CERT training coordinator Jim Watkins helps others prepare for a disaster

Monday, August 16, 2010
Jim Watkins is the Community Emergency Response Team coordinator for Southeast Missouri. (Fred Lynch)

In 1992, less than a decade after Los Angeles introduced its Community Emergency Response Team to the nation -- and the concept of communities being prepared to help during a disaster -- Cape Girardeau began its own CERT Alliance and Citizen Corps. Jim Watkins, a native of Southeast Missouri, joined the alliance in 1999 as a volunteer, helping to teach courses and expand the CERT program locally. Eleven years later, Watkins is still with the CERT Alliance and two years ago took the position as a paid training coordinator. He often makes presentations to schools, community organizations and families, promoting preparedness and safety during times of disaster. "I believe in it," Watkins said. "It's a mission for me."

Question: Where did you take your first CERT class?

Answer: I took it here, under the Cape Girardeau Fire Department. CERT actually started in Los Angeles. The Mexico City earthquake -- in 1985 or 1986 -- there were about 800 killed in that earthquake in the city. About 100 of those were spontaneous rescuers, neighbors, and friends. The city of Los Angeles said that same thing could happen here and we want to prevent that if we can. [We came] up with a plan to teach our citizens how to safely help their families, help their neighbors.

Q: What have you been hearing about CERT's successes and how much interest has Cape Girardeau shown in the program?

A: It varies with the threat of disaster. Right after an event you get lots of interest. If anything is a struggle, it's keeping the preparedness message in front of the community. We never know the next heat wave, which causes fatalities, the next ice storm, the next tornado or the next flood. The program is important because it stresses individual family preparedness. If you can take care of your family, then you can help your family, your neighbor. Of course, we promote workplace and business preparedness.

Q: What does your job as training coordinator entail?

A: I do a lot of public speaking to community groups, presentations; I give what I call a 30-minute bucket talk. It's a five-gallon bucket, and it's a disaster kit for two people for three days. If we ever have that kind of earthquake that we had in 1811, 1812, a lot of things will not work the way we're used to them working.

We do community classes for CERT. It's a 20-hour program. We do fire suppression, where [participants] learn how to use a fire extinguisher. We do home preparedness, medical operations, lifts, drags and carries -- or how to move people without injuring yourself or them any more -- and disaster psychology. We do a chapter on terrorism and then a chapter on CERT organization, how we fit into what the professionals are doing.

Q: How do CERT volunteers work with medical professionals on a disaster scene?

A: If we can take care of our family, that's one group that the professionals don't have to worry about. So, if we can also get our neighbors prepared, that's a larger group the professionals don't have to worry about. That's how we fit into it, as a unit of preparedness so that we will not need that professional help. We'll save that for the severely injured and the heavily trapped. And we don't want to think about a morgue, but we know how to set up a morgue too. The CERT we are talking about is a national program. We could go anywhere and be helpful.

Q: What have you enjoyed about your position as training coordinator?

A: I've enjoyed meeting people and then kind of seeing the light bulb come on, when they say "Wow, I really do need to prepare. I really do need to do some things at home for my family."



Pertinent Address:

1975 N. Sprigg St., Cape Girardeau, MO

Map of pertinent addresses

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