Columbia County Community Emergency Response Team holds disaster simulation

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When disaster strikes, do you know what to do?

The question gained national attention last year after Hurricane Katrina proved emergency responders can be spread thin in large devastations.

That's why Columbia County is gaining more and more interest from the community to participate in their Emergency Response Team.

Emotions are high, tensions have flared--as chaos breaks out.

It's a worst-case scenario: two tornadoes touch ground in Columbia County. One collapses a building, injuring several and killing others.

"It gets your adrenaline running and you have to think on the spot how you're going to calm a person down," says Virginia Berkheimer, member of Columbia County's Community Emergency Response Team.

CERT students were tested Saturday in a disaster simulation to react when disaster strikes and help is nowhere in sight.

"After watching the hurricanes last summer, it's time to step up to the plate and help you and your neighbors," Berkheimer says.

The students learned to recover and treat wounded victims from fallen debris and scour the area for the missing.

"Always be prepared, always plan so you're not a victim and stay calm," said participant Trevor Ward.

And it was the small details that caught most of these students off guard, like staying with a buddy or remembering to count all the victims.

"We said 8; there was 10. Someone could be bleeding for hours," said another participant.

But it's here that exercise director Jeremy Wallen would rather see those mistakes happen.

"Even in simulation when that does happen and they lose control because of hysteria, that's the time to do it," he says.

Now that it's over they can let their hair down, knowing they've pulled out all the stops when help is needed the most.

29 students participated in Saturday's simulation. If they all pass, CERT will have more than 200 trained responders in Columbia County.