Cherokee County emergency-response manager said team ready for crises

The Cherokee County CERT team gathers to search a Joplin, Mo., elementary school in 2011. | Courtesy of Arthur Blick

In rural Kansas, Cherokee County Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) members are ready for action, Emergency Manager Arthur Blick said.

That readiness includes responding to potential incidents involving biological outbreaks or release of biological agents, with responders likely used for traffic control or security. Some might be moved to the hospital if they have medical training.

Blick said in an interview with BioPrepWatch.com that across Cherokee County, 75 individuals are trained in emergency response as members of Cherokee County CERT, with about 15 of them active members, meeting monthly to review response protocols and conduct training exercises.

If there were an outbreak, such as Ebola, or a release of a biological terror agent such as anthrax, the trained members of the Cherokee County CERT, which include a trauma-trained registered nurse, a combat medic, contractors and Blick, who is a retired military pilot, will fill whatever role the state or local health departments tell them to fill.

“We’re generalists,” Blick said. “We’ll set up triage, do first aid and do whatever they need done.”

Blick's involvement with CERT began when a tornado hit Picher, Oklahoma, just five miles away from his home, in 2008. “I listened to the radio as emergency-response personnel tried to get the helicopter in and couldn’t tell people where to go, and when the Cherokee County deputy emergency manager later put out the call for volunteers to train for a community emergency response team, Blick attended the training.

When the deputy emergency manager was transferred to another position, the group got together and Blick was elected leader of the group, although he said that in emergency-response incidents, the leadership transfers to whichever member has the skills to fit the situation.

When it comes to the region’s preparedness, Blick said he would rather be in rural Kansas than in a big city. “People in the big city react differently. You don’t get the same kind of response from people here,” he said. “People here are more self-reliant and self-sufficient.”