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West Valley City Journal

When disaster hits CERT volunteers spring into action

May 08, 2017 05:05PM ● By Travis Barton

Rescuers work to triage an injured bus crash survivor during a disaster simulation at the Utah Cultural Celebration Center. (West Valley City CERT)

By Travis Barton | [email protected]


Disaster could strike at any moment and West Valley City’s Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) wants to make sure volunteers are prepared to help.

CERT’s seven-week training program culminated in March with its large-scale disaster simulation on the grounds of the Utah Cultural Celebration Center. Twenty-seven actors played the part of bus crash victims while 36 students had to demonstrate the skills and instruction learned from the program.

“They did actually really well for having a big huge area thrown at them and lots of victims,” said CERT coordinator Jill Shopay of her students. Shopay has run the seven-week courses for about nine years.

Classes for the students involve training for disaster preparation, fire suppression, search and rescue, injury treatment and disaster psychology, which Shopay said includes “training them on how to deal with mental traumas they'll go through with what they'll see and have to handle.”

Examples of those traumas were on display during the disaster simulations with “victims” suffering from lost appendages and pipes and shrapnel sticking out of their bodies. A few actors even ran screaming to rescuers before throwing up fake vomit onto them. 

“We go all out on this. We have amputees, we have impalements, we have everything… we fill impalements with blood and have syringes in the amputees that squirts blood all over [rescuers]. We're really good at what we do,” said Shopay, who has been in the medical field for 25 years.

Student Wesley Darton, 24, said it “definitely helped to create that realistic training environment having all the makeup and special effects.”

The simulation calls for students to triage victims, prioritize injury severity, transport victims to an already created medical treatment area and set up incident command.

“It was definitely an eye-opening experience just seeing how many different things go on with dealing with those different events,” Darton, a technical theatre major, said. 

“Doesn't matter what class it is,” Shopay said. “When we get them over to the cultural center with that big whole area, it's kind of overwhelming no matter what.”

While there was a simulated car crash surprise for the class (with cars and bodies strewn about a parking lot), much of the course takes place in the classroom; training individuals for different disasters from earthquakes and floods to lost children and power outages.

“It’s basically to learn how to prepare themselves instead of relying on the city or the state or Red Cross at that time of a disaster,” Shopay said.

Darton said he got involved in CERT specifically for that preparation.

“If and when there's an emergency or a disaster, then I want to be able to help others out as well. I don't want to be sitting around waiting,” he said.

Shopay said the skills learned become essential for individuals during a disaster where fire and police may not reach you for up to seven days.

“It’s people that are trained like this that can help themselves and each other that are going to be saving lives before the emergency personnel can actually get there,” she said.

Darton said one of the more important things he learned wasn’t medical, but the organizational approach.

“Which I think is very helpful for everyone to know and understand that process,” he said. “I think having that background of command structure can help in not only a disaster but in your day-to-day life.”

Many students, Shopay said, end up using the knowledge they’ve gained when they see people suffer heart attacks or involved in car accidents and fires.

“There's been a lot of positive feedback, responses, stories, that we've gotten back from people that have helped save them and they've been able to save other people,” Shopay said.

The course, one Shopay said is recognized state-wide for its quality, has students from all over the valley. Next cycle starts on Aug. 31 and all interested in more information can go to