Reduced funding hits citizen response team hard

Change in local CERT's team

POLK COUNTY -- Lonni Nicoll says life after July 1 -- the day she officially steps down as program manager of the Citizens Emergency Responsce Team (CERT) -- will be bittersweet.

On one hand, she'll have more time to devote to her family. Those phone calls to report to the scene of an accident at 3 a.m. in the morning will become a thing of the past.

And she plans on staying involved as a volunteer in the organization, which uses citizens to offer support to local emergency agencies in times of accidents and disasters.

The sadness is knowing that because of a loss in federal funds, the paid, full-time leadership position she's held for three years with CERT effectively ends with her tenure.

Nicoll says the organization will now need to find a way to become more financially self-sustaining, as well as how to operate without a primary coordinator, which some members say could hurt training for new members and detract from the ability to respond to certain events.

"While not completely at the same level, it is sort of like taking away a chief from the police or fire departments," said Dan Androes, a CERT team leader said.

CERT gets its funding through a Homeland Security Grant. For the past three years, a coordinator position has been made possible because of the $20,000 to $30,000 the county typically receives through the program.

Within the last year, the organization has been deployed to handle a variety of emergencies. This ranges from directing traffic through Independence because of an attempted suicide on the Marion Street Bridge two weeks ago to a trip to Florida last summer to provide aid to victims of the hurricanes that ravaged the Southeastern United States.

The size of the federal grants have since been reduced. The county was awarded about $5,000. That's enough to pay for equipment, but not enough to pay for a full-time director, Nicoll said.

As program manager, Nicoll was responsible for purchasing equipment, recruitment, managing finances and organizing drills to keep volunteers abreast of emergency care, triage and other disaster skills.

Reduced funding will allow CERT only one training work shop this year, instead of the normal four. With Nicoll's position gone, Independence Police Department will be responsible for managing the grant.

Nicoll said the real problem is time. As a full-time employee, Nicoll was able to coordinate extra drills throughout the year and focus on bringing in new members.

Without that position, many of those activities could fall by the wayside, she said.

"That's an eight to 10 hour job," Nicoll said. "They really need a person working full time."

With many of the county's primary emergency agencies coping with their own personnel shortages, Nicoll said it was doubtful another could pick up those potentially lost programs.

Cheryl Androes, Dan's wife and another CERT volunteer, said the extra training sessions prove valuable in the field.

"You want to do anything you can to have your group build their skills, to have them ready to face the challenges they might be presented," she said.

CERT will now receive basic marching orders from the Citizen Corps Council, an advisory body comprised of members of several county law enforcement and safety agencies that will disperse Homeland Security funds to all volunteer organizations in Polk County.

CERT has more than 200 volunteers will be divided into eight separate teams. Nicoll's remaining responsibilities will be passed on to the leaders of those groups.

For more information on CERT: Independence police Sgt. Rick Igou at 503-838-1212.

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