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START students pioneer UMD CERT program

It was 3:30 a.m. on October 22 when START Intern Rebecca Alberda, second year Master of Applied Anthropology candidate, was thrust into consciousness by the fire alarm in her apartment building, the Enclave. She sleepily descended the stairs with her fellow tenants and gathered outside in the rain awaiting an appearance from emergency first responders.

Minutes passed and there was no sight or sound of help on the way. It became clear the building alarm system failed to alert the fire department and residents began to freely wander in and out of the main doors. Alberda made the decision to call 911 and report the issue, but the operator disconnected the call and alerted the authorities before she could ask for clarification on the instructions she received.

Eventually the fire department arrived, combed the building and declared the event a false alarm. As Alberda ascended the stairs she reflected on the event and how lucky her community was that it was not a real emergency.

She is currently completing Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) certification with two undergraduate students to design a course for the University of Maryland student body that provides current and future students with the skills needed to respond in emergency situations.

CERT programs offer training in fire safety, search and rescue, team organization and disaster medical operations. They are intended to provide community members with knowledge of how to assist in their own neighborhood or workplace before first responders arrive and then support them throughout the emergency event.

Prince George’s County has a relatively active CERT program, established in 2003, that has educated 2,125 community members on emergency preparedness since its creation. The University of Maryland Emergency Operations Plan also offers a comprehensive reference for professionals within the university and their roles during emergency situations. Alberda and her colleagues see only one thing missing: an emergency preparedness program that includes and educates the student body in the disaster response processes.

Planning a Student CERT

Alberda, Travis Moxley and Emily Morris have united to develop CERT training courses, projected to be available in the Spring 2015 semester. Each student comes from a diverse educational and research background, but they all are united by their involvement with START.

Alberda is pursuing a Graduate Certificate in Terrorism Studies with START. She became involved in the program after meeting with START’s Education Director Dr. Katherine Izsak. Dr. Izsak told her about two undergraduate students who were interested in beginning a CERT team on campus and Alberda was immediately on board and reached out to Moxley and Morris.

“For me, this isn’t about a grade or passing a class,” Morris said. “This team is a way for me to take part in community emergency response, as well as hone my skills in project management and all the things that CERT stands for.”

Moxley and Morris are incorporating the CERT training, planning and implementation into their coursework in global terrorism studies.

Moxley, a senior criminal justice major and Global Terrorism minor, was a propaganda analysis intern last year and is currently working with START’s Understanding Terrorism and the Terrorist Threat massive online open course.  He is interested in the project because it aligns with his past experiences and wants to positively impact the community.

Morris, a senior community health and music major and Global Terrorism minor, has interned with START since May 2013. She researches organized crime and chemical and biological terrorism.

“We hope CERT training provides students and the campus community with an educational opportunity about emergency response and safety,” Morris said. “We don't want to be the group in charge should something happen on campus, but a student-led CERT could provide support and assistance if needed.”

The team is collaborating with the university’s Emergency Preparedness Department and the city of College Park to ensure that their program is sustainable. They recently applied for funding through university PEPSI Enhancement Funds, which have the potential to get the program off the ground.

The team would like to thank Katherine Russell, Associate Dean in of Department of Behavioral and Social Sciences; Marcella Morris, START Program Assistant and Coordinator; Bob Ryan, of Prince George’s County CERT, Dr. Izsak; and the UMD Emergency Management Coordination team.