Loxahatchee Groves CERT Group Busy Revamping Procedures

The Loxahatchee Groves Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) is revamping its procedures to fit in with many changes that have gone on around it over the past 12 years.

The all-volunteer CERT group has historically been the first responder to emergencies such as hurricanes in the once-remote community until professional help could get there, but the times are changing — and so is CERT, according to Doreen Baxter, a healthcare professional and Loxahatchee Groves resident.

“We are in need of updating our procedures, for the CERT, as well as the town,” Baxter told the Town-Crier on Wednesday, pointing out that her group has not met with the town for about a dozen years.

“We’re trying to determine who has what publications to lead us in the event that there is some kind of disaster,” she said. “I’m trying to find out who has the CERT training. A lot of the members do have several of the courses that they’ve taken, but I don’t know that any of the council had been [to training].”

She said she is establishing contact with the Palm Beach County Emergency Operations Center and other emergency teams, including the Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office and Palm Beach County Fire-Rescue, pointing out that both agencies have new local commanders.

“The EOC, everything has changed, so I’ve been working on listing contacts who are on our emergency contact information, so if something happens, we have it all right in front of us,” she said, pointing out that having up-to-date information for emergency contacts is important, being the first responders to emergencies. “We, as a team, are trained in immediate search and rescue and first aid, and if we come across somebody who needs hospitalization, we need to contact the hospital in some way. We’re getting all those contacts together. We’ll be refocusing. We’ve pretty much finished our own CERT manual, but we’ll be revising the town’s manual to correct the things that are no longer true.”

CERT leaders Ken and Pat Johnson have been at the Loxahatchee Groves CERT’s helm for a long time, Baxter said, noting that she and her husband, former Loxahatchee Groves Councilman Dennis Lipp, are taking their turn.

“Dennis is more of the spokesperson,” she said. “He is very good at getting up and speaking. I’m more of the person who knows what’s being done behind the scenes, like updating these kinds of documents.”

CERT’s next meeting will be Thursday, Aug. 9 at 7 p.m. at the Palms West Presbyterian Church, but the team has a scheduled point of distribution (POD) training on Thursday, July 5 at the same location and time.

“Normally, that would have been our CERT meeting day, but we’re putting POD training because many of the CERT members are a part of POD,” she said.

One of Baxter’s objectives is to solidify relationships with the town and first responders so they know who the CERT members are, and she pointed out that the team’s historic emergency location was the Loxahatchee Groves Water Control District office, which is not a hurricane-hardened building, but does have an emergency generator. The Loxahatchee Groves Town Hall is hurricane hardened, but it does not have an emergency generator.

The CERT group has certified ham radio operators, with the ability to communicate in the event of telephone failures, who have historically set up their antennas on a tower at the LGWCD.

“The district had the ability at the time to put up the antenna,” she said. “The town office is not equipped with either a generator or an antenna or the radio system in order to communicate with the EOC,” Baxter said, although the town is working on getting a generator, as well as negotiating with FPL to put town hall on the grid with Palms West Hospital.

“We’re looking into it as a CERT to get grants to provide radio equipment and maybe even a generator for the town office,” she added. “Even if they get on the same grid as the hospital, I don’t think it’s a bad idea to have a generator.”

Meanwhile, Baxter said the team is looking for a more permanent place for deployment of its members.

“Right now, we’re looking at Palms West Presbyterian, which has a lot of property, but we need to set up a base camp,” she said. “It’s not really set up well enough to set up camps and have trailers there. We have been looking at having it right there next to the town office so that everything will be centralized there… and we’re just right down the street from the hospital.”

To learn more about the Loxahatchee Groves Community Emergency Response Team, call Doreen Baxter at (561) 793-6013.