Like most 12-year-olds on summer vacation, Kari Williamson watched television July 29.
Unlike most 12-year-olds, she saw much more than a so-called reality show. What she viewed had no commercials and no scripts.
She gazed at big screens featuring an FBI website, weather radar, traffic monitors and even a program that shows emergency calls such as a heart attack or somebody’s baby choking.
Williamson was the youngest graduate of the Elmore County Emergency Management Agency’s CERT (Community Emergency Response Team) program and received the heartiest applause of all when she accepted her certificate. Afterward, she toured the emergency operations center with her classmates.
“I’d probably be hanging out with my friends or playing on my computer or watching TV,” the Weoka girl said when asked what she would be doing if she hadn’t gone through eight weeks of training.
Instead, she took the course and graduated with her mother Kacie.
“My mom told me once summer started that we were going to take the CERT class and I really liked it,” she said. “I learned a lot. I’m happy I learned about it. If something happens at home or at school, I’ll know what to do.”
Elmore County EMA director Keith Barnett said the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA)-based training involves three hours a week for eight weeks.
“There are different categories each week, including first aid, basic search and rescue, fire knowledge and disaster psychology,” Barnett said. “That prepares people for what they may see that could be traumatizing.”
The exposure to such possibilities didn’t faze Williamson, who said she relishes the chance to help others.
“If anybody’s going through something and they need to vent it out, I know what to expect,” she said. “A lot of my friends have anxiety and I’ll tell them, ‘I’m here for you.’ If somebody swallows something or passes out, I know how to help them. I feel like I’d be able to do it.”
Williamson said the CERT class has helped her define a career path and it’s no surprise to those in her family.
“I definitely want to be a paramedic or a nurse at a hospital,” she said. “When I was younger, if somebody at the house got a cut, they’d say, ‘We need nurse Kari.’ And I would go help.”
Her mother explained that Williamson’s grandfather has fragile skin prone to easily cut.
“Kari will go and bandage him up,” she said.
Program coordinator Julie Lawrence said Williamson’s heart for service is impressive for her age.
“She had a willingness to go out of her comfort zone and talk about real things that could happen to real people and help them overcome bad situations,” Lawrence said.
Graduate Donna Poeppelmeyer of Wallsboro also had a tangible motivation to take the class — the tornadoes that struck Wetumpka and Titus in January and March, respectively.
“When the tornadoes hit Wetumpka and Titus, I decided I wanted to get my storm spotter certification and when the CERT class was offered it was the next step for me to get involved and help,” she said. “I’ve had lifelong friends affected by the (Wetumpka) tornado and the one in Titus, my cousin’s house was hit.
“I received training to help people whether they are physically hurt or psychologically traumatized. I have training to help them deal with it. I took CPR and basic first aid. If they’re trapped, I can help get them out. It has helped me have a better understanding of how to help and not be in the way.”
Elmore County Commission chairman Troy Stubbs said trained volunteers are indispensable in times of crisis.
“With volunteers such as yourself who are trained, we are able to meet the needs of our communities quicker and fill the gaps,” he told the graduates. “A trained volunteer is a difference maker. I hope you never have to use your training but we all know there will come a time you will have to.”
Barnett said 200 people had previously received CERT training in Elmore County and Eclectic’s team was particularly helpful after January’s tornado in Wetumpka.
“A lot of the CERT teams don’t stay engaged,” he said. “They don’t have meetings, they’re not real organized anymore and they don’t train. The team in Eclectic is an exception. They’re the ones we used to process 1,200 volunteers after the (Wetumpka) tornado. They were here the next morning at 6 o’clock.”