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Dardenne Prairie’s CERT program may be going away

The future of Dardenne Prairie’s  Community Emergency Response Team [CERT], a group of city volunteers who would respond to disasters, is in doubt now because it’s too expensive and not needed, said Mayor David Zucker.

Communities throughout the county have CERT programs that train volunteers to augment the efforts of emergency responders.  But Zucker told the city’s Board of Aldermen at their April 6 meeting that he had “no desire to resurrect” the city’s CERT program.

“My emergency response plan is quite simple: dial 9-1-1 and send help,” Zucker said. “I’m not going to belabor this but the taxpayers were tagged for well over $200,000 in expenses for stuff.

“As long as I’m mayor we are not going to spend that kind of money. And frankly, getting volunteers to actually do the work is a whole different issue.”

The CERT discussion came up when Zucker asked the board about whether the city should sell a 2008 four-wheel-drive Chevy Suburban that cost $41,000 and is equipped with radios and other equipment. The large SUV was for the CERT program and is big enough to tow a trailer with emergency equipment.

Now, the vehicle is worth about $17,000 and doesn’t start reliably.  Zucker asked if the city might be better off buying a sedan or car that could be used by employees and is cheaper to operate. He asked the board to consider what to do with the vehicle at a later meeting.

Zucker said he’s not disparaging community volunteers who signed up and underwent training for the program. But he said he wasn’t sure what their role would be in an emergency and that they may get in the way of emergency responders.

In major disasters, such as the devastating tornado in Joplin, Mo. in 2011, emergency responders are completely overwhelmed and the “civic virtue of your fellow citizens kicks in,” Zucker said.

“I don’t think you need to spend taxpayers’ money to create a CERT program for something like that,”  Zucker said, adding that cities and local governments can set up CERT programs at their discretion.

He said he’s been told by officials who manage volunteers that if the city doesn’t have an emergency to respond to, volunteers will drift away. “They sign up for this to actually go do stuff, [but] if they are not called upon your volunteers will evaporate,” he said. “That is my observation about what’s happened here.”

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