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CERT-ified rescue workers
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When most people in Dawson County are hunkered down because of bad weather, the men and women involved with the Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) are just getting started. Dawson County CERT is staffed with 125 volunteers whose job is to assist Dawson County Emergency Services.

Any time we need extra man power, we call on CERT, said Lanier Swafford, Chief of Dawson County Emergency Services. When we have bad weather or need help with search and rescue, we know we can always rely on them.

Most recently, CERT volunteers were mobilized in response to a missing person at Amicalola Falls State Park, according to CERT Director, Richard W. Sims.

She was found within 24-hours, a little disoriented, but just fine.

Also, last spring, when tornados came through north Georgia, CERT volunteers assisted in the Emergency Operations Center at Fire Station One. They manned radios, made phone calls, and kept track of where professionals had been sent to look for flooding and damage, Sims added. Sims is a retired Verizon employee who wanted to give back to the community.

I met with existing CERT members and with Billy Thurmond and Lanier Swafford and found it a very rewarding experience, said Sims. Im most interested in the search aspect and just being available to help people in our community. Billy Thurmond is the Director of Dawson County Emergency Services and Lanier Swafford is the Services chief.

The first lesson CERT volunteers encounter is how to keep themselves and their families safe in an emergency situation. They need to know where the shut-off valves are in their homes for gas, water, propane and electricity, and they are given them special tags to attach to the valves, Sims added.

Volunteers become certified after 24 hours of training classes which include responding to mock emergencies.

In addition to man hours, CERT provides a full-stocked emergency trailer that can be set up on location and provides everything from tents, tarps and fire extinguishers to flood lights, heaters, and coffee. Most of the gear was given to CERT from local businesses and individuals.

I dont know what we did before we got our volunteers, said Swafford. They are a multi-talented group of people and well-versed in a number of specialties. They are a blessing really to the county, and we are thrilled to have them as part of our emergency services.

CERT was formed in 2003 and is funded through grants from the Georgia Emergency Management Agency. During 2010, the group received $12,000. In 2011, $7,000 and this year $2,000. The declining scale of funding represents the organization becoming more fully established rather than a lack of funding, according to Sims.

CERT also handles an emergency notification system for county residents called Swift Reach. Residents of Dawson County can be notified by phone of severe weather or other emergency situations simply by logging onto the county website and entering their name and telephone number.

To volunteer for CERT training, contact Richard Sims, Or to participate in the Swift Reach emergency phone notification, log onto, scroll to the bottom right of the home page, click on Swift 911 notification, and enter your information.