Vitalia team drills down on storm preparation

There’s a small crew of residents in Vitalia that are going above and beyond for their fellow neighbors. They’ve gotten the training. They’ve secured the gear. They’ve been practicing and preparing for the next big storm.

“We’re having the drills,” said John Hunter, chair of Vitalia’s Community Emergency Response Team (CERT). CERT members know what to do following an emergency – usually a natural disaster. They represent the stop-gap between crisis and when first responders (fire rescue and ambulance) arrive.

The Vitalia group wasn’t quite prepared before Hurricane Dorian made its move toward the Treasure Coast. But right on the storm’s heels, the crew decided to move forward with its plans to get out into the community and introduce themselves to their neighbors.

Team leaders divided the active-adult community into 16 sections and assigned posts to each two-person team. They didn’t have to knock on every single door, but they tried to hit as many as possible. The exercise was two-fold – introduce CERT to the residents, and determine whether or not those neighbors would require any special medical assistance during an emergency.

Hank Epperson, a retired lieutenant colonel with the U.S. Army, led the mock drill last week from the clubhouse.

He led the team on a visioning exercise – picturing “Hurricane Close-Call” that spawned tornadoes, one of which might have hit Vitalia. The road might or might not be passable. Power might not be on. Water might not be safe to drink.

The CERT volunteers were then tasked with carefully walking their sections, being on guard for wildlife and pets – both of which can pose dangers following a storm. They were to visually assess damage – how many homes damaged, utility poles down, and the like. They are also expected to render basic first aid to those in need. Anything more serious is a required 911 call.

Wednesday’s trek through the community was also meant to be an introduction of CERT and a call-out for more volunteers. Future CERT trainings are expected later this year.

Thirteen volunteers aren’t nearly enough to cover all of Vitalia’s 1,244 homes (once build-out is complete).

“We already know we need a lot more volunteers,” Epperson said.

Vitalia CERT is an off-shoot of StormPrep Vitalia, another volunteer group of interested residents who are providing educational materials to those who might not yet be acquainted with Florida’s hurricanes and other weather challenges.

Looking ahead, Hunter has plans to introduce StormPrep and CERT to other large communities so they, too, can respond in times of crisis.

The idea behind StormPrep Vitalia and getting CERT certified was born from Hunter’s frustration. He said he moved to Vitalia four years ago from Connecticut and weathered a couple big storms since. During one, the developer left the community gates open and everybody left. The streets flooded. Storm drains weren’t opened. Nothing, according to Hunter, seemed organized.

“This is not going to happen again,” he said, recalling his thoughts from that incident.

So, he began reaching out to others in the community and found a receptive audience – and StormPrep Vitalia was formed. “We’re going to lead the way,” he said.

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