Free emergency-preparedness training for Ark. first responders
By Carolyne Park
Copyright 2007 Little Rock Newspapers, Inc.
BELLA VISTA, Ark. — Emergency responders would be stretched to the limit, schools and nonessential businesses would close, and drug and vaccine supplies would quickly be depleted if the avian influenza virus evolved into a pandemic, Rick Johnson of the Arkansas Department of Health told participants in an emergency preparedness course in Bella Vista on Tuesday.
"Who are the first ones we need to look after? Ourselves and our families," said Johnson, the department's Washington County unit administrator.
The six-hour course is one of three free courses taught in cities nationwide by Northwest Arkansas Community College's Institute for Corporate and Public Safety. The others are on terrorism and weapons of mass destruction awareness in the workplace, and business continuity planning.
Crisis scenarios range from a tornado to a terrorist attack.
"The institute's primary purpose is making sure that a community is ready when a crisis occurs, and a crisis will come - that's inevitable," said institute Director Ricky Tompkins. "We must be prepared." Since it was founded in 2004, the institute has trained people from 28 states, the U.S. Virgin Islands, the Mariana Islands and the United Kingdom, Tompkins said. Instructors have taught courses in Denver, San Antonio and Parma, Ohio.
About 1,200 emergency responders have trained since January, including about 500 online.
Jacqueline Pauly, the institute's instructional designer, said its four staff members work with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce to connect with businesses and community leaders nationwide.
Primary course participants are emergency responders, including police and fire departments, paramedics and military personnel. The institute also offers consulting and training for businesses, especially utility companies and those that use hazardous materials, Pauly said.
"Our main goal is to bridge the gap between the public and private sector in emergency preparedness," she said.
The Bentonville community college received a $998,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security to start the institute three years ago. It was one of 15 institutions awarded a share of $33 million in crisis training grants from the department.
Other grant recipients include the American Red Cross, the University of Texas at San Antonio and the University of Arkansas System's Criminal Justice Institute in Little Rock, which received $2.8 million.
The Institute for Corporate and Public Safety recently applied for a $2.8 million grant in hopes of expanding its scope, Tompkins said. Its current funding ends Sept. 30, 2008.
Bella Vista resident Linda Young was among 44 people to attend Tuesday's course at the College at the Crossing. A second course will be offered there Nov. 15.
It's important people know what to do in crisis situations because government resources will be stretched thin, Young said.