Editor’s Note: This continues our Celebrate Community series on nonprofit organizations that improve Santa Rosa County residents’ quality of life.

PACE — When disaster strikes, Pace Community Emergency Response Team is called to action.

Pace CERT is a part of Central Santa Rosa CERT organization — a Florida registered non-profit organization that provides leadership, training and support to local strike teams. Pace CERT is one of those strike teams.

All CERT teams consist of only volunteers whose duties are to train in light urban search and rescue, disaster medical operations, preliminary damage assessment and wilderness search and rescue. Additionally, they have trained amateur radio operators capable of providing emergency communications during disasters. Anyone interested in the organization can receive the 20-hour CERT course for free by contacting their local Emergency Management Office.

“At its core, CERT is basically ‘neighbors helping neighbors,’” Steve Samaha, Santa Rosa County Medical Reserve Corps coordinator, said. “When a disaster strikes, CERT volunteers have the training to help people in the immediate neighborhoods by providing first aid, light search and rescue, preliminary damage assessment, fire response and many other capabilities. This is based on an all-hazards approach that anything can happen and we need volunteers to help local government respond.”

According to Samaha, Pace CERT has worked with organizations such as Woodbine Methodist Church to train their CERT strike team, as well as providing training and support for CERT strike teams in Escambia County.

Each strike team has approximately 10-12 volunteers. The Pace team is cross trained with MRC so that they can provide additional disaster response capabilities such as serving at the special needs shelter, assisting with potential mass casualty incidents and helping with a point of dispensing in the event of a pandemic, according to Samaha.

“We also find that cross training the volunteers provides them with the expanded knowledge that helps in their local community,” Samaha said. “For example, we have encouraged our volunteers to start a safety team at their local church. Thus, we have medically trained individuals who can assist as first responders when a medical emergency or disaster incident occurs at their church.

“It also encourages faith based organizations to get involved in disaster response and preparedness within their congregation.”  

Pace CERT has provided several free CPR and First Aid training sessions for local churches throughout Santa Rosa County to assist in the disaster response effort. All of the organization’s funds come from donations or fundraising activities, according to Samaha, meaning that not a single member of CERT is paid.

“The one thing we want the community to know is that what is happening in Houston can happen here and has in the past,” Samaha said, referring to Hurricane Harvey's devastation. “Now is the time for individuals to learn about disaster preparedness and get the necessary training. CERT is an excellent program to make that happen.”