At the Ready, Just in Case

Hillsborough County’s Citizen Corps remains vigilant

“If it happens, we’re ready.”

That’s the philosophy of the volunteer Community Emergency Response Team (CERT), says Ira Arman, president of Hillsborough County CERT.

The team is part of the grassroots Citizen Corps, a national network of more than 1,200 state, local, and tribal councils established by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) after the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001. CERT performs in conjunction with and in support of Hillsborough County Emergency Management.

The goal is to make communities safer, stronger, and better prepared to respond to threats of terrorism, crime, public health issues, and disasters of all kinds by harnessing the power of individual citizens.

In Hillsborough, the nonprofit Citizen Corps Council coordinates with its County government counterpart, which provides facilities and formal notices of meetings, and coordinates with departments and agencies within and outside Hillsborough County.

Council partners and affiliates support local emergency responders, disaster relief, and community safety initiatives. For example, Amateur Radio Emergency Service provides communication among rescuers before, during, and after an emergency, such as when land lines and cell towers fail.

In Hillsborough County, some partners and affiliates include: CERT, Amateur Radio Emergency Service, Citizen Patrol, Neighborhood Watch, Medical Reserve Corps, and the American Red Cross.

Rather than tell citizens what to do, Citizen Corps Council provides a platform for many organizations to come together, and strives to take advantage of their volunteers’ interests and skills to benefit neighborhoods and larger communities.

In addition to engaging volunteer organizations, Citizen Corps encourages individuals to embrace personal responsibility to be prepared and get training in first aid and emergency skills.

Dawn Drury of Riverview has volunteered with emergency communications for 35 years, and with Amateur Radio Emergency Services for nine years. She communicates with 108 registered amateur radio operators in Hillsborough County, teaches classes, and is among those who oversee the group’s website, among other duties.

“It just came naturally, to give back to the community,” Drury says.

Photo: Dawn Drury speaks on a radio at Hillsborough County’s Public Safety Operations Complex.