The primary goal of Gulfport’s Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) for 2018 is an increase in preparedness, said James W. Wright, the police department’s volunteer coordinator.
“I want to focus on awareness and preparedness more than I’ve ever done before,” he said. “Hopefully, we’ll save lives.”
Neighborhood Watch programs are working well, with local law enforcement officers attending to answer crime questions and often with invited guest speakers who cover special topics, he said.
“I changed the format and attendance is increasing,” he said. “Now, we’re doing potlucks. People love food!”
Topics like active shooter and hurricane safety are covered at regular Neighborhood Watch meetings.
Wright has been with the city for a little over one year. In 2017, he said he learned a lot about the city and residents.
“I didn’t want to start changing things right away,” said Wright.
Under Wright’s leadership, CERT’s volunteer team membership has increased by five to a current total of 20 regulars and he wants that number to grow. In 2018, he would like to have a total of 30.
For informational value, he would also like to hold free CERT-style training classes for everyone in the city, including a CPR class, without the need for attendees to be members of the team.
Wright also wants CERT’s refurbished diesel-powered red patrol truck to be a priority for use in 2018 by team members on a daily basis for at least one hour.
“They’ll be goodwill ambassadors as they drive through the city looking for things like hanging tree branches or answering questions from people on the street, like where they can go to get a bicycle registered or how they should report a lost dog,” said Wright. “A CERT team member can say, ‘Call this number and you’re all set.’”
In the past, the truck was used for on-site firefighter medical-related rehabilitation during response calls.
Now, on big fires, CERT can assist with firefighter equipment removal and providing them with drinking water.
The truck is also used by CERT team members for visibility at special events, to transport supplies, and to provide high-water evacuation assistance to the city’s first responders and administrative staff during weather events like hurricanes.
Wright emphasizes that residents of Gulfport can learn on their own about awareness and preparedness by taking free online classes sponsored by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).
“One of the great classes is active shooter,” he said. Other training options include methods of response for multi hazards at schools, churches and workplaces.
“Upon completion of each class, you get a FEMA certificate,” he said. “All it takes is your time.”
Wright is available to assist residents in accessing FEMA’s website and choosing online training classes that match their interests and needs.
Wright’s office is located in the Gulfport Police Department, 2401 53rd Street S. For more information, call the non-emergency number at 727-893-1022 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.