Preparing for catastrophe

Students earn disaster relief certification through CERT program


Courtesy of Jason Gonzalez

Senior Garrett Blanchard (right) leads his team in a disaster simulation for the final part of the Community Emergency Response Team program. CERT was established by the Federal Emergency Management Agency in 1993 to better prepare young people for high stress and dangerous situations.

Bethany Mann, News/Feature Editor

A lunch bag. A ball cap. A young girl’s left shoe. 

The lost items of “victims,” portrayed by Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps students, scattered around the campus for students in the criminal justice classes to find last week during their last step in the program to earn the Community Emergency Response Team certification through the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).

Led by criminal justice teacher Jason Gonzalez, students began the three step course with in class instruction followed by an online test and ending with a disaster simulation.

“The simulation is actually two different scenarios,” Gonzalez said. “The first scenario goes into a first aid disaster, so they’re basically doing emergency medicine.”

The second scenario is a search and rescue scenario. Students scanned the area for items of possible victims before locating them.

“As we are doing this search in the search line format, we’re also finding items the missing person had,” Gonzalez said. “So, we might find their lunch bag or a ball cap, or some item that they had when they were last seen.”

Senior Garrett Blanchard served as the Team Leader, giving students directions on what to do and where to take the “victims.”

“Being in charge of a CERT team is a high stress situation, even in the simulated scenario,” Blanchard said, “but it is important to do training such as this, so that if there is an emergency, you know how to help without causing more trouble.”

Students gathered around a deceased victim.

Junior Sydney Bell chose to participate in the program because she wanted to know how to be useful in a high stress situation.

“I think it’s important that students learn this and what to do in a disaster because if something happens, they’re gonna want to know what to do,” Bell said. “They’re going to be able to help so many people and be a hero to someone.”

The annual CERT program first reached the school when Gonzalez, who participated in the program at another campus, joined the school district a few years ago.

“When I came to Comal ISD, I was given the classes that I was going to be teaching, and I noticed that the TEKS within the curriculum had basically the same material,” Gonzalez said. “So, I was like ‘I’m gonna go ahead and bring this to my classes,’ and it wasn’t until three or four years ago that it was actually listed within the overall curriculum for the district.”

After students receive their certification, they can alert their county’s Office of Emergency Management that they have completed the training, so they can become volunteers in disaster situations.

“The main thing is that if there is an emergency, you have this training and you can protect yourself, your family, your community because that’s the main portion of it,” Gonzalez said. 

Gonzalez does not require his students to complete the training to earn the CERT certification, but he does believe there are benefits from participating in the program.

“One thing I tell my students is that if you’re going to be getting into a first responder career, whether it be police, fire, (emergency medical services), this is something that is going to be beneficial for you,” Gonzalez said. “It shows that you have a desire for this type of work and have already pursued different avenues for getting that training.”