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Training to deal with emergencies ; Niagara University program is geared to community volunteer preparedness

Area residents in and around the "City of Good Neighbors" are not waiting for the next snowstorm or another unforeseen disaster to become prepared for an emergency.

"You can't sit back and wait for someone else to take care of you," said Dana Estrada, the recently appointed director of Border Community SERVICE (Special Emergency Response Volunteer Initiative for Community Empowerment) of Niagara University.

She said they offer training in both Erie and Niagara counties for three grant-funded programs, which include Community Emergency Response Team, citizen preparedness and Urban Area Security Citizen Preparedness.

Estrada said volunteers who participate in training the organization offers are ready to help themselves, and others, in the case of a disaster.

Estrada was appointed director in July. She had previously worked for two years as the project coordinator for Border Community SERVICE in the City of Buffalo. She said Niagara University, although in Niagara County, is responsible for coordinating the Buffalo and Niagara County programs.

The programs began in 2005 and trace their roots to the 9/1 1 tragedy. Funding ended in 2007, but Estrada said the programs shifted their contracting under the federal Urban Area Security Initiative, a competitive grant that varies widely each year, depending how much money is available.

Niagara University also receives federal citizen corps grants, which are funded over a three-year period, with Niagara County receiving a total of $133,000 during that period; Erie County, $52,000; and the Tonawandas, $35,000. Funding is handed out through the state to offer citizen preparedness training throughout Erie and Niagara counties.

Citizen training is open for those of any age, and to any group. It offers basic disaster training. Estrada and her staff will go out and speak to groups of two or 200, she said. They also offer emergency preparedness workshops to school groups, as well as an upcoming program for Western New York Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts on Jan. 8.

"We follow the FEMA [Federal Emergency Management Administration] program of getting a kit, making a plan and being involved," Estrada said. "The basics of our program is how to teach people to be self-sufficient."

Those involved in the programs offer information about being prepared for winter storms, Estrada said, but also information on earthquakes, tornadoes, flooding and man-made emergencies, including terrorism.

Everyone should have a preassembled kit, Estrada said, which includes a battery-powered radio, flashlight, first aid kit, whistle, mask, three-day supply of food and water, a manual can opener, plastic sheeting and duct tape for a shelter, as well as family documents and prescriptions.

Estrada said a family preparedness plan should also include a contact plan, with an out-of-town contact in case the family gets separated or is forced to leave the area.

A more advanced citizen training also is provided to volunteers through CERT, a 27- to 30-hour course that teaches people how to take care of their loved ones and neighbors in the case of a disaster.

The program is not designed to replace first responders, but to provide assistance while a neighborhood is immediately affected and waiting for help.

In addition to the general classes of disaster preparedness, those attending the free program also learn emergency medical operations, how to triage, how to check for airway constriction, search and rescue, terrorism and incident command. The program concludes with a disaster simulation training.

She said the program is open to anyone 16 or older.

The upcoming programs for the eight-week CERT classes are:

6 to 9 p.m. Tuesdays starting Jan. 11 in the Newfane Community Center, 2737 Main St., and culminating from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. March 5 with a disaster preparedness simulation.

6:30 to 9:30 p.m. Thursdays starting Jan. 13 in the Lancaster Office of Emergency Management, 321 Columbia Ave., culminating from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. March 5 with a disaster preparedness simulation.

Programs also will be offered on a yet unnamed date in Buffalo in January or February.

Those attending receive a complimentary backpack with supplies that include a hard hat, whistle, water, vests and a light stick.

"Our federal mandate is educating 5 percent of the population until 85 percent of the population has been educated," Estrada said. "It's a lofty goal for a small staff [five altogether], but we are able to do it."

She said the program offered a training in Buffalo just before the October Surprise storm in 2006, and as the tree limbs were falling, those who were trained were able to put on a hard hat and CERT vests and go out to help others.

"I had a woman in her late 70s, who I thought I would never see again, but she called me up and said she had a fire in her kitchen and knew how to stay calm and get out," Estrada said. "She said she knew she was drawn to the class for a reason.

"What this does is empower you," she added. It empowers community members to take care of their own situation."

Those interested in holding an emergency preparedness workshop, or attending an upcoming Community Emergency Response Training, should call 286-8304 or visit www.niagara.edu/bcs-enrollment.

e-mail: nfischer@buffnews.com

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