Reduce panic by getting trained for the BIG one


Two whoops and a holler away, next CERT training starts Oct. 3

Josh Shelton, the new emergency management program technician for the City of Tacoma, has landed in his new job with both feet on the ground. He now leads the local CERT program with confidence. Photo by Tami Jackson

While he wears no cowboy hat, revolver or spurs, a new emergency management program technician has ridden into the City of Tacoma and already Josh Shelton has roped up new opportunities for volunteers who want to get trained in emergency preparedness and disaster relief. “If nothing else, training reduces panic,” Shelton said in a steady tone that lacked grizzle.

For the Community Emergency Response Team (CERT), Shelton aims to recruit more locals who are willing to train and be ready to respond should Tacoma ever get struck by a disaster that turns it back into the old Wild West.

Because that job had been vacated for a while, Shelton has been giving Tacoma’s CERT program proverbial CPR ever since he assumed its leadership role in mid-June.

“I want to play off the enthusiasm for the program that’s out there and provide people with lots of opportunities,” Shelton said.

For anyone interested in getting the free training now offered, Shelton said CERT courses will be given twice a year and the next round of CERT, offered to folks who either live or work in Tacoma, begins on Oct. 3.

“CERT classes are from 6:30-9 p.m. on Tuesdays and Thursdays and then there’s an extra day where they practice everything they have learned,” Shelton said.

Shelton says the purpose behind CERT is for volunteers to know how to help their own family first and also to learn what they can do for their neighborhoods and larger community during the first few days following a disaster. He said it might take days before professionally trained emergency responders and ambulance technicians can render professional help in a large disaster area, which is why local volunteers are highly desired, sought and appreciated.

Once volunteers earn their CERT certification, they become eligible to participate in many other quarterly trainings that are free for CERT members such as (but not limited to) active shooter training, first aid classes, animal response in a disaster and sheltering operations, which is where CERT members learn how to build shelters for emergency situations. CERT also encourages members to train with local ham radio operators at for learning disaster response communication procedures.

Following the tragic events from Sept. 11, 2001, President George W. Bush launched National Citizen Corps to increase opportunities for citizens to become more involved in protecting the homeland and supporting the local first responders. CERT and other organizations are products of that effort.

Some of the things that volunteers will learn in CERT classes are from lessons gleaned from mistakes made after the rampages of other disasters, like 9-11, struck American soil. Shelton said Hurricane Katrina taught us how thousands of people would refuse to evacuate when arrangements were not also made for their pets. Because many lives were lost – and as Americans we want to make sure those kinds of unnecessary casualties never happen again – CERT teams can now get training for helping local ranchers rustle their livestock during an emergency. According to Shelton, such training also includes instruction for how to evacuate safely with smaller pets. Yet rest assured that emergency management and government organizations are adding pet accommodations to their disaster-relief planning as well. For instance, Pierce County Animal Response Team (PCART) now works with the Washington State Animal Response Team (WASART) to train folks how to quickly install emergency pet shelters where animals can be co-located with their people in emergency situations.

According to Shelton, CERT is open to all physical abilities and ages 16 and older. The Tacoma Fire Department oversees the CERT program, which teaches basic fire safety, light search and rescue, utility safety, team organization, and disaster medical operations, including triage (the process of sorting disaster victims according to medical priorities). All CERT classes follow Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) guidelines and are offered in cities across the United States.

Prior to working for the City of Tacoma, Shelton previously worked for the Red Cross and earned his master’s degree in emergency management. To learn more about CERT, visit the website, Send email to: or call (253) 591-5955.

Other local emergency response training opportunities offered

Pierce County offers “psychological first aid” training from 6 – 8:30 p.m., on Tues., Sept 12, at 3609 Market Place W., Suite 100, University Place. People’s reactions to crisis vary. Learn which reactions are harmful and how some are actually beneficial. Take away some important tools for connecting with affected people and provide immediate emotional support following an emergency.  More info at:

Pierce County offers “disaster first aid” from 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m., on Sat., Nov 18, at 4519 112th St. E., Tacoma, (Our Savior Lutheran Church). Get hands-on experience in how to perform immediate triage, and use disaster first aid following an event. A First Aid Certificate is awarded, no CPR unless indicated at registration. Recommend taking CPR before this class. More info at:

Tacoma Fire Department offers CPR classes where preregistration is required by calling  (253) 594-7979.

  • Sept. 7, 5:30-8:30 p.m. at Station 8, 4911 S. Alaska, Tacoma
  • Oct. 8, classes begin at 8 a.m., 10 a.m., noon, and 2 p.m., Foss High School, 2112 S. Tyler, Tacoma. Website:

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