The free Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) course teaches citizens in the county and surrounding areas how to respond when disasters strike.

COMMERCE— A disaster can strike at any place, any time and the Oklahoma Emergency Response Team (OKERT) wants to help better prepare the community to deal with the aftermath.

The free Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) course teaches citizens in the county and surrounding areas how to respond when disasters like fires, floods and tornadoes strike. The class is designed to give students the necessary training and skills to truly help when communities face an emergency event.

OKERT, a Disabled Veteran 501(c) 3 organization, is an all-volunteer team of Oklahoma citizens and veterans that help respond to disasters within the state and assist in recovery operations.

Air Force veteran Rick Aldridge, Chief Executive Officer of OKERT, founded the non-profit organization in 2014. The organization reaches out to veterans to reintegrate them back into civilian life and provide them with a sense of purpose, mission, self-worth and community bonding.

“The team here in the county is really starting to grow,” Aldridge said. “We’ve been called on several instances of fires and things within the county. We do traffic control, first aid stations. We’ve been in a couple of parades. We have a broad list of things we can provide back into the county and the Commerce community.”

The courses will be offered to the public from Jan. 27-29 at Commerce City Hall. On Friday, the class will be from 6 p.m. to 10 p.m. Saturday and Sunday the courses will run from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.

“Imagine a fire or a home flooding, if the community knows how to do average things like how to shut the utilities off, you’re so far ahead of the game,” Aldridge said. “This training covers so many different aspects of a disaster from being able to shut your own utilities off to triage and search and rescue training. It’s quite a broad course.”

The course will be taught by a certified instructor from Broken Arrow. The first half of the course will be classroom training followed by a 3-4 hour hands-on field exercise on Sunday.

“During the field exercise, they actually get to go out and practice putting out a fire, search and rescue and first aid. All of those different things that we’re going to learn during the course of the class,” Aldridge said. “We’ll have ‘victims’ out there who will help immensely when conducting first aid or search and rescue.”

Currently, the class has approximately 15 students registered. Students will receive state and national certification training.

“The state certification, along with the national certification, is that you’re a basic responder for disasters,” Aldridge said. “You can do basic response, and that means as an organized team you can respond and do lifesaving skills, recovery actions, damage assessment and search and rescue. It’s a nationally recognized program, so no matter where you go, that certification will follow you if you wind up moving.”

Aldridge said all ages are encouraged to take the course, as well as all walks of life. Any individual under 18 can attend the course with a signed parent consent form. OKERT projects can also be used as community service hours for students.

“We’re also really gearing towards high school students,” Aldridge said. “It’s a great opportunity for them to be able to volunteer afterward. They can get their volunteer credit hours for that. We have plenty of work. All of the kids will be able to get their required volunteer hours. We’d love them to be part of the team, but it’s not a requirement.”

Commerce Emergency Management director Ernie Shelby said the courses are very beneficial to the community and will help keep people from feeling defenseless after an emergency or disaster.

“You never know when a disaster will strike or any type of emergency, and I think anyone who takes the training, it will help them not feel so helpless in those situations,” Shelby said. “I’ve seen through the Picher tornado, Joplin tornado, Quapaw tornado. Everyone feels so helpless, and they don’t know what to do or how to help, but they want to help. This type of training, they will be able to help. They’ll know what to do, how to keep their families and themselves safe and contribute more in disasters. It will be a great help to all of us in this area.”

According to Shelby, OKERT approached the city about working with the community. The organization is currently housed in the basement of Commerce City Hall.

“We welcomed them with open arms,” Shelby said. “We never turn away help. Commerce is kind of a central point in this area. It seems like things always happen around us, and we’re always sending people somewhere to help.”

To register for the course, contact Aldridge at raldridge60@yahoo.com or 918-541-6056.

Kimberly W. Barker is a staff writer for the Miami News-Record. She can be emailed at kbarker@miaminewsrecord.com. Follow her on Twitter @MiamiNews_hound.