Alachua County Emergency Management will host a free seven-week program designed to help citizens respond to crises.

Coordinator Ebbin Spellman said Community Emergency Response Team training, or CERT, is a free public program that runs from Feb. 17 to March 16.

Every Wednesday from 6 p.m. to 8:30 p.m., students will learn tactics to survive both natural and man-made disasters, Ebbin said.

The deadline to apply is Monday, Spellman said, but anyone who is 18 years or older can still participate if he or she misses sign-ups. Classes will be held at the Alachua County Emergency Operations Center, situated at 1100 SE 27th St.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) started the nationwide CERT program after earthquakes in California created a need for citizens trained in emergency response, Spellman said. The local program is supported by grants and local government.

“People have a natural instinct to try to help their fellow citizens,” he said.

Spellman said he’ll be the primary instructor during the course, which includes fire safety, emergency medical services and disaster psychology.

Other instructors will share training from their areas of expertise.

John Foltz, a volunteer at the Emergency Operations Center, first took the course in 1999, just one year after Emergency Management Director David Donnelly established it in Alachua County.

“As citizens, we need to realize that we can’t have immediate 911 services during times of crisis,” he said.

For Foltz, CERT is about training residents to prepare themselves for a future where anything is possible.

“The benefits of this goes well beyond just the neighborhood,” Spellman said. “It’s something you can carry with you no matter where you are.”

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