday Coffee speaker addresses disaster preparedness

Saturday, January 7, 2006

The keynote speaker for the first Cape Girardeau Area Chamber of Commerce First Friday Coffee of 2006 addressed a subject not often discussed at business meetings -- disaster preparedness.

Jim Watkins, a volunteer with the local Community Emergency Response Team, told those in attendance at the event that disaster preparedness is key for both individual, businesses and communities.

Disasters come in a variety of forms, manmade and natural, and strike without warning, said Watkins, which is why the actions performed by CERT are so important.

"CERT is a positive, realistic approach to emergency and disaster response," Watkins said.

CERT teams are groups of local volunteers who receive training in first response in case of disasters. Volunteers are required to complete 20 hours of free training provided by a partnership of the Cape Girardeau Fire Department, the Cape Girardeau County Public Health Center, the American Red Cross, Southeast Missouri State University and the State Emergency Management Agency.

Training for individuals is the best way to strengthen a community response to disaster, Watkins said. "We are only prepared as a community as we are as individuals."

Watkins advised attendees to have disaster kits with water and other supplies ready at work and at home. He also cautioned them that 25 percent of businesses either don't reopen or close within a year after a major disaster.

Watkins stressed that in a disaster, time is of the essence, with victim survival rates falling quickly as the hours pass. In order to save the most lives it's important for community members to be trained in rescue operations, he said.

Classes for CERT training are offered throughout the year, usually on Wednesday mornings for four hours at a time.

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